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Bataan Group Sailed Into Uncertainty, Came Back to Kudos

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., April 18, 2002 – When the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed aboard the USS Bataan, the USS Shreveport and the USS Whidbey Island on Sept. 20, 2001, no one knew what to expect.

The World Trade Center buildings were still smoking from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The FBI was still sifting for clues in the rubble at the Pentagon.

The Marines and sailors were mad and wanted to strike back at the terrorists that had savaged America, but they didn't know they were about to get their chance.

"We started in the normal fashion," said Marine Col. Andrew Frick, commander of the 26th MEU. The unit went to Spain, then participated in the Operation Bright Star exercises in Egypt. It looked like it might be a normal cruise. He said there was a lot of supposition that the 26th would be going into Afghanistan, but it didn't become official until after the Marines exercised in Albania.

"Then planning really went into high gear," Frick said. The 26th MEU followed the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit into Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The unit then took, secured and protected Kandahar International Airport.

Frick said it was the longest amphibious landing in history. The Navy placed the Marines more than 500 miles from their ships. Navy Capt. Martin Allard, commander of the Bataan, said training paid off.

"I'd say the training we did was harder than the actual operation," he said. "It was an extremely successful deployment. We supported our Marines farther from shore than they've ever been.

"The ship set a flying-hour record for large deck amphibious ships -- 6,700," Allard said. "The landing craft air cushion vehicles set flying-hour records and records for cargo moved."

Allard said it felt good to go on a combat deployment following the events of Sept. 11. He said the group went halfway around the world and carried the war to the enemy.

"They advertised a lot of Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan, and that just didn't pan out," he said. "I think they were afraid of the combat power of the Marines ashore and combat power from the air."

Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, said his riflemen did everything asked of them and more. "They seized and secured Kandahar airport," he said. "They helped clear the area and made it safe. A group of artillerymen went up and opened and secured the U.S. Embassy in Kabul."

He said a company in his battalion went on a "Gilligan's Island" mission. "They went up to help special operations forces search the caves in Gardez," he said. "They were supposed to be gone 12 hours; they came back nine days later."

Frick said the proudest moment he experienced in Afghanistan was when the Marines raised an American flag in Kandahar that had been given to them by New York firefighters. The flag had flown at Ground Zero.

Lynes had only praise for his young Marines. Their actions on Jan. 10, when Taliban fighters attacked the Kandahar airfield, were superb, he said. "No one was napping," he said. "There was not one chance that the Taliban were going to break through.

"I love these kids," he said. "The motivation and professionalism they displayed (were) awesome. Some parents did their jobs when they raised them. I guess I'm proudest of bringing them all back."

The Marines and sailors will have leave and time to enjoy their families. Then the train-up for the next deployment will begin.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA heavy-lift helicopter touches down on the deck of the USS Bataan. The chopper was helping offload the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.. The 26th returned on April 18, 2002, from duty in Afghanistan. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA landing craft air cushion vessel "flies" off the beach as it returns to the USS Bataan April 18. The LCAC helped transport the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit back to its base at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The 26th took, occupied and held Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan during its deployment. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, get ready to convoy back to Camp Lejeune, N.C. The troops and vehicles had just gotten ashore from the USS Bataan. The battalion was the infantry portion of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which returned April 18, 2002, from service in Afghanistan. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes said the members of his unit behaved magnificently during operations in Afghanistan. He commands the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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