AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
The U.S. military is reducing its footprint and responsibly drawing down personnel from Iraq, as well as gear and military equipment that has accumulated in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Over the next six months, the Marines of 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), will find themselves more engulfed in the mission of responsibly drawing down gear than most subordinate units of the MLG. But one section within the battalion is expected to put in overtime to meet the needs of Multi National Force – West – the Marines of Preservation, Package and Packaging, also known as P3.
Particularly, the P3 Marines serving at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, will perform a significant function in the overall goal of the drawdown. They will be tasked with packaging and preparing for the shipment of thousands of pieces of gear and equipment that nearly every unit aboard the base is expected to send back to the states, Afghanistan or other locations within Iraq.
The notion that more work will be piled onto their already full plates does not faze the Marines; they consistently take in more work requests on a weekly basis with so few people. Regardless of the amount of requests they receive, P3 continues to focus on building shipping boxes and packaging gear in as little time as possible while always producing high-quality products. Currently the average turnaround time for shipping containers, to include the construction of the container, filling it with gear and packaging for shipment, is 72 hours.
Lance Cpl. Octavia Nickleberry, a packing specialist with P3, said although the extensive number of work requests for shipping boxes far outweighs the number of people they have to build and package them, there is a mutual understanding among the Marines that teamwork is the only way to complete work requests in such a short amount of time.
“If we were to try to build, pack and package these boxes by ourselves, the turnaround time for a job to be completed would be about five days longer than it is now. When we work together, we put the boxes together quicker and therefore the packages can get to where they need to go in a timely manner,” she explained.
The majority of the work P3 Marines currently perform is preparing and packaging personal effects for service members who are moving to a different location which includes those who are injured, killed in action, or leave the country for family emergencies.
Because of the sensitive nature of some of the packaging requests, they take great pride in making sure the gear of their fellow service members is handled with care and properly packaged for safe shipment. Sometimes dealing with the personal effects of those injured or killed in action takes an emotional toll on the P3 Marines, especially when the shipping box they have to construct and pack is for one of their own.
“It was very hard for us when we had to prepare and package (the Marine’s) personal effects for shipment back to the states,” Gunnery Sgt. Hector Rodriguez, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the P3 section at Al Asad, said of the loss of one of his own.
One of Rodriguez’ Marines, a packing specialist who deployed to Iraq in 2008 with 1st Maintenance Battalion, died in Iraq, in October 2008. Rodriguez said mourning the Marine’s death while trying to complete the mission was an especially difficult time for him and his Marines, and made the task of doing their job complicated.
“We couldn’t believe that we were packing the things of one of our own. We were all very sad, but we still had to accomplish the mission.”
Rodriguez added that just as he was proud of the Marines who carried out that difficult task in 2008, he is just as proud of his Marines today as they are currently working hard to meet the demands of more than 6,000 military and civilian personnel at Al Asad.
“From the day they checked in they have learned a lot and have shown so much improvement in the three months that we have been here,” he said. “I am very proud of them and so happy that I have such talented Marines in this section.”
The Marines of the P3 section understand how important their job is but don’t mind words of thanks and appreciation from those whom they serve.
“At first I thought [our] job had no importance until [we] got to Iraq. I understand now how what we do is so important, because without us, most people’s gear and unit’s equipment wouldn’t go anywhere,” said Nickleberry, who has been in the Corps for a year and six months. “It makes me proud to say I am actually helping another Marine.”
As Nickleberry and the Marines of P3 continue their arduous tasks of constructing wooden shipping containers from scratch, packing and packaging them for shipment, they are mentally preparing themselves for the increased responsibility to be the gateway for gear and equipment that will leave Al Asad in the coming months.