Isle Marines join Afghan force


POSTED: Monday, June 01, 2009

More than 1,000 Kaneohe Marines became part last week of the 10,000-member Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, which will beef up counterinsurgency operations with Afghan forces in the southwestern part of the country. They will also train local army and police officers.


Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the expeditionary brigade, assumed authority of Marine forces in Helmand province Friday from Col. Duffy White, commanding officer of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Afghanistan. The brigade, also known as Task Force Leatherneck, is responsible for the districts of Now Zad, Washir, Golestan, Delaram and Bakwa.

They are part of the additional 21,000 U.S. troops President Barack Obama is sending to the country this summer to bolster the roughly 40,000 already there as part of the strategy to combat insurgents, train Afghan forces and provide security for the Afghan national elections, scheduled for Aug. 20.

White, who is commander of the Kaneohe-based 3rd Marine Regiment, took more than 250 Marines and sailors from his Windward Oahu command in October to run the task force.

In his new role, White will now serve as commander of the 5,500-member ground force in the expeditionary brigade. White's new command includes three Marine Corps rifle battalions from Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Kaneohe.

Nearly 1,000 Kaneohe Marines and sailors from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, left Hawaii last month and will spend the next seven months under White's command, known as Regimental Combat Team 3. The 2nd Battalion is commanded by Lt. Col. Patrick Cashman.

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade also consists of an aviation element, known as Marine Aircraft Group 40. CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, nicknamed the “;Ugly Angels,”; at Kaneohe Bay are part of Group 40.

The Kaneohe helicopter squadron originally deployed to Iraq on Jan. 23 to conduct assault support, logistics and movement of personnel missions. It was given a new mission shortly after arriving in Iraq and sent to Afghanistan.

“;Afghanistan is where the fight is now,”; said Lt. Col. Jeffrey A. Hagan, HMH-362's commander, in a Marine Corps news release. “;There was a planned drawdown in Iraq and an increasing need for medium lift capabilities in Afghanistan. So we begin making arrangements to move from Al Asad to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.”;

The brigade also has a service and logistics group that includes Kaneohe Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 3.

White, in a Pentagon news release, said his task force was sent to Afghanistan in late 2008 as “;a bridging force,”; to maintain a strong Marine Corps presence in southern Afghanistan.

“;My deployment is halfway done,”; White said, “;and as I see it, the best part is about to come. It will be a game changer for this part of the country.”;

The highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the new expeditionary brigade is Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii, who is from Maui.

Another 1,000 Marines from Kaneohe's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have been deployed to Al Asad in western Iraq since April. They replaced 900 Marines and sailors from 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, which served on Task Force Military Police providing security operations throughout the region. The recent deployment was the unit's second as a full battalion.