Beaufort Marines leave tearful families, head to Iraq

BEAUFORT -- Family members cried and held on to one another as a wide-bodied jet carrying two squadrons of Beaufort Marines roared down the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Friday morning, bound for Iraq.

The Werewolves of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 and the Stingers of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 were on their way to a seven-month tour of duty in Al Asad, Iraq.

With packs on their backs and rifles slung over their shoulders, the Marines sat with their families before sunrise in a hangar, waiting to board the parked DC-10.

"It's incredibly bittersweet," said Werewolves squadron Capt. Nick Neimer. "The senior Marines have done this before, so they know what's coming and they've been deployed before. But for the junior Marines, especially those with small kids, this part can be pretty hard."

"You're leaving your families back home, but you're getting ready to go do something that you signed up to do," said Capt. Devin Myler, the squadron's aviation safety officer. "Once you're in theater, you realize that it's non-stop. There are no days off in combat. It's a pretty austere environment."

The Werewolves will be deployed into combat for the first time since the Vietnam war, an experience for which Neimer said the members of his squadron are ready.

"Every Marine I've spoken to has been excited to go and is ready to serve," he said. "You walk around the hangar and guys are asking each other, 'You ready?' "

The squadrons began boarding the plane by rank at about 6:45 a.m., but their departure was postponed when pilots told the air station that the plane was thousands of pounds overweight.

After reshuffling cargo, and burning off some fuel on the runway, the doors closed and the plane took off at about 8 a.m., bound for Kuwait.

Once in Kuwait, the Marines will take military transport to Al Asad, in northern Iraq about 112 miles west of Baghdad.

Twelve F-18 Hornets will be flown to Al Asad by the squadron's pilots next week.