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Marine reserves from Detrick heading to Afghanistan

About 145 Marine reserves from Fort Detrick are preparing to deploy to Helmand province in Afghanistan.


Originally published October 25, 2009
By Megan Eckstein
News-Post Staff

Along with five active-duty Marines with whom they've trained, the reservists fly to Camp Pendleton, Calif., this weekend to finish training for what is expected to be a seven-month tour of duty. They will leave for Afghanistan before Christmas, though officials speculated they'd probably leave by the end of November.

Company B of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion comprises Marines from the Frederick and Baltimore areas, as well as from elsewhere in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, said 1st Sgt. Martin Word, the company's senior adviser to the commanding officer.

The reservists are younger than many of their active-duty counterparts -- Word guessed the average age of the Marines in his company was 22 or 23 years old -- and are leaving full-time jobs or school to serve their country.

"We're gonna miss our families, but we signed a contract, so it's inevitable when there's a war going on," he said.

Though he knows some of the Marines' wives and relatives oppose the war and the company's deployment, he said they should still support their loved ones and trust that they'll take care of one another in Afghanistan.

"We gotta take care of each other and that's what I'm here to do, to take care of these guys to the best of my ability. I want them all coming home, I want them to have that parade down Market Street."

Easier said than done, said Word's wife, Wendy.

"You don't understand unless you're going through it," she said. "It's a mixed bag of feelings." Martin Word served in the Gulf War in 1990-91, when the two were just dating. But this time around, Wendy said, "the worry is on a whole other level ... there's more uncharted territory at this point in time, (the Gulf War) was kind of 'get in, get out,' and this has been going on for eight years."

As a Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the reservists will be the "eyes and ears, the quick reaction" for other units in the area, said Maj. Joe Corbett, the top-ranking administrator at the reservists' training center in Frederick . This type of company is "very nimble, very quick to get around the battlefield" and can respond if a higher-ranking commander requests help in a nearby area.

Martin Word said the reservists would be working with local Afghan leaders to see what help they need, be it infrastructure upgrades or life's necessities. Though he can't promise to deliver everything they ask for, he said an important part of the Marines' work in the country is forging a good relationship with the leaders to help minimize Taliban and al-Qaida influence.

"Our mindset is, we're gonna go in here and help the good guys, and if we have to we'll defeat the bad guys if we run into that situation," he said. "We're not trying to impose our will, we're just trying to establish a relationship and say 'what kind of help do you all need? What are the townspeople saying that you could use?'"

Between now and their departure, the Marine reservists will be learning various languages and dialects spoken in Helmand province, as well as learning about the culture so as not to accidentally offend the local tribes.

Helmand province has been a trouble area for U.S. forces, with insurgents profiting from opium trade. But Word said he wasn't letting the region's reputation distract him.

"There's something wrong with you if you say you're not nervous," he said. "But you can have a positive attitude still, a positive nervousness. It's like, yeah, I'm a little nervous, but I'm ready and aggressive at the same time."

The bigger concern for the Marines, Word said, is leaving their families. He is worried about leaving behind a wife and 2-year-old triplets, Austin, Isabella and Patrick. He said he can rest a little easier because her family and friends have been traveling in to help her, but it's still hard to leave. Having a family to come home to only reinforces the Marines' goal:

"Get in, get it done, get out."