Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Camp Pendleton-based Marines are deploying to Afghanistan this month to take over command of Marine forces in Helmand Province.
The 1st Marine Division, nicknamed the Blue Diamond, held a ceremonial color guard “March Off” in front of their Headquarters building. It marked the sixth time in the division’s 69 year history that all units, including headquarters command, are deploying.
Maj. Gen. Richard Mills and Brigadier General Jo Osterman will take over command of operations from Marines based at Camp Lejeune.
Commanding General Richard Mills says his job will be to build on the gains made in Marjah.
“There’s a lot of momentum right now in Helmand Province from the Marines that have been there before, and the British forces that are on the ground there,” says Mills. “My job there is to build on that moment and continue it. It’s the “hold and build” phase and that’s the important piece, because that stands up the local governance and the local economy, and it gets the local security apparatus in place so that we can all come home.”
As the flags were carried out of the courtyard, the band played their signature tune, "Waltzing Matilda." The 1st Marine Division adopted the song during World War II when they had a training base in Australia.
Gen. Jo Osterman will command the ground forces in Helmand Province. He says, unlike after the fall of Baghdad, the Marines have a specific plan to build on the progress being made in Marjah, Afghanistan.
“In this case,” Osterman said, “the great thing about the planning for Marjah, is that they thought about all of that before they even stepped off on day one. I was actually with Gen. Nicholson, who is currently in command, when we met with the Marjah elders, so we’ve got a very good plan for follow through and transition.”
Osterman says the Marines will help prepare Afghan army forces to manage the transition in Marjah, and also push into new areas where coalition forces have not already penetrated.
Eight hundred members of the 1st Marine Division’s headquarters unit head out this month. They’ll stay for a year.
An estimated 7,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton are heading to Afghanistan on a seven month deployment.
Mills says about 17,000 Marines are in Afghanistan now. He says that will grow to 19,000 by summer.