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U.S. Marines Return From Afghanistan Tour

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., April 18, 2002 – They stepped off their air-cushion landing craft, but their feet didn't touch the ground.

The men of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, knew they'd done a good job in Afghanistan, and now they were "splashing in" at their Onslow Beach home here.

Families and friends gathered to greet the 2,300 Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, home from a seven-month deployment that took them to Kandahar, Kabul and Camp Rhino.

The expeditionary unit's primary purpose while operating near Kandahar was to block al Qaeda and Taliban escape routes, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Dec. 9, 2001, Fox television news interview.

"And they're doing that very nicely," Myers said. The 3rd Battalion was the 26th MEU's ground element. According to its commander, Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes, his Marines performed superbly.

"At one point I had Marines aboard the USS Bataan and a forward element in the Gardez region," he said. "That's like having your right flank in Charleston and your left flank in New York."

Lynes said the young "Devil Dogs" carried on a unit tradition that dates back to World War I. "Anyone who thinks that American kids aren't tough didn't see these Marines in Afghanistan," he said.

The Marines were the first ground troops in the southern part of the country. They took and held Kandahar International Airport, a hotbed of Taliban sentiment.

The conditions in Afghanistan were austere to say the least, Lynes said. The Marines lived in holes, they were cold, they ate MREs for two months, and they had no showers.

"We suffered from a stench of Olympic proportions," Lynes said.

The unit also operated from Pakistan. Lynes noted that the U.S. forces couldn't have accomplished what they did without the help of the Pakistani government.

"The operation in Afghanistan was the biggest beach the unit ever crossed," Lynes said. Other officials said the distance from the USS Bataan to Camp Rhino was 500 miles.

Cpl. Michael Pyle said the Afghan environment required a lot of digging. "We occupied some buildings at the southern end of the air base in Kandahar," he said. "We sandbagged them, looked out, and waited for something to happen."

On Jan. 10, something did happen. The battalion engaged Taliban skirmishers in a 45-minute firefight at the airport. The Taliban came at night, but the Marines were ready. "That statement, 'We own the night'? It's true," Lynes said.

No Taliban got even close to the airport, he said. The Marines fought them off with small arms and 81mm mortar illumination rounds. "They made me very proud," Lynes said. "They were so professional about the situation."

And now, the Marines are home. They will have leave and go out to see families and friends that supported them.

"While we were in Afghanistan we heard and read how America was really standing behind us," Lynes said. "That means a lot to us. It's great to be back home and maybe we can tell these folks personally how much we appreciated the support."

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