Southland Marines Are Packed, Ready to Go

Times Staff Writer

Pfc. Jeffrey Farnes has traveled many times, but it was difficult to pack for this trip. His destination is uncertain. The date of his return is a mystery.

"I couldn't sleep last night," said Farnes, 19, of South-Central Los Angeles, who has been in the Marine Reserves for a year and worked as a security guard.

"They didn't tell us what we'll be doing, but I am confident," he said. "I'm a little nervous to be away, but I'm excited to gain new experiences."

Farnes was among 27 Marine reservists from the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos who this week were called to active duty for up to two years in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the country's global war on terrorism.

The Marines, from Company G, 2nd Battalion, headed by bus Thursday to Camp Pendleton, where they will train and wait to be deployed.

"Ninety-nine percent of them are excited to get down there and do something for the country," said 1st Sgt. Patrick Prose, 43, of Seal Beach. "We joined for different reasons, but our common reason is to give back and serve the country."

"We don't know what to expect.... So the fear of the unknown is the only fear I have," said Lance Cpl. Gustavo Zendejas, 20, of North Hollywood, a rifleman who was a criminal justice student.

Wives, young children and family members gathered on the lawns at the base to say farewell. There were lots of tears, hugs and kisses -- and promises to return safely.

Lance Cpl. John Pena, 20, of Los Angeles spent Wednesday signing documents authorizing his aunt to have access to his bank account and his car.

On Thursday he spent some time sitting on his travel bag and watching other Marines with their families. He pulled out a letter written by his girlfriend, Brandi Zinglar, 19, of Los Angeles.

The letter was tied with a yellow ribbon and sprinkled with perfume. She had dropped him off at the base but couldn't stay. She had classes to attend. His mother couldn't get the day off from work, and his dad lives far away.

"I tried to be strong and hold back tears so my girlfriend and my family won't feel so sad," Pena said. "But I'd do anything to have them here right now. It might be the last time I see them."

Farnes said he tried to make the most of his time before shipping out. He had dinner with his family, called all his friends to say goodbye and attended church with his mother.

Now it was time to think of his duties for the country. He asked his family to leave the base after they had dropped him off.

"It's hard to say goodbye," he said. "Besides, I'll be back."

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