LSA VIPER, Iraq -- In February, two months after returning home from a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Command Element were once again on their way to the region. But this deployment was unlike the last.
MEU Marines and sailors, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., did not transit halfway across the world via Navy ship like before. Rather, they loaded onto a commercial airliner for a faster arrival to their new, but temporary home in Kuwait.
Members knew this wasn't the regularly scheduled, six-month float they were used to. This deployment had no official return date. Marines and sailors wondered if they would soon be participating in a war against tyranny, a war to liberate the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.
"I really felt that war was inevitable, and that our deployment was a sign that the war was going to kick off," said Sgt. Joshua M. Rothhammer, data network administrator, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and a native of Broken Arrow, Okla.
Around the same time, on the opposite side of the continent at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marines and sailors from 2d Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, pondered the same thing. They had also received a deployment order, and understood the possible implications of this call to service.
"It was a little bit of a shock because I wasn't expecting it," said Cpl. Michael D. Barnett, police sergeant, Headquarters Platoon, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines. "We had just gotten off for the weekend and had been at the barracks for about two hours when the master sergeant came knocking on everybody's door saying, 'Pack your stuff, we're going to war.'"
The battalion had returned from a six-month deployment to the Middle East with the 22d MEU six months earlier. They, too, knew this deployment would be much different than their last.
Neither Marine unit, however, had any idea that upon landing in Kuwait, their paths would cross.
Upon arrival at Camp Commando, the headquarters of I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), located in Northern Kuwait, an uncommon thing occurred. The commanding general of MEF, in charge of Marine forces deployed to the region, decided a new task force needed to be formed.
"Task Force Yankee," named in memory of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be it's official title. The 11th MEU would serve as the task force's headquarters. Second Battalion, 6th Marines, along with numerous other augments, would bring the "punch" to the unit-- the manpower and military assets needed to accomplish any mission tasked by higher headquarters.
"Here we have a task. We came here to help with the war effort," said Barnett, a 22-year old Bryn Athyn, Pa., native.
From the get go, Task Force Yankee Marines and sailors were tasked with numerous missions, to include the essential job of providing force protection for I MEF assets in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. This included security at an American military camp and a logistical supply point in Kuwait, as well as on ships transiting uncertain waters in the region.
Upon the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Task Force Yankee's responsibilities expanded. As coalition forces fought into Iraq, it became imperative that supply lines and new logistical support areas remained safe and secure from enemy threats. As a result, TFY was given the mission of becoming the central point of contact and control regarding all security matters in a portion of southeastern Iraq. Task Force Yankee Marines currently are conducting patrols, vehicle checkpoints, and other tactics to ensure security of supply routes to Baghdad and logistical support operations in its sector.
"We are showing our presence and deterring anyone from supporting enemy forces that may still me in the area," said 23-year old Sgt. Robert L. Kunard, artillery liaison chief, Headquarters Platoon, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, and an El Paso, Texas, native. "We are helping friendly convoys get through to the front by ensuring they have safe passage in this area."
Task Force Yankee Marines were also given the unique mission of providing security for the commanding general of I MEF and his staff. Moving with this mobile command post as forces push farther and farther north, infantry Marines with 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, have the important job of getting these Marines, sailors, soldiers and British forces to their destination and back alive.
Participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom is something Task Force Yankee Marines and sailors are proud to do.
"When I was watching the Gulf War on TV in middle school, I would have never thought 11 years later I'd be a Marine playing an active part in the war to liberate the Iraqi people. It's amazing to actually be participating in history taking place," said Rothhammer.
Other Marines agree.
"It gives me a sense of accomplishment knowing we are out here supporting the war effort," said Kunard.