Good news from the 3rd battalion, 24th Marine Corps regiment
based in Bridgeton
: The 1,500-man ensemble is shipping out of Iraq
, and, as Lt. Col. Shane Tomko
puts it, "They're all in one piece."
The U.S. Army will keep some troops in Iraq until 2011, but the 3/24 was the last Marine unit to deploy to the Middle East last September.
Some of the 3/24 has already touched down at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. Everyone else -- but for some sent to Afghanistan -- will be stateside by the end of the month.
In the last seven years, the 3/24 lost eight men to Operation Iraqi Freedom. But there were no casualties this tour.
"It was St. Louis' own boys who were the last Marines over there, which is pretty cool when you think about it," says Tomko. "And A.Q. [Al-Qaeda] has not been able to put a black eye on our face. It would have been a pretty good target, right, for them to have been able to say, 'Hey, we kicked the Marine Corps out of Iraq.'
"Now it's time to take care of business in Afghanistan."
A number of Marines from the 3/24 have already deployed to Afghanistan, straight from Iraq.
Tomko says they all volunteered for the new mission. The unit will be calling up others over the next year.