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Marine Celebrates Early Christmas

December 19, 1998

PERRIS, Calif. (AP) _ In a laughter-filled living room, Marine Sgt. Ramzan Monroe rips off wrapping paper to reveal cologne, corduroy pants and a shiny silver-and-gold watch.

It’s a whole week before Christmas, but it’s Monroe’s last chance to open gifts before beginning a 20-hour journey to Kuwait.

The 23-year-old radio operator is among about 1,500 Marines stationed in Southern California who prepared Friday to depart for the Middle East. He was due at Camp Pendleton before dawn, and scheduled to leave from Los Angeles later today.

Although the start of his trip was just an abbreviated night’s sleep away, Monroe, his wife, their 2-year-old daughter and relatives giggled through the evening, as always.

Only for a few moments was the room quiet _ when the big-screen TV aired a report about the impending deployments from Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

But Monroe, who lives off-base in Perris, a town about 80 miles northeast of San Diego, insisted he was ready to go. Even with the holidays approaching, and even while U.S. representatives debated whether to impeach President Clinton.

``You’ve got a job to do,″ said Monroe, his 6-foot-4 frame outfitted in green fatigues, his arm around his wife, Eboni. ``You’ve got to stay focused.″

Business matters were the pre-departure order for Air Force Capt. Tim Butcher, who was leaving his pregnant wife, Tracy, and their 2-year-old daughter for the fifth time in 16 months. Each time, he prepares for the worst.

``I try to get the house in order, arrange power of attorney and make sure my will is up to date,″ Butcher said as the 421st Fighter Squadron left Hill Air Force Base north of Salt Lake City. ``I want to be over there with a clear conscience in case something happens.″

At Fort Bliss, Texas, identical twins Sonya and Tanya Hardman shared a tearful embrace as about 500 soldiers said goodbye to family in an auditorium. Sonya is a private and Tanya is a receptionist at the base.

``I’m sad because we’ve been together all of our lives,″ said Sonya, 24. ``I was really looking forward to spending Christmas with my family, especially this girl who looks just like me. But when they call, we have to haul.″

In Perris, Sgt. Monroe called to Mia, his only child, and asked for a kiss. She promptly gave him a peck on the cheek.

``It’s tough,″ Monroe said. ``I want to be there to watch her eyes on Christmas.″

Monroe, a Queens, N.Y., native in the Marines for five years, also missed Mia’s first Christmas and her first birthday. When she was only 5 days old, he left for a 14-month deployment to Japan.

This time, he tried to explain what was happening.

``I said Daddy’s going bye-bye. She said ’OK, be careful,‴ Monroe said with a smile. ``She’s not going to grasp it at this age.″

The night wasn’t as emotional as it might have been for Mrs. Monroe, 22, because Monroe originally was supposed to go to the Middle East in November, when Clinton ordered military attacks against Iraqi targets but then canceled them.

``All the crying and the sadness _ I did that last month,″ she said.

The timing of the U.S. airstrikes _ on the eve of the House debate on impeachment _ wasn’t suspect to the Monroes. They don’t buy any so-called ``Wag the Dog″ theories that the attacks were meant as a diversion.

Monroe tries to avoid even thinking about Clinton’s problems.

``Whatever he did is between him and his family and him and God,″ he said. ``It doesn’t really affect me. I’ve got a job to do.″

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