KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- A lesser man might have been intimidated, but Army Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson held his own when he faced down the 2,300 Marines and Sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
Arrayed before Olson in tight formation behind its billeting area aboard Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, the MEU listened intently as Olson praised their efforts in the war on terror since their arrival in Afghanistan nearly four months ago.
"This has been the most successful military operation since I've been here and no unit could've done any better," said Olson, who took the reins as the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 76 (CJTF-76) in mid-April. "Never has a force been so flexible and so successful."
Olson continued. "From the mechanics turning wrenches to the pilots, from the infantrymen to the signalers, you couldn't have accomplished a thing without the individual contribution each Marine, Sailor and Solider makes."
The 22nd MEU (SOC) was designated Task Force Linebacker during its time in Afghanistan and consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. Additionally, the unit was reinforced at times with Afghan National Army forces, various Navy and Army support units, and an entire Army infantry battalion (2nd Bn., 5th Infantry Regt., 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division).
Beginning in late March, the MEU undertook a series of offensive combat and civil military operations in central Afghanistan's rugged Oruzgan and Zabol provinces, which have long been strongholds for Taliban and anti-coalition forces. During this time, the MEU killed more than a hundred enemy fighters, captured scores of enemy fighters or sympathizers, confiscated thousands of weapons and types of ordnance, started or completed over a hundred civil affairs projects, and helped register nearly 60 thousand Afghans to vote in the country's upcoming elections.
After the formation, Olson, a combat veteran of both Kuwait and Somalia, ate breakfast with Marines from throughout the MEU, some of who have already been recommended for awards for their battlefield valor.
"This is a time you'll remember the rest of your life," Olson told the group, "and you'll always be able to look back on your service in Afghanistan with pride."
Olson also took the opportunity to present the MEU's commanding officer, Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the Bronze Star medal for his leadership of Task Force Linebacker.
"This award is not only recognition of his leadership, but also of your superb service."
Following breakfast, Olson left the MEU to visit Army units who are continuing the fight against Taliban and anti-coalition forces as the 22nd MEU (SOC) prepares to leave Afghanistan and reembark aboard the amphibious assault ships of Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
"This was a hard deployment for you, and there are few that will be harder," said Olson in his closing remarks. "You made history here. When the Taliban began, it was a few miles north of here in the Oruzgan Bowl [home of the MEU's forward operating base] where you fought and won."
"You killed or captured a bunch of people here and showed others there are alternatives to the Taliban. Because of you, a group like that will never again find a home in Afghanistan."
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.