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Published: 2/9/2008

Mayor to Marines: Leave downtown

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Finkbeiner
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A company of Marine Corps Reservists received a cold send-off from downtown Toledo yesterday by order of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

The 200 members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., planned to spend their weekend engaged in urban patrol exercises on the streets of downtown as well as inside the mostly vacant Madison Building, 607 Madison Ave.

Toledo police knew days in advance about their plans for a three-day exercise. Yet somehow the memo never made it to Mayor Finkbeiner, who ordered the Marines out yesterday afternoon just minutes before their buses were to arrive.

"The mayor asked them to leave because they frighten people," said Brian Schwartz, the mayor's spokesman.

"He did not want them practicing and drilling in a highly visible area."

So after a brief stop at a friendly base in Perrysburg Township, the Marines by early evening were back on their way home to Grand Rapids.

"I wish they would have told us this four hours ago," Staff Sgt. Andre Davis said.

Sergeant Davis, who traveled ahead of the five-bus convoy, stepped from his vehicle into downtown about 3:20 p.m. and was told by a city employee that the mayor wanted him and his soldiers packed up and out by 6 p.m.

Members of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines have trained periodically in downtown Toledo since at least 2004 and most recently in May, 2006.

Past exercises have involved mock gun fights, ambushes, and the firing of blank ammunition.

The Marines' buses set a course for their battalion's Weapons Company headquarters in Perrysburg Township as soon as they heard of the mayor's decision.

The Reservists' visit was no surprise to Toledo police, who Tuesday issued a news release to media outlets on behalf of the Marines that asked Toledoans not to be startled by the sight of camouflaged soldiers toting M16 rifles.

Police officers were awaiting the Marines' arrival yesterday afternoon and had set up a roadblock at Madison Avenue and Huron Street.

"There was apparently a break in communication somewhere between the mayor and the police department," Mr. Schwartz said.

"Where that break was, we don't know yet."

Maj. Jeffrey O'Neill, the company's commanding officer, said he was disappointed by how events played out yesterday, especially because Toledo had been a gracious host for Marine exercises in the past.

"You can go to military ranges for live fire [exercises], but there's no way to duplicate the urban jungle unless you actually train inside a city," Major O'Neill said.

Mr. Schwartz said the Marines declined Mayor Finkbeiner's alternative offer for them to practice their urban patrol tactics inside the former Jones Junior High School, 550 Walbridge Ave.

Major O'Neill said he was not aware of such an offer.

A pair of Marines spent the better part of yesterday setting up the Madison Building with generators, heaters, radios, and food to become the unit's overnight headquarters.

After receiving the mayor's request to leave, they began the task of moving the equipment back into an armored Humvee.

Lance Cpl. Brandon Bukrey-McCarty, 22, recalled taking part in the company's 2006 urban patrol exercise in downtown Toledo.

He said he learned skills during that exercise that proved useful during the unit's deployment to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006-2007.

"It was extremely helpful," Corporal Bukrey-McCarty said.

The training "got me used to looking up on rooftops, looking around every alley, every open door."

Sergeant Davis and other company leaders estimated the total cost of the aborted training exercise, including travel, at roughly $10,000.

Before he left downtown for Perrysburg Township, Major O'Neill said he was not sure what type of training, if any, his unit could undertake without access to downtown Toledo.

"But we're Marines," Major O'Neill said. "We'll adapt and overcome."

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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