CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan -- After years spent in Helmand province, the U.S. Marines are making strides toward bringing the last deployed service members home.
More than 900 men of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, rendered heartfelt goodbyes to their friends and family in late April. Many of them left on their second deployment with the battalion to southern Helmand since 2011. The Marines and sailors of “America’s Battalion” spent twelve months training and enduring endless hours in the sweltering sun of the California desert, readying for their mission here.
They relieved the “Shadow Warriors” of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, and took full control of operations on Camp Dwyer and its outlying forward operating bases.
The Marines prepared for situations across the spectrum of counterinsurgency operations, similar to those faced by the battalion during its previous deployment to Helmand province in 2011, but the Marines have found that no two deployments are the same.
Since their arrival here, many in the battalion on their second deployment have noticed big changes.
“I think the difference is as clear as night and day,” said Cpl. David Jewell, a company clerk with the Headquarters and Service Company. “When we first landed in Afghanistan (in 2011), we landed at Dwyer, which was a lot different than it is now.”
On his previous deployment with 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, Jewell, a Philadelphia native, was a patrol leader with the 81 mm mortar section.
“Last deployment, we were going on two patrols a day, clearing houses and interacting with local nationals,” Jewell said. “We worked with the Afghan National Security Forces, but now it’s like a whole new war. I didn’t expect the progress within the country to be as far as it is.”
The last time the battalion was here, the Marines worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their Afghan counterparts— now Marines have taken a back seat.
“The biggest difference is the mission,” said 1st Sgt. James Breland, a native of New Orleans and the company first sergeant with H&S Co. “Last deployment was all about (counterinsurgency) operations, supporting the local forces, and interacting with the people. This time the focus is on letting the forces operate on their own, supporting the Security Force Assistance Advisor Teams who are training the local forces, and more logistics operations as the (U.S) military transitions out of the country.”
While the Afghan forces continue to take the lead in operations, Marines like Breland and Jewell are passing down their knowledge and experience to young Marines on their first deployment.