News: Last Marine team returns home from Iraq
Story by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – It was a small homecoming by Camp Pendleton standards – nothing like when a battalion returns. No hand-painted signs, food tents, or Patriot Guard-escorted buses. A group of five women waited outside the I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group building and when Iraq Training Team 03 arrived in two government vans, they greeted their husbands during a quick but emotional homecoming before the Marines each went their separate ways.
The small homecoming was actually a big milestone for any Marine who has deployed to Iraq. The Nov. 9 event marks the last Marine team participating in Operation New Dawn’s return home.
Marine Training Team 03’s time in Iraq was very different from the memories of most Marines who participated in the initial invasion and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Al-Anbar province.
“It was very exciting,” said 1st Lt. Lee G. Haney, an adviser with the team. “We felt like the mission was accomplished, and we could see that the Iraqis were going to be able to fend for themselves.”
The team was responsible for teaching Iraqi Marines about patrolling and amphibious operations. The team also gave classes to members of the Iraqi navy.
“They just created their Marine Corps,” said Sgt. Luis A. Cifuentes, the team’s logistics chief. “They are in their beginning stages, and they had a lot to learn.”
The Marines worked to lay the groundwork for Iraqi security so Iraqis could take complete control of their country.
“Iraq has been making quite a bit of progress,” said Haney. “That is why we’re done there.”
The team left California knowing they would be among the last Marines to leave Iraq, and they knew their impression would be one of the last the Iraqi Marines would have of their American mentors.
“We couldn’t have asked more from our Marines,” said Haney, 25, from Denver. “They would train, and then they would take the initiative and train some more.”
Now that Iraq Training Team 03 is back home, the only Marines still in Iraq are embassy guards and Marines serving in joint billets.
“It feels good,” said Cifuentes. “I’m glad I won’t have to go back.”