At yesterday’s Memorial Day send-off for 87 reservists attached to the Red Bank headquarters of the 6th Motor Transport Battallion, there was little talk of recent polls showing that Americans have soured on the Iraq war.
Nor was there much discussion inside the black palisade fence at Newman Springs and Half Mile roads of the rising sect-against-sect violence, or the terrorism directed at coalition soldiers and American personnel on the ground in Iraq, or the effectiveness of the new Iraqi government in assuming control of its own country.
Those topics were set aside as “politics,” something to be avoided in general, but particularly on this day.
While two gleaming tour buses idled amid the seven-ton green trucks built to haul ammunition and food to the front lines of conflict, the talk among the men and women in sand-colored fatigues was of bringing their fellow soldiers through safely.
The talk among the families and friends seeing the Marines off was of having their own return unscathed eight or ten months hence.
“They can have him as long as they bring him back home alive,” said Maggie Walling of Tinton Falls, referring to her son Tim, a 2005 graduate of Red Bank Regional High School. She said she and her son had “stayed up all night” savoring their time together.
Through choked sobs, Rosemary Cartwright, of Cranford, said she watches the news “constantly,” and cries “constantly.” She doesn’t believe the United State should be in Iraq. “I feel it’s another Vietnam. We’re losing a lot of American lives,” she said. Yet these are matters she does not broach with her 23-year-old son Tom, a lance corporal headed out on his first deployment.
“I don’t talk with him about it,” she said. “I keep my personal feelings to myself. We have to. The parents support their son or daughter in the armed services.”
“I don’t pay attention to politics,” said Lance Cpl. Jim Gallagher, who enlisted in the reserves two years and five months ago. “My job is to do what I’ve got to do look after my men.”
Beyond that, there is a larger cause, he said. “To take care of the people over there. A lot of people appreciate us.”
Some of the soldiers seem not to know who the enemy is by name, or to make much distinction between insurgents and Al Qaeada terrorists. One young Marine told redbankgreen he was going to Iraq to fight “the Taliban.”
Rather, a widely held view was that there are Marines and other soldiers already over there who need the support that these individuals can provide, no matter what label might be applied to the people armed with IEDS and suicide vests.
PFC Douglas Kerner, a 22-year-old roofer from Woodbridge, was among those who said he shuts out interpretive coverage of the war.
“We’re worrying about each other,” he said. “We’re pretty much motivated and want to get the show on the road.”
Kerner’s girlfriend, 20-year-old Melissa Manzo of Point Pleasant, said she also tunes out the news. “My goal is just to stay strong and remember they’re protecting us,” she said.
Sixty of the departing soldiers are assigned to the so-called Red Bank facility, which is actually just across the town line in Lincroft and serves as battalion headquarters to facility spread across the U.S.; the remaining 27 are from a New Haven, Conn., facility.
The event was casual and light on ceremony. Breakfast was available inside the metal-clad white building on the site, with “more volunteers than we could possibly have hoped” donating food, said Grace Cangemi, a Red Bank Councilwoman involved with American Recreational Military Services, a charitable organization that aids soldiers and their families. A brief muster, a playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the lofting of a flag on a firetruck ladder preceded a group prayer. Though some elected officials were present, nobody made a speech.
As the moment of departure neared, Marines exchanged long, tight, silent hugs with mothers, father, girlfriends and other loved ones.
Afterward, the Marines boarded the charter buses to McGuire Air Force Base for a flight to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The buses were were escorted down the Parkway to McGuire by a Middletown Police car and several dozen motorcyclists from the New Jersey Leathernecks.
The soldiers will train at Camp Lejeune and in the California desert before shipping out to Kuwait and then Iraq sometime in mid-summer. A number of them said they expect to see family members again before they leave the U.S.
This is the fifth deployment by the Red Bank armory since the run-up to the war began, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jack Santelli, a member of the battalion’s support team. The first, and largest, was in January 2003, when 175 Marines shipped out. Subsequent deployments have been closer in size to yesterday’s, he said.
At the moment, said Santelli, no members of the 6th are in Iraq.