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Defense Secretary Gates visits Marines before Afghanistan deployment

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, April 23, as thousands of them prepare to deploy to Southern Afghanistan.

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Cpl. Aaron Rooks
April 28, 2009

The brigade, nicknamed Task Force Leatherneck, will provide about 8,000 Marines and sailors later this spring to bolster the current forces already fighting an on-going insurgency.

Gates had the opportunity to see a few of the Marines and sailors who will soon deploy, speak with them and witness the culmination of some of their training evolutions, which included combat training, medical care and roadside bomb awareness.

After observing a combat exercise conducted at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility, where Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, engaged in simulated firefights, Gates spoke to the Marines and wished them good luck on their upcoming deployment.

“What you are doing is important,” Gates said. “We need you over there. You know the mission, you know the challenge.”

Gates was able to witness a portion of the training and events that have transpired in pre-deployment preparation since news of the brigade’s mission came. In just a short amount of time, Marines have conducted training across a wide spectrum, touching on the many topics they could face in Afghanistan.

“If you name it, we’ve done it,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Benack, an infantryman with Company D, 2nd LAR, who participated in the day’s exercise. “The cultural awareness training, the improvised explosive device training, our concentrations on small unit combat leadership with the culmination of today’s large-scale attack; it’s all equally important.”

Benack explained that the training ties together because the combat training gives Marines the abilities to perform counterinsurgency operations, while the cultural awareness training enables Marines to gain the trust of Afghanistan’s people.

Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii, brigade sergeant major, said the unit’s mission in Afghanistan is to join NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Regional Command (South) to suppress insurgency and further build up Afghan National Security Forces. Hoopii said the end goal will be to transition control to the Afghans so they can continue to prosper.

Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, brigade commanding general, said, during his March 9 assumption of command ceremony, that his Marines are aware of the challenges in Afghanistan. He said his Marines will spend “a hell of a lot of time and a hell of a lot of effort,” building up Afghan security forces such as soldiers, police and border patrol.

Just as Marines in Iraq’s Anbar province have achieved similar goals, Gates said he’s confident in the Marines’ abilities to bring those same successes to Southern Afghanistan.