The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Alfred M. Gray Jr., addressing the largest assemblage of Marines in one place since 1942, bid farewell Monday to 24,000 troops shipping out for Saudi Arabia.
In a speech punctuated by the crying of children as the families of the departing troops looked on, the gruff Gray told the massive ranks of camouflage-clad Marines on the parade ground at Camp Lejeune that they are going to the Persian Gulf to “do what must be done” to defend the American way of life.
Gray, who on a September trip to Saudi Arabia ordered his troops to quit complaining and improve their morale, told these forces that their tour in the desert is open-ended.
“How long will our warriors be in Southwest Asia? The answer is we will stay until we get our part of the missions and tasks accomplished, and then we will go somewhere else. Where? You will go where your commandant tells you to go,” Gray boomed.
The 24,000 men and women of the 2nd Marine Division will join 45,000 Marines already afloat and ashore in the gulf region. By the end of January, nearly 90,000 Marines--roughly three-fourths of the entire combat strength of the corps--will be in the theater.
The soon-to-be-departing Marines were treated to 20 minutes of vintage Gray--bombastic and bellicose. The four-star general spelled out in simple terms why the United States has committed more than 400,000 troops to an inter-Arab dispute 8,000 miles away.
“I want to make it crystal clear why we’re in the gulf,” Gray said. “Authoritative-type leaders cannot recklessly in a blitzkrieg-type operation invade a small country like Kuwait and inflict horror and terror and death on innocent people.”
Under an unusually mild and sunny December sky, Gray said: “This is not about oil but about stability in a very volatile region. We have a chance here for the children here today, and their children as they grow up, to have a more orderly and peaceful environment in that part of the world.”
After the speech, Pfc. Jamie Brock, 20, of Pell City, Ala., was asked if Gray’s pep talk made the reason for the deployment any clearer.
“We’re going over there to defend the country,” he said, gripping his M-16 rifle with bayonet fixed, waiting for the order to disperse. “I can’t really explain it, but I know why we are going.”
The 2nd Marine Division, which saw action on the South Pacific islands of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa, consists of 20,000 troops and is based at Camp Lejeune. They will be accompanied by their air wing and about 2,000 service and support troops. Their armament includes 70 tanks and several hundred amphibious and armored vehicles.
The 2nd Division is also taking its 35-piece marching band, complete with a camouflage-painted tuba.