One day of fighting and five months of freezing, waiting and breathing burning oil-well smoke ended Wednesday for a Tooele-based Marine company.
The only Utah military group to participate in offensive ground fighting against the Iraqis rolled into the Tooele Army Depot just after 7:30 p.m. and was greeted by a crowd that had been waiting since as early as 1:30 p.m.The company's battle performance exceeded its requirements, said company commander Maj. Ron Canale, but the group's last official Desert Storm act was destined to be compromised.
After clamoring off two buses that brought the group to Tooele from the Salt Lake International Airport, the 64 Marine Reservists and 10 Navy Reservists in the 4th Light Armored Infantry Battalion's Company C were instructed to line up in one last formation. But the officers giving orders were all outranked by civilian family members who swept through the ranks until they found the Marine they had been waiting for.
Pam Morrison nabbed boyfriend Laine Peterson just as he stepped off the bus before she shrank back into the crowd during the formation. "He looks great," she said after rejoining Peterson's parents.
"He's fat and tan" Jacy McQuiston said of her husband, Jason, as soon as the formation broke.
But that didn't keep the family from greeting him with a flat box that had an American flag sticking out of the top and a pizza inside. "I asked him `What do you want to eat when you get home?' He said, `I've got to have pizza,' " Jacy said.
First Sgt. Dave Hawkins said company members were given the option of completing their final out-processing that night or going home for the evening and returning the next morning. All but 20 opted to go home first and process later, he said. Most of those who chose to stay the night before going home live the farthest from Tooele. Most of the company's members are from Utah, but a few of the Marines live as far away as Wyoming and Nevada.
Company C was activated Nov. 24 and represents the only Marine component from Utah to participate in the ground campaign that started in northern Saudi Arabia and pushed into Kuwait City.
After arriving in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 28, the company repainted its light armored infantry vehicles in desert colors and then worked its way from the port city of Al Jabayl toward the Kuwaiti border.
Its first mission was to create a deception to make opposing Iraqi forces believe allied troops would cross the Saudi/Kuwaiti border opposite the largest mass of Iraqi troops. "Our job was to draw their fire," which allowed allied artillery radar to pinpoint Iraqi forces, Canale said.
The Marine company was then among forces that flanked the Iraqi troops on the first day of the 100-hour ground campaign. "They surrendered as soon as we hit their flanks," Canale said. "We took 907 prisoners that first day."
The company then moved north into Kuwait City for two days and then settled in for two weeks just south of the city until the city became "politically stable."
Smoke from the hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells set ablaze by the Iraqis darkened the sky to the point that the Marines sometimes had to use flashlights at midday just to get around, Canale said. Slimy soot from the burning wells coated their vehicles.
From there, the company began the drawn-out trek back to Al Jabayl where the group cleaned and packed its vehicles for shipping and awaited transportation home.
Lance Cpl. John Isolampi volunteered to remain in Saudi Arabia until all of Company C's vehicles are loaded on ships for transport home. Isolampi's father, David, said the Marine could be returning as early as Sunday.