KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN -- -- The MEU commander, standing in front of a giant map nearly two-stories high, looked out into the tri-color wave of Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors and broke the morning silence by telling them that the next few months would be vitally important to the future of Afghanistan.
More than 2,300 warriors listened intently as Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr, the 22d MEU (SOC) commanding officer, gave the entire MEU an orientation to the ground in which they will live, work, and likely fight in the months to come.
“There are some things you need to hear, and you need to hear it from me,” said McKenzie as he walked in front of the massive group. “We are on the ground now and we have a great mission.” He was referring to the addition of the MEU to the coalition force providing security and stability as Afghan election efforts continue amid a resurgence of Taliban activity.
The UN is overseeing election registration efforts, which have been described as struggling in most areas except the region near the capital city of Kabul. Some believe the increased presence of Taliban in remote areas of Afghanistan is keeping would-be voters from registering.
McKenzie stressed that the MEU arrived at a critical time for Afghanistan. “They [Afghan people] have a tremendous opportunity over the next few months [election efforts] to take a step forward. We are fundamental to that opportunity,” said McKenzie.
The MEU’s mission is to secure major population areas in their respective area of operations so election efforts can continue. The Marines plan to conduct civil-military operations, while Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) assist local communities with projects aimed at infrastructure development.
Col. McKenzie said he addressed the MEU in order to offer an orientation, put things into perspective, and to answer questions he believed were lingering among the troops about their deployment.
“It was motivating and informative,” said Gunnery Sgt. Reginald Brand reflecting on the ‘biggest briefing to date’ for the MEU. Brand, from Washington D.C., serves as the MEU’s administration chief. He said the mass formation was the largest he had ever been a part of during his Marine career.
McKenzie had some final thoughts for the Marines as he concluded the brief: “Treat the Afghan people with respect. These people have had a bad deal for a long time. They have a lot of wonderful qualities. We are their only chance. If we can’t make a go of it, there is no one else who is going to do it. There are a lot of bad guys [Taliban] there, but there are also a lot of Afghan people who need help. We are going to deal with both of them.”
The 22d MEU deployed from the Camp Lejeune, N.C. area in mid-February as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, and is comprised of its command element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Rein.), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit will be in Afghanistan for an undetermined amount of time under the tactical control of Combined Joint Task Force 180.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.