Commander: Public, Family Support Vital to Deployed Forces
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2013 As U.S. forces continue to draw down in Afghanistan and the December 2014 deadline for the end of combat operations there draws steadily closer, a senior commander wrapping up his year-long deployment emphasized the importance of continued support from military families and the American public.
“You may not read about it so much anymore in the news or hear it on TV, but we out here believe that America is still strongly behind us,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command Southwest, told American Forces Press Service in a telephone interview yesterday.
Gurganus and his fellow 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Marines are scheduled to return to Camp Pendleton, Calif., during the first week of March following a deployment to Afghanistan’s Helmand and Nimroz provinces. The region is among the most challenging in Afghanistan.
What sustained his forces, Gurganus said, was the bond they developed as brothers and sisters in arms, and confidence in the support of the people they left behind. That support is evident wherever they serve, he said, from encouraging emails and snail-mail letters to care packages brimming with thoughtful treats and mementos.
“The support of the American people is just huge to these Marines,” Gurganus said. “They really do want to know that people care about them and about what they are doing.”
The most important support of all, he said, comes from military families themselves.
Traveling around his battle space to bid goodbye to the forces serving there, Gurganus said, he asked them to make a point to extend thanks to their families from “the old gray-haired guy out here.”
“I just couldn’t tell the families ‘thank you’ enough,” he said. “I would never be able to express my true gratitude to the support we have gotten from them.”
It’s been a major factor, not just in troops’ sense of well-being, but in their ability to do their mission, Gurganus said.
“You can’t account for how much the support of their loved ones goes to strengthen the guy’s will to do what he is doing,” he said. “If these guys out here know they’ve got support, and the families back there are providing that support, it really does allow them to keep their minds on what they are doing out here.”
This, in turn, helps them to perform their duties better and safer -- a measure that protects them and their fellow Marines, the general explained.
Reflecting on the key role families play in mission success, Gurganus said they’re the ones who pay the biggest toll during a deployment.
“We’re trained for what we do,” he said of military members. “We train for a long time to get ready to come here. We know pretty much what is expected of us when we get here, and we have a team, … so we have somebody to lean on.”
Not so with families -- despite what Gurganus acknowledged has grown to become an extensive support network. “Nobody is standing right next to them every day,” he said. “Their world has a lot of uncertainty in it when we are gone.”
Yet their continued support will remain vital, even as U.S. forces draw down, and until the last U.S. service member returns home from Afghanistan, Gurganus said.
“So I really want to thank and admire the families for continuing to provide that level of support,” he added.