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Marine Corps unit deploys to Iraq for a record fifth tour

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images When FP recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty military officers holding the rank of major or above, 60 percent told us that they believe the U.S. military today is weaker than it was five years ago at the start of the Iraq war. Asked why, a majority told us they ...

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CAMP PENDLETON, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Samantha Kominic hugs her boyfriend Lance Corp. Earnest Hall upon arriving home from a Seven Month Western Pacific deployment on Saturday, November 17, 2007 aboard Camp Pendleton, California. Approximately 2,200 Marines from the 13th MEU arrived home after a scheduled deployment where they were part of the announced troop surge and conducted several successful counterinsurgency operations while in Iraq.(Photo by Sandy Huffakeri/Getty Images)

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

When FP recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty military officers holding the rank of major or above, 60 percent told us that they believe the U.S. military today is weaker than it was five years ago at the start of the Iraq war. Asked why, a majority told us they believe it is due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pace of troop deployments those missions require.

It is not uncommon for Marine Corps units, in particular, to serve two, three, or even four deployments to Iraq. But yesterday, something unique happened. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) based at Twentynine Palms, California, reportedly became the first Marine Corps unit to be deployed to Iraq a record five times.

There’s been much ado about how, even though these repeated deployments are taking their toll on units and families, there is a bright side. Repeated deployments are also helping to develop the most combat-experienced force in decades. But, interestingly, the 3/4’s deployment suggests that, while that may be true within the higher echelons of the officer corps, it does not necessarily hold true at the grunt level. In an interview featured on the front page of Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Col. William Vistead, the 3/4’s commanding officer, estimates that 60 percent of his men will be going to Iraq for the first time. In other words, grunts are serving their four years and getting out. The same is happening within the junior and mid-level officer ranks. And there’s no bright side to that.

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