After graduating from Infantry Training Battalion, my brothers in arms and I were attached to 1st battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corp Base Hawaii (MCBH), Kane’ohe Bay, HI. Once we arrived, we were assigned to our respective companies. I was attached to Bravo Company with several others. Our seniors were out on the PTA training exercise at the time. After we were assigned to our barracks, we got ourselves settled in and ready for when our company would return.
I got attached to 2nd Platoon, bravo Company as an Infantry Rifleman. My foot was feeling much better, but was still giving me problems. I was a young, gung ho Marine, attached to my first unit as a ‘boot’ grunt. I got assigned to 3rd squad at the start. After meeting our seniors, we got put in our place. They were still wearing the old tricolors. So you could tell the new guys from the old, as we were wearing the new “Digi” camouflage utilities. I quickly learned respect for my seniors at the time. They were a great group of guys that treated us fairly.
I was quite fortunate to be assigned to this Platoon. As I am sure my peers felt about their platoons. After a few training exercises, I had volunteered to be the Platoon Radio Transmissions Operator (RTO). At this time, I was a Private First Class (PFC, E-2). The current RTO was a Lance Corporal (LCPL, E-3). The billet of RTO was intended for a Sergeant (E-5). My senior had been carrying that radio for a couple of years already, and I thought I would prove myself by carrying that responsibility and relieving him of that duty.
As the RTO, I worked directly for the Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Commander. I was responsible for ensuring that the Platoon Radio, a PRC-119 Foxtrot, was always up and in working order. I was responsible for maintaining communications with the Company Commander and the other platoons. Every where the Lieutenant (LT), I was sure to go. I struggled at first, but as time went on, I was able to keep that radio up and maintain its crypto at all times as we trained in the field.
Our Company was assigned to be the Boat Company, as 1/3 was set to be the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC). Boat Companies conduct clandestine operations utilizing the ZODIAC small inflatable boat. Our company went through several months of training in boat operations, always in the water, practicing our beach landings, both during the day and at night. Our company was in the field at least 3 days out of every week during the training build up. I graduated from the Maritime Navigation course during this time, while others became Coxswains (drivers of the boats), scout swimmers (damn good swimmers responsible for prepping the beaches for landings) and engine mechanics.
If I remember correctly, Bravo Company was the only company to actually achieve the SOC qualification out of the Battalion, but the Battalion still managed to get the SOC qual for deployment. My peers were amazing, and my platoon was fantastic. Our first Platoon commander ended up leaving early, as he knew how to speak an Iraqi language, and we found out later he was assigned as a special translator with some special units in Iraq. During this time, we were all uncertain as to whether or not we would deploy to combat. Fallujah had just kicked off at this time, with the contractors being strung up on the bridge. There were other areas that were getting bad as well in Iraq.
During this time, I was laying bets on whether we would go to combat or not. As previously mentioned, we all wanted to go to the fight. 3rd Marines had been the only unit that had not yet gotten into the fight, so everyone thought we would miss out. However, with the initial plans for going into Fallujah started getting talked about in the news, I started having hope that we would make it to the fight, though most of my peers thought otherwise. However, our first LT, before he left, knew a great deal more than we did, and dropped us a hint that he would see us in Iraq. That gave me hope.
After a nice break of leave, we returned to Hawaii, and deployed on July 4th of 2004 to go to Okinawa to finish up our training for the MEU.