News: Camp Pendleton-based unit assumes command in southwest Afghanistan
Story by Staff Sgt. John Jackson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Marines and sailors of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) handed over responsibility as the command element of Regional Command (Southwest) to the Marines and sailors of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan during a transfer of authority ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 5.
During the frigid February morning, Marines, sailors, coalition partners and Afghan National Security Forces gathered to watch Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, Jr., commanding general, II MEF (Fwd), and Sgt. Maj. Paul Berry, sergeant major, II MEF (Fwd), case their unit’s battle colors, signifying the end of their command responsibilities in a province that historically saw some of the most intense fighting since 2001.
After the casing of the II MEF (Fwd) battle colors, Maj. Gen. Miller passed the RC(SW) battle colors to Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commanding general of MEB-A and incoming commanding general of RC(SW). The passing of the battle colors represented the transfer of command and control of coalition operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., II MEF (Fwd) took command of RC(SW), Feb. 28, 2013. Throughout the unit’s yearlong deployment, the Marines and sailors achieved many milestones and helped the ANSF improve their capabilities and effectiveness.
During the first months of II MEF (Fwd)’s deployment, they focused on security force assistance and ensured the ANSF was prepared for the 2013 summer fighting season. The ANSF quickly took the lead of the region’s security and overmatched their enemy. They continue to lead security operations throughout the battlespace with limited support from coalition forces.
In addition to advising the ANSF, II MEF (Fwd) also focused on institutional development and training the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps and Afghan National Police. The 215th Corps’ Regional Corps Battle School was established, which provides training to new ANSF recruits as well as specialized training across a wide range of skills. Coalition advisors prepared ANA instructors to help pass on their own knowledge of leadership, maintenance, operations planning, communication, indirect fire, essential combat medical care and more.
“For you out here who represent thousands of Marines, not only on this rotation, but on many rotations before you, you have done a huge amount of tremendous service,” said Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commanding general, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. “If you look at the rotation you just finished, you reduced violence, along with the 215th Corps and Afghan police, by 20 percent over last year and 46 percent over the last two years. This place was far and away the most violent place in all of Afghanistan.
“What you have done over the course of a year here has made huge progress in security. But really what you’ve done is assisted the 215th Corps and the Afghan National Police in creating a shield beyond which the people of Afghanistan will have some hope for the future. And I know they are very happy you helped to train, advise and assist them. From everything from counter-(Improvised Explosive Devise) to medical to fire support, and you did it while juggling a lot of things, including a retrograde.”
The successes in southern Afghanistan did not come without a fight. Nineteen coalition members were killed in action and more than 300 were wounded during II MEF (Fwd)’s time as the command element for RC(SW).
Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, the Camp Pendleton, Calif., based command element, will now lead coalition operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces for the next year – a critical time in the country.
“This ain’t over for a long shot. We’ve got probably the most significant 120 days in the 13-year campaign in front of us coming up,” said Lt. Gen. Milley. “This is the most decisive period in the entire war as we prepare the Afghan security forces for the upcoming elections, and we transition the political government of Afghanistan from one (administration) to another. And when that happens it will be a mortal death blow to the enemies of Afghanistan. You’ve got your work cut out for you (Brig. Gen. Yoo), but welcome aboard, and we all wish you the best of luck.”
As Maj. Gen. Miller and his command redeploys to North Carolina, they leave with a sense of accomplishment and a gratitude for the ANSF and coalition partners.
“To all those who served with me out here, to the eight nations who did an incredible job, I want to wish you God bless and thank you very much,” said Maj. Gen. Miller.
“Today’s transfer of authority ceremony marks a significant transfer of the mission, a very important mission and enormous responsibility,” said Brig. Gen. Yoo. “With that responsibility comes a very huge accountability. I am talking about the accountability to the International Security Assistance Force command as well as, and more importantly, our Afghan counterparts and our hosts here in Afghanistan. It also means accountability to our individual nations who make up the strong coalition that has been here going into our 13th year. But really for most of us here in the military, it is accountability to all our fellow service members who have sacrificed over the course of the campaign. I look forward to serving with all of you and continue the momentum of the campaign.”