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Marines deploy to UC San Diego before leaving for Southeast Asia

August 14, 2009 |  8:54 am

SecondIn a few days, the Marines of the 2nd battalion, 5th Regiment will leave Camp Pendleton for a six-month deployment in Southeast Asia -- training with the military of nations friendly to the U.S., prepared to provide humanitarian assistance in case of a natural disaster.

It's a far different assignment than in 2003 when the battalion played a key role in toppling Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq (as pictured to the right). Different assignments call for different understandings.

And so 100-plus officers and noncommissioned officers of the Two-Five spent two days this week at UC San Diego, listening to lectures about China, Japan, India, North Korea, Indonesia and the other nations of this growing and contentious region of the world.

"Even for junior Marines, it's important for them to see the bigger picture -- to see how what they do fits into the strategic picture," said Maj. Conlon Carabine, the battalion's operation officer.

Or as Sgt. Nicolas Uruchurtu, an Iraq veteran and Purple Heart recipient, put it, "It's important to know who we can help and who we may have to face."

The Two-Five will be part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which will launch from Okinawa aboard ships, stopping for training missions, a "force in readiness."

On a campus where the normal look for students is shaggy and informal, the Marines, in crisp uniforms and short haircuts, were an anomaly. They were under orders to mind their manners and their language.

"We're in a different environment; leave the barracks language back at the barracks," Sgt. Major Kenneth Conover told the Marines at the beginning of the first day.

For more than two years, the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies has been organizing these lecture sessions for deploying troops. This week's lectures were done by a researcher at the Rand think tank, professors at the Naval Postgraduate School, a professor at Arizona State and professor Tai Ming Cheung of UCSD.

"You all here are at the tip of the spear," Cheung told the Marines, "so I want to give you an idea of what the rest of the spear looks like."

American foreign policy is for the U.S. to play a stabilizing role, to keep the rivalries, suspicions and old animosities of the many countries in Southeast Asia from breaking into open conflict, Cheung said.

"So we're like the yard-duty monitor during recess," said Cpl. Aaron Vasconsuelos.

Cheung, whose lecture was entitled "Security Dynamics in East Asia: The Historical Context, Systemic Conditions, U.S. Regional Grand Strategy, and Key Security Challenges," did not disagree.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A Marine from Two-Five in Iraq. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense.