Union Tribune

April 25, 2003

Commander hopes some Marines can head home


WASHINGTON The commander of the Marines deployed for the war in Iraq said yesterday he hopes that he soon can begin to release some of his troops to return home or to take up other operations.

But the planning to reduce the Marine Corps' force of 72,000 in the Persian Gulf region is "still in the formative stage, and so I haven't got an answer to give you on who's coming out first," Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston said.

"What we're looking to do is to try to get forces that have been away from home the longest. We have Marines right now that have been deployed for approaching 10 months, and it's time to get them back home," Hailston told Pentagon reporters in a video news conference relayed by satellite from his headquarters in Bahrain.

Release of large numbers of Marines from duties in Iraq also could allow the return of some of the San Diego-based amphibious ships that carried the troops and their equipment to the gulf.

More than half of the Marines and sailors under Hailston's control as the U.S. Central Command's Marine commander are from Pacific bases, including Camp Pendleton, Twentynine Palms and the Miramar and Yuma air stations.

Several hundred planners from the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters left for the Persian Gulf in November to take part in a war game that refined the plans for the assault on Iraq.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and three amphibious ships deployed from San Diego on Jan. 6 with 4,000 Marines and sailors, and about three times that number left San Diego later that month on seven ships as Amphibious Task Force West.

Hailston said any decision to release some of his Marines would be made by Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the Central Command land forces commander, and then approved by the overall commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, and by Washington.

The Marines have been shifted from Baghdad and Tikrit to the southeast, where they are conducting security operations and are helping to restore public services, he said.

Hailston said he was never able to substantiate stories from embedded reporters that some Marines ran out of Meals Ready to Eat and went hungry because supplies could not keep up with the rapid push north.

"Our (supply) lines were drawn and they were tested. Nothing came fast and nothing came easy," he said. But, he insisted, while some Marines "may have gotten down to only one meal on hand," they got more MREs before it was time to eat that last meal.

Also yesterday, the Department of Defense released the names of three Marines killed earlier this week when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded.

The U.S. Central Command in Qatar reported Wednesday that the men were based at Camp Pendleton, but the Department of Defense amended that information yesterday to say all three Marines were from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Marines were identified as Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Todd Arnold, 30, of Spring, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer Robert William Channell Jr., 36, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Lance Cpl. Alan Dinh Lam, 19, of Snow Camp, N.C.

Seven Marines were injured in the explosion, which remains under investigation.

Staff writers Jeanette Steele and Jeff McDonald contributed to this report.