By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer
WALNUT HILLS - For the second time in 18 months, Lance Cpl. David Lytle has said goodbye to his young children, as have many of his fellow Marine Reservists who were scheduled to pull out of the Walnut Hills Reserve center early this morning for a second tour of duty in Iraq.
"It doesn't get any easier," said Lytle, 28, a divorced father from Lawrenceburg who has three children, ages 7, 4 and 3. "The two little ones don't understand what's going on. But my oldest daughter knows I am going back to that place."
It is the second trip to Iraq for Lytle and about half of the 70 Marines who were due to board buses about 3 a.m. for a trip to the airport, then a flight to Camp Pendleton, Calif. That's where they will train for about two months before being sent to Iraq for at least seven months.
Fourth Marine Division sergeant Tracy Bennington kisses his daughter, Danielle, 2, who is held by Tracy's wife, Brittany, during a "family readiness" meeting at the Marine Reserve Center on Gilbert Ave.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
About 120 Marines from Communications Co., Headquarters Battalion, 4th Marine Division, left the reserve center on Gilbert Avenue in March 2003.
The Cincinnati-based unit, which specializes in setting up communications systems under combat conditions, was attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, one of the first U.S. military units to enter Iraq after the shooting war began in April 2003.
About 10 members of the unit are in Iraq now, said Chief Warrant Officer Peter Dewing, the public information officer, and another 15 are in California for training.
There has been considerable turnover in the Reserve unit since the 120 Marines returned home a year ago to a tumultuous "welcome home" party at Sawyer Point. About half of the Marines being deployed this time are fresh out of boot camp and preparing for their first tour of duty overseas.
Lance Cpl. Nicholas Haynes, 23, of Dry Ridge, is a first-timer. Wednesday afternoon at the Reserve center, Haynes sat at a table eating pork barbecue with his family at the unit's daylong "family readiness meeting," where Marines and their families got last-minute instructions from officers and civilian volunteers on how families deal with deployment.
"I know it's tough, but I feel like I am well-trained and ready," Haynes said. "My platoon sergeant has been there before. I know he has fired his weapon at the enemy in combat. I'm going to look to him for leadership."
Lytle, too, said he feels a responsibility to the new Marines, some of them still in their teens, who will go with Communications Company to Iraq.
"The senior Marines among us have to show the way," Lytle said. "We Marines look out for each other. We'll teach them the secrets of keeping themselves alive and well."
Pfc. Randy Koon, a 20-year-old Marine from Colerain Township, stood in a corner of the unit's meeting hall talking quietly with his parents, Judy and Louis Koon.
"Randy made his own decision to join the Marines," Judy Koon said. "He knew he would probably be sent overseas. We supported him when he joined and we support him now.''
At the lunch hour Wednesday, dozens of Marines and their families were scattered around the long tables in the Reserve center's meeting hall, eating lunch and talking. Tiny children ran around the hall playing tag, darting between the legs of the tall Marines. For most, it would be the last chance to say goodbyes before the buses rolled.
Linda Nadicksbernd of Bellevue brought her grandsons to meet the Marines and show their support. Ronald Nadicksbernd, 11, and his brother Benjamin, 8, were dressed in their uniforms from the local chapter of the Young Marines, an organization that teaches American ideals and history.
"The boys in the Young Marines want to write to these Marines when they are in Iraq," Linda Nadicksbernd said. "We want to show them we're behind them."
A half-dozen members of the Montezuma lodge of the Marines Corps League, an organization of former Marines, walked among the young men and women in desert camouflage, shaking hands and passing on words of encouragement.
At one point, Gene Simpkins of Norwood, who served in the Marines in the 1950s, called the group to attention and asked that everybody sing one verse of the Marine Hymn.
"We'll just do one verse, because that's probably all you know,'' Simpkins said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
The Marines leapt to their feet and belted out the familiar tune - "From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli, We will fight our country's battles, On the land as on the sea."
"Semper Fi," Simpkins said, as the Marines sat back down to their barbeque. "Come home safe."
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