CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Over seven months of training, the Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have become hardened for war.
They’ve prepared for the enemy from their home base in Hawaii and endured endless hours baking in the sun of the California desert.
The approximately 1,000 men of “America’s Battalion” bid bittersweet goodbyes to family and friends from Oct. 27 through Nov. 1, carrying these memories on their deployment to southern Helmand.
In the coming weeks 3/3 will take control of operations in Garmsir District, relieving fellow Hawaii-based 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. The “Lava Dogs” of 1/3 are nearing the end of their seven-month deployment, which began in April.
Staff Sgt. Joe Salinas, an operations watch chief with 3/3, said the Marines and sailors will have a challenging task in Garmsir. Here, they’ll partner with the Afghan National Security Forces to maintain the progress made by 1/3 to secure the district and legitimize its government in the eyes of the people.
“Our deployment to Garmsir is as important as the first because we could be the last Marines here,” said Salinas, a 40-year-old native of San Antonio. “We have a lot to accomplish to make sure the Afghans are ready to take over when we leave.
Partnering with the Afghan National Army and Police, “America’s Battalion” will assist the local Afghan leadership in providing security for reconstruction projects aimed at developing critical infrastructure in the district. Lieutenant Col. Matthew J. Palma, 3/3 commanding officer, sees these development projects as essential to the Afghan government taking root in southern Helmand.
“We’ve invested 10 years in this war,” Palma, a native of Bristol, R.I., said. “We’re on the verge of success, and turning back now would only throw away the work we’ve done and the sacrifices of the Marines that have gone before us. The Afghans are emerging from 30 years of sustained conflict. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they want change, too.”
The deployment is new territory for many of the Marines and sailors of 3/3, including Seaman Dave Mundy, a corpsman with Kilo Company. While a professional milestone, it will also be Mundy’s first deployment apart from his wife of seven months.
He said the separation will be difficult, especially following his wife’s recent move to Hawaii.
“I brought my wife away from her family for the first time,” said Mundy, a native of Chicago. “Now we’re going to miss spending all the good holidays together.”
In Afghanistan, the corpsman will shoulder a lot of responsibility. At 27 he has more life experience than nearly all his peers, and his maturity will be an asset in the performance of his duties. He’s charged with caring for 18 Marines, infantrymen faced with the threats of enemy fighters and improvised explosive devices.
Though confident in his abilities as a corpsman, Mundy said he hopes he never has to use his training in combat.
“Even if I don’t have to use my training, I’m doing a job that matters ... and my wife knows I am, too,” Mundy said. “Being away from her is going to be really hard, but it makes me feel better knowing I’ll be there when my guys need me.”
The Marines and sailors of 3/3 will labor in Afghanistan for seven months, but the impact of their efforts will forever be a part of Afghan and Marine Corps history, Palma said.
“This generation of Marines is re-writing America’s history books,” Palma said. “Twenty years from now, our kids will read about our endeavors, much like we did of our fathers in Vietnam, and our grandfathers in World War II.”
Editor’s note: 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghanistan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.