CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- "Last week I was playing semi-pro football with the Metro Stallions and ready to graduate college. Today I'm prepping tanks for battle. You never know what life will throw at you," said tanker Cpl. Marlon Boaster.
Packed and ready to rock, Boaster and approximately 3,500 Marines and sailors attached to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade departed for the Middle East and surrounding region Jan. 11.
The departure doubles the number of 2nd MEB troops already deployed to the region and marks the unit's first operational deployment since it unfurled it colors when it reactivated March 16, 2000.
The Marines and sailors and hundreds of vehicles boarded the USS Kearsarge, USS Bataan, USS Portland and USS Ashland, which are scheduled to join the USS Saipan, USS Ponce and USS Gunston Hall.
Family members, girlfriends and boyfriends also littered the area to bid farewell to their loved ones who will be gone until at least this summer.
"I'm hoping for the best and pray that God brings everyone home soon and safe," said Deirdre Capone, who was on hand to show her support.
According to Lt. Col. Jeff Hewlett, as quoted in a Jacksonville Daily News article, the Marine Corps brought back the brigade concept in the late 1990s after being disbanded in the 1980s. Brigades are significantly larger than Marine Expeditionary Units, which usually consist of about 2,200 Marines and sailors, according to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-265 commander.
The brigade will consist of units within the Carolina Marine Air Ground Task Force from here and Marine Corps Air Stations Cherry Point, New River and Beaufort.
Reserve elements from 8th Tank Battalion out of Fort Knox, Ky., will also be attached to the 2nd MEB.
The unit was called to active duty Jan. 5 and, shortly after, ordered to North Carolina.
Upon reaching Camp Lejeune, the Marines "hit the ground running," according to Boaster, who is with 8th Tanks.
"We have been working 14-hour days since we got here, checking every detail of each tank to make sure our equipment is (ready)," he said.
The Columbia, S.C, native, added what lies ahead in the near future is uncertain, but assures his fellow reservists are prepared to stay activated for as long as necessary.
The buildup of force in the region comes after allegations of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and defiance of 16 United Nations Security Council resolutions, according to U.S. President George W. Bush in a Sept. 12 address to the United Nations General Assembly.
About 60,000 U.S. troops currently are in the Gulf region and 67,000 more have been authorized to deploy to the Middle East in the next few weeks by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.