CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
"Nobody can touch the Marines and sailors that we have today! They are the best-trained, most-educated, best fighting force the world has ever known."
So declared the Honorable Mr. Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, after he came to Helmand province to visit the Marines and sailors of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) on June 3. As current Secretary of the Navy, Mabus oversees the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Mabus is a former Governor of Mississippi, and served as United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Mabus was greeted at Camp Leatherneck by Major Gen. Richard Mills, I MEFcommanding general, and Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, I MEF sergeant major.
Then Mabus, 75th secretary of the Navy, donned a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet to tour the battle space with Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, 1st Marine Division commanding general, and Sgt. Maj. Phillip Fascetti, 1st Marine Division sergeant major.
Mabus boarded a CH-53 Sea Knight helicopter and flew from Camp Leatherneck to Forward Operating Base Delaram 2, home of Regimental Combat Team 2 and the 31st Georgian Battalion, 3rd Brigade. After a meeting with the 31st Georgian leadership, Col. Paul Kennedy, RCT-2 commanding officer, and Sgt. Maj. George Young, RCT-2 sergeant major, gave their guests a quick tour of their FOB. They visited with the Navy Corpsmen of the Shock Trauma Platoon, RCT-2 personnel, Sea Bees, and the 11th Marines High Mobility Artillery Rocket System detachment.
Next, Mabus and the Marines jumped on an V-22 Osprey to visit FOB Musa Qal'ah, located near the northeastern border of Helmand province. With rotary wings still in motion, Lt. Col. Michael Manning, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Cullen, 1/2 sergeant major, greeted Mabus and Gen. Osterman, then escorted them to a sandbag re-enforced chow hall for a gourmet lunch with the troops: a Meal Ready to Eat.
"It was great to see the secretary of the Navy visiting our Division Marines in their battle space," said Fascetti. "He got to see how the Marines live, how they operate and even what they eat for chow. All the things they are doing 24/7 in a combat zone to make our nation proud!"
Manning gave the SECNAV a "rooftop tour" of his area of responsibility, pointing out key terrain features in his battle space. While on the roof, Neimatullah, the district governor of Musa Qal'ah, talked with Mabus through an interpreter, shared words of hope and a brighter future.
Mabus, a fourth-generation Mississippian, was Governor of Mississippi from 1988-92. He was the youngest governor in America at the time. "As a former governor," Mabus told Neimatullah, "I know it can be a difficult job. We are honored to have a person of your stature in this position."
Following a detailed brief on future operations presented in a heavily bunkered conference room, Mabus boarded another Osprey, bound for FOB Delhi, area of responsibility of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. However, due to a severe sandstorm, this flight was diverted back to Camp Leatherneck.
Soon it was early evening. As the hot Afghan sun began to set, and the blistering 115 degree temperature beginning to drop, Mabus visited with the wounded warriors and medical personnel at Bastion's Medical Facility. He personally thanked each and every person for their hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
"A lot of people are alive today because of you and all the corpsmen out there. Blue in support of green!" Mabus said, referring to his Navy-Marine/blue-green team. "I was really happy there were very few patients, and very few Marines. The one Marine I got to meet is getting released soon. It was the third time he had been hit, but he was like every other Marine I have ever met – ready to get back in the fight!"
Back at the chow hall at Camp Leatherneck, Mabus asked a group of Sea Bees, if they would like to have dinner with him. They let out a resounding response: "CAN DO!"
"As good as my guys were 40 years ago," said Mabus, referring to his fellow service members aboard the USS Little Rock, where he served as a lieutenant junior grade, "nobody can touch the Marines and sailors that we have today! They are the best-trained, most-educated, best fighting force the world has ever known. And what I saw today did nothing but increase that belief of mine."