Marines, Afghans share Memorial Day

31 May 2011 | Cpl. Colby Brown

At dusk, with a sandstorm rolling ever closer, Navy Lt. Carl Rhoads, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment chaplain, offered up a somber prayer of gratitude on behalf of the battalion and their Afghan counterparts.
Afghanistan National Army soldiers, Afghanistan National Police members, and Marines bowed their heads in remembrance of their fallen brothers-in-arms, during the Memorial Day ceremony held here, May 31.

“The biggest debt our country has are the lives of the men and women who have fought and died in sacrifice for their country,” said Lt. Col. Sean Riordan, a native of Montclair, Va. “It’s an honor, as the senior mentor to [ANA and ANP in Garmsir], to be able to share Memorial Day with them.”

Although Memorial Day is an American observance, the ceremony honored the fallen ANA soldiers and ANP policemen as well.

A post-driver was turned upside down and struck as a salute, symbolic of a bell traditionally used, as the name of each fallen service member was called off. All three organizations recognized each other’s sacrifices.

“I know this is an important day in America,” said Captain Omar Jan, chief of police for the Garmsir ANP. “It’s important to be able to honor the Marines and ANA and ANP who have fallen in Garmsir. It’s also important for the younger police to see that we all honor the fallen.”

In Afghanistan, like many other places where Marines have been deployed, few distractions obscure Memorial Day’s meaning. There is no holiday weekend here -- only the realization of being on the same soil where others gave their lives.

In the commanding officer’s Memorial Day letter to the Marines of 1/3, Riordan wrote:

“… American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have died in our wars leave irreparable tears in the fabric of families, and, at the same time, tie together a nation of strangers and conflicting points of view; they are the rallying point around which we can reinforce the bonds of being American.”

The Afghans in attendance adopted the same mindset. Mohammed Khan, the deputy governor of Garmsir, spoke of the sacrifices that Afghanistan National Security Forces have made and thanked Marine forces’ for everything they have done for Afghanistan.

Garmsir’s chief of police also showed his gratitude.

“I am very grateful of the Marines who have sacrificed their lives here because they have helped us improve the conditions in Afghanistan and bring the people of Afghanistan a much better life,” said Jan.

Lance Cpl. Wayman Wallace, a native of Chicago, believes the ceremony brought coalition forces together.

“America or Afghanistan, it doesn’t matter, because we will never forget those who gave the sacrifice,” said Wallace, an administrative clerk with 1/3. “It was necessary to have that ceremony so we can acknowledge those who stood before us and also to show the Afghanistan people that we care, not just about America’s fallen, but about theirs as well.”

Editor’s Note: The battalion supports Regimental Combat Team 1, under 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which serves as the ground combat element in Helmand. The mission of the division is to partner with Afghan National Security Forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF to assume security responsibilities in the region. Ultimately, the partnered forces promote the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.