FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Afghanistan -- When Sgt. Maj. George H. Mason arrived at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in early March for a liaison visit, one of the first things he noticed was the abundance of unit, state, and even college flags flying over the base's tents and buildings.
As the senior enlisted Marine in the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), Mason commented that the unit's arrival in Afghanistan should be heralded by Marine Corps flags to identify the only Marine unit operating in south-central Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, there were no flags to be had in-country or even in the region, so the MEU's Public Affairs Officer turned to the Marine Corps League for help.
"I contacted the Marine Corps League and told them our situation. We proposed that if they sent us 50 flags, one for each state, we would assign them to Marines from that state who would keep it with them during our time in Afghanistan."
Within days, Helen Hicks, the National Commandant of the Marine Corps League, was on the case.
"The major mission of the Marine Corps League is to support the USMC," said Hicks, a Marine veteran who assumed the top position in the MCL in August 2003. "Being able to show the public these flags will tell your [the MEU's] story and provides the American public some insight into the dedicated, professional, and caring spirit of today's Marine Corps and our young Marines."
In addition to the 50 flags provided by the Marine Corps League, Paul Hastings of Pennsylvania provided a 51st that enables one to be allocated to the District of Columbia.
The first Marine Corps flag to venture past the Kandahar perimeter was the one assigned to Texas, and was carried by a Denison, Texas native on a vehicular reconnaissance patrol of the Oruzgan province. Since then, flags have been doled out to individuals from throughout the MEU's four elements and are flying over buildings at Kandahar, adorning tents at Forward Operating Base Ripley, and bundled away in the rucksacks of Marines on patrol.
When the MEU eventually retrogrades from Afghanistan, the flags will be signed not only by those who carried it, but also Marines and Sailors hailing from the state in question. The flags will then be returned to the Marine Corps League for distribution to chapters from the respective states.
"It is of great importance to preserve the traditions and to promote the interests of the Marine Corps," said Hicks, who balances her duties with the MCL with her career in law enforcement of more than 30 years. "Just as the Marines of previous generations before us gave us encouragement and support, we now support you and we know today's Marines will offer the same support to those who follow."
The 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker for Combined Joint Task Force 76 in the Oruzgan province.
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. To learn more about the Marine Corps League, visit www.mcleague.org.