Like all good Marines, Gunnery Sgt. Mathew Strother is ready to go to Afghanistan and get the job done.
“I’m confident in our abilities to do our job,” said Strother, who is the operations chief for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Tactical Air Center. “We’ve done a lot of training and we’ve done a lot of work to get ready. They’re real good Marines.”
Strother was one of about 70 Marines in Main Body II of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) who left Cherry Point Monday for a one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
For Sgt. Jason Rothgeb, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist, the deployment is his fourth.
“I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve done a MEU. I responded to the nuclear crisis in Japan last March, and this will be my first deployment to Afghanistan,” he said.
Rothgeb said goodbye to his two sons, Skyler, 3, and Jayden, 2, and wife Michelle in a parking lot with the other Marines.
“This will be my first major deployment away from my two kids,” he said. “I don’t think it will be too hard on me. I think it will be harder on them once they realize I’m gone and on my way.”
His wife said the year apart would be difficult.
“We’ll miss him but we’ll do a lot of pictures and letters and hopefully we’ll be able to video chat, which will be good for the little ones,” she said. “I’m crossing my fingers he comes back safe.”
Gunnery Sgt. Moses Vilca, 35, has been on eight deployments.
“I’ve been everywhere - Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa. You name, I’ve been there,” the 15-year Marine Corps veteran said. “The camaraderie could not be any better. I feel proud of everybody I’m deploying with. All of the men and women here that are serving their country are doing an awesome job day in and day out. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, they are just doing a phenomenal job.”
About 1,000 Marines in various 2nd MAW (Forward) squadrons have deployed or are in the process of deploying.
Lt. Col. Tom Bajus commands the group that left Monday and saw the 2nd MAW’s main mission is to provide air support for the Marines and troops on the ground.
“Everything is about the infantry on the ground,” he said.
However, the Marines will be in Afghanistan as an expected drawdown of American troops in 2014 nears, adding another element to the mission.
“I think what makes this time unique is the focus is going to be the emphasis on the Afghan army and setting them up for success,” Bajus said. “When we started in 2009, we were in the buildup phase. And then 2011, there was force projection and taking it to the enemy, and now this year when we relieve 3rd MAW, we’re going to continue what they’ve been doing which is setting up the Afghan army and the Afghan government for success.
“We’ll kind of take a back role and provide assistance for Afghanistan and their government and their armed forces. It’s a unique mission, a little bit different than what we’ve done in the past, but the Afghanis have done a great job taking over, especially where we are working with the Marine Corps and the UK forces. We have also been working with some Georgian forces as well. It’s a big team effort across the board.”
Strother, Rothgeb and Vilca are three of more veteran Marines deploying, and had some advice for the younger ones.
“There are going to be some long days and long nights,” Strother said. “Make sure you stay in contact with your family. Keep spirits up. Keep morale up.”
“I tell them to keep their spirits high and to have a good communication base with their family before they leave,” Rothgeb said. “That way it’s not like a big shock to them when they’re gone. It’s hard to say how people are going to react on deployment. I tell them to just keep their morale up.”
“I would tell them to keep their head down and to do their best,” Vilca said. “Do the best you can out there in combat and you will succeed and make everybody proud and happy.”
Bajus will be making his third deployment to Afghanistan.
“Just take one day at a time,” he said. “The great thing about working with Marines is they really know what their job is and they’re excited to do it. We have all volunteers here. No one’s dragged to go to Afghanistan, but it’s really doing what we’re trained to do and the Marines are excited to go ahead and do their jobs.
“You have a lot of folks - the pilots, the maintainers, the aviation ground support, aviation command and control - all those pieces of the puzzle to make it work. Everybody’s got their job and we’re excited to get to doing it again.”