After we arrived in Okinawa, July of 2004, we were assigned our barracks and began our acclimatization period. It was hot and humid and nasty out there. I ended up getting to take my first Fleet Rifle Qualification after we had arrived. We did various training exercises and we remained uncertain as to where we would be going once we got on the ships. As far as we knew, we’d be going to Thailand to conduct Operation Cobra Gold, but there were all kind of rumors going around.
Once September came around, Typhoon season hit. I could be wrong on the September time frame. I was awarded a Meritorious Mast and I also was promoted to Lance Corporal (LCPL, E-3) during this time. The Meritorious Mast was presented to me once we were in Okinawa, though the date of the award was the 1st of July, 2004. So my time frame for this period of September may be a bit off.
At any rate, while conducting an Urban Training Operation on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, the unit was put on stand down suddenly. No one was all together sure as to why, we had all thought it was due to the weather that had gotten pretty bad. After the Battalion was called into the base auditorium, we had the Colonel in charge of the BLT step up in front of all of us to let us know we would be joining the second invasion of the city of Fallujah, Iraq. Cheers went off across the board.
A few weeks later, we began loading up on the ships. We had to keep our communication short with the outside world as not to spread anything about this. The operation was evidently being kept on the down low for all we knew. After a Typhoon hit Okinawa, we had about a 3 day window to get the whole MEU loaded up on the ships. Then we pushed out just as another typhoon hit. Those first couple of days on the ship were rough. Evidently, when to typhoons merge together, you get a super typhoon, and yes, we were caught up in it. Bravo company was not he USS Juneau, one of the oldest ships in the fleet (if not the oldest). It ended up breaking down on us after we survived the super typhoon. The boilers almost exploded on us. The Marines on the ship helped out as best we could. Several Sailors went down with heat exhaustion and a Chief went down with a Heat Stroke.
After that whole wad of craziness, we continued onward to the Persian Gulf. During this time, we got closer as a platoon. We had our ups and downs like any group of grunts crammed into a sardine can would. But with all of the crazy seas and wild occurrences, as a company, no unit was as tight as ours. We had a great commander, and an awesome team. Boat companies have to deal with the nastiest conditions in training for the MEU’s, and wet, sandy, freezing, and having to lug a bunch of heavy rubber boats everywhere will bring a unit together like nothing else.
After about a month or so at sea, we made it to the gulf. We off loaded in Kuwait, and spent about 2 weeks or so on what I think was called Camp “Udari” or something along those lines. My best friend and I got tasked with holding security rotations at the gate of the massive ammo dump there. One night, we watched as something over 20 semi-trucks of munitions were brought in. We knew all of that was for us. Shortly there after, we were then pushed up to Camp Fallujah, Iraq. That was fun as well, as our C-130 that was bringing us up to Camp AQ had to launch flares and “tuck and roll” while we were al passed out in the back due to circumstances we didn’t even catch on to. That was fun.
After hitting AQ, we then got helo’d over to Camp Fallujah that following night. I think this was sometime toward the end of September, 2004. We ended up having the whole MEU stuck in what those who had been on Camp Fallujah for a while had called “Mortar Alley.” Some what of a bastardized little area off the corner of the giant Camp Fallujah where mortars and rockets landed all the time. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it?
My fellow ‘boots” and I were tasked with getting the tents set up for all of the platoons to live in one day. Bravo Company was the first company in, as usual. While out there setting up the tents, we heard a sound that all of us thought was a low flying jet or something. So naturally, we all looked up to the sky. Then a large explosion rocked the north end of the camp, right behind the HQ tent. For some silly reason, we all ran to the HMMWV that was parked in the open. Hey, what else is a bunch of fresh boots gonna do under rocket fire? Some of the guys that had been there few days hollered at us to get into the concrete bunkers (So that’s what those are!?)
After this event died down, the following number of days consisted of regular rocket and mortar attacks. After a while, our Battalion Commander had enough. To our surprise, there was a perfectly good old Iraqi base on the other side of the berm to our west that for some reason was not in use. That became the new home of the 31st MEU quick, fast, and in a hurry.