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Reserve LAR company prepares for return to U.S

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq - Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Kassner, the commanding officer of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, officially relieved the Marines of Company E of their duties during a ceremony held aboard Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, Sept. 16, 2009


GySgt Katesha Washington, Combat Logistics Regiment 27

The company, a reserve unit based out of Syracuse, N.Y., was augmented to 3rd LAR Bn from 4th LAR Bn to serve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from November 2008 to October 2009. For more than 150 days they lived and operated out of their armored vehicles as they conducted continuous combat operations in Ninewa province, Iraq.
Although the company is an organic element of a reserve unit, Kassner attributed their success throughout the deployment to their ability to seamlessly blend with the active components of 3rd LAR Bn.
“Your integration into 3rd LAR Bn allowed the unit to become a stronger, more capable war fighting team,” Kassner said to the Marines.
Kassner also recognized five Marines within Company E with Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals for the superior performance of their duties which significantly contributed to the battalion’s overall mission accomplishment.
One of the award recipients, Sgt. Nicholas J. Castaneda, a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical specialist by trade, served as a Joint Coordination Center operator during the battalion’s fifth deployment and his second. He was credited withleading eight combat missions to interdict smugglers along the Syrian border while exposing himself to a high level of risk, which resulted in the seizure of millions of illegally smuggled tobacco products and several weapons systems.
His award citation also recognized his work to improve the partnership between U.S. and Iraqi security forces. But it is the camaraderie and strong bond that he developed with the rest of the battalion’s leathernecks that he will mostly remember and cherish.
“I met some of the best Marines and some of the greatest friends I will ever know,” he said of his fellow Marines. “I am going to take the camaraderie we built with each other and cherish it forever.”
Before Castaneda and the rest of the Marines in Company E were able to build that mutual bond of trust and camaraderie, they first had to show their active duty comrades that they were just as hard core and dedicated to accomplishing the mission as the rest of the ‘Wolfpack’ – the nickname and call sign of the battalion since its activation in the 1990s.
“We have had more to prove and had to raise the bar because of the stereotypes that come with being reservists,” Castaneda explained. “But we proved to the battalion and to ourselves that we can accomplish any mission given to us.”
Now that the company will return home and demobilize, the men of the “Grappler” company, as they are affectionately known, will go back to the United States to pick up where they left off as firefighters, police officers, engineers, plumbers and college students, among other occupations.
Regardless of their civilian jobs, the battalion CO was impressed with the Marines’ performance in light of the fact that they operated for so long in such brutal conditions.
“The nature of our mission can truly be considered expeditionary and it’s a
testament to the caliber of our Marines that they were able to conduct operations with their Iraqi counterparts of the 11th [Iraqi Army] Brigade in one of the most austere and geopolitically dynamic regions in Iraq.” He said.

As Kassner went on to say in his speech to his men, the Marines of Company E have earned their place in Wolfpack history because they exemplified the motto of 3rd LAR Bn – ‘the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf.’