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1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment newest RCT-5 battalion in Fallujah

Oct. 16, 2006; Submitted on: 10/17/2006 12:22:20 PM ; Story ID#: 20061017122220

By Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, 1st Marine Division



CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Oct. 16, 2006) -- Marines from 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment are now on deck and running combat operations in Fallujah after relieving Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment recently.

The battalion, home-based in Detroit, is serving a seven-month deployment with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“I was beyond ready to finally be here,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel P. Kennedy, a 22-year-old from Harrison, Mich., assigned to B Company. This is Kennedy’s first deployment to Iraq.

The battalion arrived here in Iraq late last month to begin turnover of responsibilities with 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. They officially took charge of Fallujah earlier this month and have since been conducting patrols, raids, interdiction and security operations here.

The battalion’s journey to Iraq started in earnest months ago, according to Master Sgt. James E. Mitrink, a 42-year-old operations chief from Port Huron, Mich. Starting in April 2006, Marines within the battalion started their training in Michigan and Camp Pendleton, Calif. The battalion’s Marines officially mobilized for deployment June 1, and in August, they were working through their month-long Mojave Viper exercise, where they culminated their skills and applied the latest lessons learned straight from battlefields in Iraq.

In between, there were exercises throughout Southern California, including scenarios with Iraqi-role players, security and stabilization operations and full-on force-on-force drills using simulated munitions.

“We worked up for at least eight months even before we got to California,” Kennedy said.

“From what I’ve seen and how much we’ve trained, I consider ourselves the best-trained reserve unit deployed to Iraq so far,” Mitrink said.

That training has paid off so far. The transition of responsibility from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment to 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment went smoothly. For several days in the turnover process, Marines from the incoming battalion shadowed the veteran battalion before they swapped roles.

“It was a real smooth transition,” Mitrink said. “The only difference from what we were doing in our training is that we’re now in a combat environment.”

The battalion was previously deployed to the Middle East in regions including Djibouti and Kuwait, but this is the battalion’s first deployment to Iraq. Still, there are Iraq veterans in the ranks. Nearly 350 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment volunteered to deploy with the battalion for duty in Fallujah.

The battalion’s companies are all from America’s Midwest, with companies headquartered in Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Lansing, Mich., and a final company based in Ohio.

“We’re pretty typical of a reserve battalion,” Mitrink said. “We have quite a few policemen and firemen, but being from the Midwest, we’ve also got a lot of factory workers, blue-collar types. The rest of the Marines, mostly the younger guys, are college students.”

Lance Cpl. Christopher T. Benedict, a 22-year-old from Big Rapids, Mich., assigned to A Company, said the training proved true to what he’s experienced in his first weeks if duty in Fallujah. Still, he said some learning just comes by having boots on the ground.

“The training gave us a good idea, but you can’t believe until you see it,” said Benedict, who is on his first deployment to Iraq.

Kennedy said he didn’t expect to see how curious Iraqis were of Marines and their activities. He said whenever he travels through Fallujah, he’s taken aback by the bustling city and the streets teeming with Iraqis who pause to watch Marines.

“It’s like a big parade every time we go by,” he said. “What we’re hoping to accomplish is to bring better security for the citizens.”

Benedict added that he hopes his seven months in Fallujah help bring more Fallujans toward a self-sustaining country, and “to know that we’re on their side.”

“Our goals are same as RCT-5’s goals,” Mitrink said. “We want to train the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army so they can transition and be self-sufficient and do that with the backing of the populace.”

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