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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

70 reservists prepare for Iraq deployment

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Members of the Marine Corps Reserves based in Perrysburg Township will serve about seven months in Iraq. Members of the Marine Corps Reserves based in Perrysburg Township will serve about seven months in Iraq.
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Cpl. David Payne was unlike most of his fellow Marine reservists yesterday as they visited with their families and considered the tour of duty ahead.

The Toledo man was different because he has served in Iraq before, and this time, he volunteered for a second tour.

"It's what I am, it's what I do," he said. "We're a band of brothers, and we stick together."

Corporal Payne was one of 70 local reservists contemplating the assignment that will land him and his battalion in the Middle East by summer's end after about three months of training in California.

Members of the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, based in Michigan and Ohio, will leave for California, first to Camp Pendleton and then to Twentynine Palms, over the next few weeks, said Maj. Gregory Cramer, who spoke at a press conference yesterday in Perrysburg Township outside the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center.

The company will spend close to seven months in Iraq before returning to Ohio, Major Cramer said. The reservists were back visiting yesterday after an initial three weeks of training on the West Coast.

Though he could not describe the mission, Major Cramer said the 1st Battalion is a combat unit. "What we do is fight and engage the enemy in support of any mission we're asked to do," said the major, who is the unit's commanding officer during deployment.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Strecker of Monroeville, Ohio, hugs his 10-month-old son, Nicholas, and wife, Stacie, as his Marine Corps Reserve unit based in Perrysburg Township prepares for deployment. Lance Cpl. Matthew Strecker of Monroeville, Ohio, hugs his 10-month-old son, Nicholas, and wife, Stacie, as his Marine Corps Reserve unit based in Perrysburg Township prepares for deployment.
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Despite declining national approval for the war in Iraq, according to several polls, Major Cramer said the reservists have received nothing but overwhelming support locally.

Their morale is "off the chart," he said. "I have rarely seen a level of motivation, commitment, and dedication, particularly with the young guys, that I just recently witnessed in these last three weeks."

Sgt. Brandon Shortridge of West Bloomfield, Mich., comes from a military family.

"I'm tired of sitting around," he said. "I'm ready to go."

He has been with the 1st Battalion for four months but has been in the military for six years. He agreed that support from the community has been strong.

"Everywhere I go, anytime I'm in uniform, or if they see a Marine tattoo, it's always, 'Thanks for your service,' handshakes, or a pat on the back," he said. "I see a lot of support."

Rachael Webert, 12, whose brother Lance Cpl. Adam Webert is part of the company heading to Iraq, just wants her big brother to come home safely.

"[I hope] that he stays safe and doesn't get hurt," she said as she sat with the rest of her family at the reserve center.

Corporal Webert of Oak Harbor has always wanted to be a Marine.

He expected to be sent to Iraq during his time in the military, he said. Connie Webert, his mother, said there is no real way to prepare for something like this - the family has been praying a lot, she said.

"We don't know what to expect," she said. "We hope [the year] goes by fast, but it probably won't."

Contact Laren Weber at: lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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