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Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, speaks to Marines of Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, Friday, at the Dining Facility at Camp Baharia, Karmah, Iraq. The Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps came to thank Marines for their work and sacrifices, especially during the holiday time. (Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo / Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarlioti

Corps’ top leaders visit al Anbar Marines

26 Dec 2008 | Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway and Sergeant Major of The Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent visited Marines of Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, at Camp Baharia, Iraq, recently.

Conway and Kent visit deployed Marines during the holiday season to thank them for their hard work and sacrifices.

“We’re here to say thank you and to see how you’re doing,” said Conway.

Before talking to Marines in the camp’s dining facility, service members stood at attention as Conway presented Marines from 2nd Platoon, Company C., 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, with Purple Heart Medals for injuries they sustained in a recent attack during a patrol in Karmah, Iraq.

After presenting the medals and thanking the Marines for their service, Conway spoke about current operations and acknowledged deployments during the holiday season are always difficult.

“I know you guys are away from your families,” he said. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about that. But, you’re with your Marine family here – and your country appreciates it.”

Conway also addressed the future of Marine Corps operations in Afghanistan.

As relatively little conflict takes place in Iraq, it is the exact opposite in Afghanistan, he said.

Conway told Marines that while no decision has been made about when Marines might deploy again to Afghanistan, when it does happen it will be as a Marine Air Ground Task Force.

“I can’t tell you how soon we’ll end here, but I can tell you when we do leave we’re going to leave together,” he said. “Any forces you see in Afghanistan will be because of a reduction here.”

He also explained the importance of reducing deployment frequency. With roughly a seven-month deployment to one year of dwell time for Marines with infantry battalions, he said an earnest effort was being made to double the time home with families.

Kent also spoke to service members and described the level of pride he has in his Marine Corps.

“Marines, you are proven legacy,” he said. “You prove that every day. You are doing great things.”

For some of the Marines, the visit was not as much about holidays during the deployment as it was seeing the highest-ranking Marine sacrificing his time, and even recognizing Marines for their sacrifices.

“It meant something to have the commandant come here,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathon Ganci, a 22-year-old rifleman from Orange County, Ca., with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, and one of the Purple Heart recipients. “The medal was the last thing on my mind. It just felt good to see your actions don’t go unnoticed.”

To see him out here missing the holidays to be with deployed Marines says a lot, said Staff Sgt. Mike Brown, a 27-year-old platoon commander from Jacksonville, Fl., with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.

“It didn’t matter about the holidays,” he said. “For my guys to see the commandant – and get the Purple Heart from him was what mattered. They obviously would much rather not have received it. But, to receive it from the commandant meant a lot.”