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Battle-Weary Marine Unit Awaits 'Taste Of Freedom'

Soule and others said such conditions were actually a step up from past tours. "This is the best setup we've had. This is pretty good," he said.

Pinups, race-car photos and beer ads liven up the walls of an otherwise drab room, its windows blocked by sandbags. In brief breaks between 10- to 12-hour shifts patrolling Fallujah or pulling guard duty, the Marines watch movies, play Monopoly and smoke cigarettes. The close quarters sometimes lead to arguments and shoving matches. Some Marines let off steam by hacking away at palm trees on the base with an ax.

Cpl. Justin Soule takes a break in the room he shares with 13 other members of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, in a gutted soda factory in Fallujah. The battalion is on its third rotation in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad two years ago. (Photos Ann Scott Tyson -- The Washington Post)

"Problems stem from people just being tired of being over here," Soule said.

The Marines said few among them planned to reenlist. Those who did, such as Hinson, were signing up for so-called non-deployable jobs such as teaching or administration. "I don't think there's a lot of Marines who want to come back to Iraq every six months," said Cpl. Scott Rolston, who plans to return to his native Anchorage to join the highway patrol or fire department.

Family pressures are mounting on many Marines -- especially those who, like Hinson, are married and have babies on the way.

Lance Cpl. Dan Despain, 26, of St. Louis, gazes at a handful of laminated photos of his infant daughter before he beds down each night. "I've missed seeing her crawl, hearing her start talking and saying 'Da Da.' I'm not going to be the type of parent who isn't there when she needs me," he said.

Still, none of the Marines said they regretted their service in Iraq, despite what they consider missteps in a war that they anticipate could drag on for five, 10 or even 20 years.

"A lot of people made the ultimate sacrifice, but they did it saving other people," said Cpl. Shawn Rodgers, of Owensville, Mo., who plans to leave the corps for college. "It's an all-volunteer force. And whether they realize it or not, this is what you join the military to do. You either love it or you hate it."

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