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24th MEU arrives in Iraq

Marine Corps News

Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 20047286143
Story by Capt. David E. Nevers

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (July 28, 2004) -- Six weeks after the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit dispatched its initial element to the Middle East, the last of the MEU's leathernecks arrived in Iraq this week as the unit prepares to begin operations in the province of North Babil.

The long journey from its home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., took the MEU through Kuwait, where Marines and sailors trained and acclimated to the heat before heading north.

Within days, the MEU will assume operational control of a heavily populated area south of Baghdad that includes the cities of Mahmudiyah and Iskandariyah. As it relieves Army units being transferred elsewhere in Iraq, the 2,200-strong MEU will be beefed up with additional forces, including 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

Their mission is to assist local Iraqi authorities in establishing security and stability for the nearly 900,000 citizens of the province. The most urgent priority is to empower Iraqi police and national guardsmen with the skills they need to combat enemy insurgents.

The MEU commander, Col. Ronald J. Johnson, met with community leaders this week and pledged his unit's assistance in ridding the area of those seeking to sabotage Iraq's peaceful, democratic future.

"The enemies of Iraq are criminals and terrorists trying to exploit a country in transition," Johnson said. "But the good people of this great country are gaining strength, slowly but surely, and the terrorists' days of mayhem and murder are numbered."

Johnson was quick to add that he had no illusions about the dangers his Marines and sailors face during the months ahead. Indeed, before the unit had completed its movement into Iraq, the MEU suffered its first casualty. Lance Cpl. Vincent Sullivan, an infantryman assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was killed by an enemy mortar round July 23.

In a letter this week to families of his Marines and sailors, Johnson vowed to take the fight to the enemy.

"We do not intend to wait for these thugs to terrorize the neighborhood," he wrote. "To the greatest extent possible, we will engage them on our terms. We will seize and maintain the initiative, letting nobody stand in the way of our efforts to assist the Iraqi people."

Before their work with the Iraqis swings into high gear, Marines and sailors will be laboring to prepare their forward operating bases to support sustained operations.

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