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Pendleton Marines deploy to Afghanistan, some for the first time

March 20, 2010 | 12:33 pm
Deployment1 Jerry Germenis was sitting in his seventh-grade English class in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 11, 2001, when the math teacher -- a normally taciturn sort -- rushed into the room with tears in his eyes.

“Turn on the TV, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York,” he blurted.

Within  weeks, combat Marines from Camp Pendleton became the first conventional U.S. troops into Afghanistan, helping to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and his followers.

Now, nearly nine years later, Marines from this sprawling base are again taking a lead role in the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.

Germenis, 22, a computer specialist and Marine lance corporal, was among several hundred Marines who left Saturday for Camp Leatherneck. The base is located in southern Afghanistan, in the middle of Helmand Province, which, until recently, was a Taliban stronghold.

For the first-timers,  memories of Sept. 11 lingered.Deployment2

“I remember being shocked and then full of regret that I was too young to enlist,” said Germenis, who enlisted after two years in college.  He’d like to be an officer.

“All the best officers were enlisted first,” he said. “Read ‘Starship Troopers,’ it’s in there.”

Many of the Marines who left Saturday have made multiple war-zone deployments -- for example,  Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy Alexander, 30, is on his sixth, although the first since the birth a month ago of his son, Chase.

Like Germenis, Cpl. Kelly Burgess, 20, is making her first trip to Afghanistan. She was in school in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., on Sept.  11.  Now she’s a supply clerk , leaving her 6-month-old son, Dominik, in the care of her husband, Jon Burgess, 21, who just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.

“I’m as ready as you can be,” said Burgess, sitting beside her husband and gently rocking their son in his stroller.

Her husband, she said, is having trouble with the role reversal. “He’s  just trying to deal with it,” she said. “He’s the one used to deploying.”

Cpl. Adam Miller, 20, remembers how he and other students were hustled into the middle-school  gym in Mason, Mich., to watch the breaking news on television on Sept. 11.

He’s a tuba player in the 1st Marine Division band. In Afghanistan, he’ll be a guard, shifting duties from musical to tactical.

“This is my new instrument,” said Miller, patting his M-16.

-- Tony Perry

Top photo: Cpl. Kelly Burgess, 20, waits with her husband, Jon, and their 6-month-old son, Dominik. Her husband just returned from Afghanistan; now it's her turn. Credit: Tony Perry

Bottom photo: Cpl. Adam Miller, 20, is a tuba player with the 1st Marine Division band. In Afghanistan, he'll be a security guard, trading in his tuba for an M-16. Credit: Tony Perry