MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force took a look back this week at several accomplishments and setbacks faced this past year.
There have undoubtedly been many events that could be highlighted, but a few have stood out among the minds of those who have served this past year.
On top of everyone’s mind is the involvement in Iraq, where the II MEF deployed this past year.
“We deployed the II MEF forward and rotated troops throughout Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sgt. Maj. Ronald D. Himsworth, II MEF sergeant major, said. “Many great things have been done, but it is due to the Marine Corps-wide effort.”
The presence of Marines who are deployed experienced a historical event with the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey, which is capable of both helicopter-like landings and faster travel speeds.
“The deployment of the MV-22s into a combat environment has been very successful,” Himsworth said. “It has brought our capabilities to the next level.”
Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, commanding general, II MEF, agreed.
“The deployment of them, of course, was a huge milestone for the weapon system itself,” Stalder said. “They have now been in Iraq since early October and have been involved in combat missions every day.”
The troops have been highly accepting of them due to its ability to perform better and travel faster than a helicopter, Stalder said.
II MEF is working to get back to the basics as well.
“This year we have started planning for more emphasis on Marines involvement on MEUs,” Himsworth said. “It is our main mission, and we have not done our amphibious operations”
The Wounded Warrior barracks, which was established as a battalion in June of this year, grew from an idea to something much larger, Stalder explained.
“We institutionalized the (Wounded Warriors program) from a local program to something Marine Corps wide,” Stalder said. “We now have the Wounded Warrior Regiment, and we wouldn’t have it, if not for the efforts that started last year. We have now transitioned it to the next level.”
Himsworth also credited II MEF for the regiment’s creation.
“The stand up of the Wounded Warrior Regiment has been outstanding for II MEF,” Himsworth said. “If not for their efforts, the regiment would not have been created.”
Many changes here at home have also come about due to the dedication of the Marine Corps to help both the Marines as well as their families. The introduction of the Family Readiness Program is now making support programs available for the families of deployed servicemembers.
“The Family Readiness Program all started with General Conway wanting to bring family readiness up to a wartime footing,” Stalder said. “We have created around half a dozen initiatives to help support the families of our Marines and sailors.”
While there have been plenty of positive progress by the Marines of II MEF, they are still faced with a decline in safety.
“Our biggest downfall right now is safety,” Himsworth said. “We are losing way too many Marines in off-duty accidents.”
Himsworth believes that the best way to stop these accidents is for the Marines to look out for each other.
“When in combat, I believe that (Marines) take care of each other, regardless of rank,” he said. “We need that idea to carry over into the civilian world.”
Marines taking care of Marines extend to situations where a Marine is out drinking and could make a bad decision. Others need to step in and ensure they make it home safely, Himsworth said.
Organizations promoting camaraderie and safety have developed to assist Marines in many ways, including motorcycle safety. Motorcycle related accidents are becoming a common reason for Marines’ deaths.
“A major effort we have been developing is programs for our motorcycle drivers to be better managed and trained,” Stalder said. “Motorcycle clubs are another help, and we want to help develop them as well.”
While this year has been good for the Marines of II MEF, the command is looking ahead toward the future.
“Things that have impressed me are the capabilities that young Marines are bringing to the table, whether it be their enthusiasm or how much smarter they are than when we came in” Himsworth said. “Having about thirty years in, the future seems really bright.”
Confidence in the younger Marines of today is helping to shape the teachings of tomorrow.
“We now take our noncommissioned officers with us to Washington, D.C. and sit with the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps to give feedback,” Himsworth said. “In the future, we are going to get the Marines together, give them a problem, the current rules, and ask them how we can fix the problem.”
Himsworth used an example to help portray his idea.
“If we were to have a big party tonight,” he said. “Would you want Sergeant Major Himsworth and Lt. Gen. Stalder picking the music, or would you want the junior enlisted to do it?”
The sergeant major summed up II MEF’s goal for next year.
“Our most valuable asset in this MEF is not the harrier, or the tank, it is the individual Marine,” Himsworth said. “Our goal for fiscal year ’08, and what we’d like to see done is that each Marine takes care of their fellow Marine the way they do in combat.”