Face of Defense: Afghans Bid ‘Colonel Bill’ Farewell
By Marine Corps Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Special to American Forces Press Service
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2009 Five months ago, the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, arrived in Nawa district here to the sounds of gunfire, rockets and mortars.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. William F. McCollough approaches the Nawa district administrator's home in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where nearly 45 Marines and local Afghan leaders gathered for a celebration in his honor, Dec. 8, 2009. McCollough, known throughout Nawa as “Colonel Bill,” showed his respect to his hosts by wearing traditional Afghan clothes and a headdress. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today, Nawa is quiet – a place where they can walk through the city center without body armor as children crowd at their feet.
On Dec. 11, at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, with leaders from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, local Afghan leaders and Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, on hand, Marine Corps Lt. Col. William F. McCollough cased his battalion's battle colors during a transfer-of-authority ceremony, marking the end of 1/5’s successful deployment.
The commanding officer of 1/3, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Matt Baker, called forward his battalion's colors and unfurled the flag and streamers to the wind, marking the start of the unit’s operational commitment to the Nawa district.
Through the success of 1/5's Marines over their five months in Nawa, "Colonel Bill" has forged strong ties with local leaders and much of the population, said Mohammed Khan, Nawa district administrator, at a lunch celebration held in McCollough's honor, Dec. 8.
McCollough dressed in traditional Afghan clothes and a headdress for the party to show his sincere respect for Afghan culture.
"Colonel Bill and his Marines patrolled in the heat, drenched in sweat every day, and brought security to our streets and wonderful jobs to our people," Khan said. "They touch our children on the heads and give them candy, and when they play in streets they pretend to be Colonel Bill or one of his brave Marines. We thank you."
McCollough noted the bond that had formed during his battalion’s time in the district. "When we first came here, we had no friends,” he said. “Now, we are leaving as more than friends. We slept in this very spot in the dirt, and we sweated and bled together here." McCollough recognized the bravery of the Afghan men gathered before him and evoked the memory of three who were assassinated by the Taliban for stepping forward to lead in their communities.
After lunch, Afghans and 1/5 Marines exchanged gifts.
Khan adorned McCullough, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. William T. Sowers, sergeant major of 1/5, and Marine Corps Capt. Brian Huysman, commanding officer of the battalion’s Charlie Company, with colorful paper arrangements that hung from their necks – reminiscent of large Hawaiian leis, and traditionally given by Afghans at celebrations.
To District Gov. Abdul Manaf and Khan, McCollough presented Mameluke swords of Marine Corps officers.
"Many years ago after fighting alongside our Muslim brothers in Africa, Marines were presented a sword – a sword we still carry today," McCollough said. "Now, it is my great honor to be able to present you with that sword as a symbol of the struggles we have endured together and the friendship we have built here in Nawa."
McCollough also presented Manaf and Khan's sons with Ka-Bar fighting knives. "You do a great job protecting your father,” he said, “but if anything happens, you'll be ready, just like Marines are."
Others received watches to recognize their consistent punctuality and reliability in helping to revitalize Nawa.
"Whenever I or my men hear about Afghanistan, we will stop and wonder how our friends are doing," McCollough said. "We will remember each other for the rest of our lives."
(Marine Corps Sgt. Brian Tuthill serves with Regimental Combat Team 7.)