HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Lieutenant Gen. Samuel T. Helland is keeping a watchful eye on his Marines, particularly those currently fighting in the war against terrorism.
The three-star general who is dual-hatted as the commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command and commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, has made a second trip to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province to visit Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, part of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix.
A reinforced infantry battalion of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors, 2/7 deployed from the Marine Air Ground Combat Training Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., to Afghanistan in early April to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion, now considered a task force, is supported by various attachments to include soldiers, airmen, National Guardsmen and civilian contractors who specialize in police operations. The Marine unit is currently conducting full spectrum and counterinsurgency operations with a focus on police mentoring of the Afghan National Police.
“Some people live history, some people read about it, but you just made history,” said Lt. Gen. Helland, who praised TF 2/7 for fighting to make Afghanistan a better place. “Nobody’s done what you’ve done. Nobody has gone out at the platoon level, in an open environment with the ‘bad guys’ right outside the gate and have been successful.”
During this visit, Lt. Gen. Helland convoyed to Forward Operating Base Delaram -- one of the unit’s most austere locations. Upon reaching the FOB, he met with the Marines of Company G, Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company and 3rd Civil Affairs Group.
“He dispelled a lot of rumors, discussed motorcycle safety, encouraged pursuing further education and looking out for each other in combat as well as in garrison,” said Lance Cpl. Robert J. Perez, a mortarman assigned to CAAT-2 and Virgin Islands native.
The VIP visits play an important role in keeping the troops’ spirits high, Gunnery Sgt. Ivan Collazosanchez said.
“It keeps the Marines morale up and lets them know that the VIPs really do take interest in what goes on in their lives,” said Collazosanchez, who is assigned to CAAT-2 and a Puerto Rico native. “We’ve had quite a few VIP visits, and that’s been pretty much the talk of the Marines. They’re like, ‘Hey, they really do care about what’s going on out here.’”
Lieutenant Gen. Helland then returned to the headquarters camp at Camp Barber to speak to service members there. Before hosting a town hall meeting at the flagpole, he highlighted his visit by combat meritoriously promoting Cpls. Ray Alvarado of Fillmore, Calif., and Ramiro Novoa of Coachella, Calif., to their current ranks.
“You need to be proud of yourselves, you really do,” Lt. Gen. Helland said. “It’s great to be proud to be a Marine, but even prouder to be in 2/7 when you go home.”