An impending tour of duty in war-torn Iraq hasn't lessened Laura Crabtree's enthusiasm for her decision to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I'm confident in myself and in the Marines," the 20-year-old said. "It is what we are trained to do."
Crabtree and about 30 fellow Marines in her platoon, now stationed at Camp Foster in Okinawa, were told last summer they would be sent to Iraq by late January or early February.
"I told them I wanted to go (to Iraq) and they said you already are (going)," Crabtree said.
Before deployment, Crabtree and her platoon will undergo training near Mt. Fuji on mainland Japan and at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, Calif.
Near Japan, the Marines will train on catamaran-like high speed vessels designed for mine warfare and as a support ship.
"After Mt. Fuji, at 29 Palms we'll get desert combat training," Crabtree said.
For Laura's father, longtime local teacher Louis Crabtree, his daughter's deployment to Iraq is painful.
"It's not easy seeing your daughter go to war," he said. "But she told me it's her job and that's what she's going to do." In Iraq, Laura Crabtree will continue her duties as a combat communication specialist.
Her duties will be to set up wire and wireless communications that will allow military personnel to have instant access to one another.
The communication stations can be on ships, in high tech trucks, on military bases, or in the field.
Crabtree should be well trained to handle her wartime duties. She graduated in the top 10 of her class at a Marine communications school and has advanced to the rank of full corporal.
Her upcoming training trip to Mt. Fuji will be the second she has participated in.
"We had convoy training on the HSV after I was first stationed in Okinawa," she said. "We were getting (Marines) ready for Iraq -- this time I'm the one getting ready."
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Crabtree, a three-sport stalwart at Payson High, made the decision to join the Marines about five months before her 2003 spring graduation.
"I wanted to do something different than most everyone else was doing," she said. "And I chose the Marines because I heard it was the toughest and the most challenging (armed forces branch)."
In October of 2003, Crabtree reported for basic training at Parris Island, S.C. There, she was one of 18,000 recruits the Marine boot camp graduates each year.
While at Parris Island, the only communication she had with family and friends was written notes and letters.
"I graduated on Jan. 9, and that was the first time I was able to see my parents, brother and sister," she said. "I kind of missed everyone and thought a lot about family, friends and sports at Payson High."
Boot camp, she said, was rigorous, but wasn't as unforgiving as she had been led to believe.
"The drill instructors challenged us and tried to instill discipline and conditioning, but it was manageable," she said.
Some of her classmates, she admits, couldn't live up to the demands.
"If they had to go back a class (to re-enter boot camp), it was for (lack of) physical fitness, couldn't pass the rifle scores or they were hurt or sick," she said.
After graduation from boot camp, she spent a week's leave at her home in Payson before being sent to North Carolina for Marine Combat Training (MCT).
"I liked it. We spent a lot of time in the woods doing rigorous physical training," Crabtree said. "It was more fun (than boot camp)."
MCT was also the first time the female Marines co-trained with their male counterparts.
"Up until then, we had all female drill instructors," Crabtree said.
Following MCT, she trained for five months at 29 Palms as a communication specialist before being transferred to Camp Foster.
In reflecting on her almost two years in the Marines, Crabtree is certain the Corps has given her just about everything she was searching for when she graduated from PHS."I've been able to travel, meet so many different people from all over the world and take on a challenge," she said. "Now, there's one more (challenge) -- Iraq."