CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Marines and sailors stood at attention as 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, known as Cutting Edge, handed over the responsibilities for their area of operations in Regional Command (Southwest) to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, known as First Team, during a transfer of authority ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, March 15.
This was 3rd Bn., 7th Marines’, third and final deployment to Afghanistan and concludes their participation in Operation Enduring Freedom. With five prior deployments to Iraq, the battalion has more consecutive combat deployments than any other infantry battalion in the Marine Corps.
Cutting Edge’s mission was to conduct security force assistance, intelligence-driven operations and set conditions for secure and legitimate Afghan elections in 2014.
During their seven-month deployment, the battalion sustained two casualties. Lance Cpl. Casey Allison and Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Phillips were injured from an improvised explosive device during a patrol on Jan. 28, and are currently recovering in the United States.
“Certainly by comparing it to our last deployment, the casualties are much lower,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Wittnam, the commanding officer of 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, and a native of Greeley, Colo. “I think it’s because we had a very distinct mission set here, to provide security forces to assist and advise the Afghans to be able to fight the enemy, and to sustain them by providing medevac support, sharing intelligence and counter IED support.”
The Cutting Edge’s deployment was broken into two halves. During the first half the Marines were in charge of retrograding gear from four forward operating bases, three of which they turned over to Afghan National Army soldiers.
The most challenging feat for 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, was the closure of Forward Operating Base Shukvani, while FOBs Shir Ghazay, Musa Qal’ah and Kajaki were transferred to the ANA, said Witttnam.
“Transferring a FOB is easier than retrograding a FOB, simply because we still have the security from our ANA counterpart,” Wittnam said. “What made closing FOB Shukvani more difficult was the large amount of gear that had to be tracked and transported back to Camp Leatherneck.”
During the second half of the deployment, Kilo and India companies transitioned into new roles as regional operation companies. The two companies were entrusted with conducting various missions including counter insurgency, locating lethal aid, deterring enemy freedom of movement and aerial raids on enemy objectives.
3rd Bn., 7th Marines’ responsibilities came to an end at 12:01 a.m. March 15, and its sister battalion, First Team, officially took over Cutting Edge’s battlespace. For the past year, each Marine and sailor trained continuously for the deployment.
“We have very strong and capable staff, companies, and an outstanding crew of commanders, officers, staff noncommissioned officers, NCOs and a well-trained group of Marines,” said Lt. Col Seth Yost, the commanding officer of 1st Bn., 7th Marines, and a native of Wellsboro, Penn. “Our team is excited to do our part during a historic moment in the history of Afghanistan, and we’re able to do that with the support of our families.”
No different from their past deployments, they have a rigorous mission ahead. Their mission is to conduct limited offensive operations, security force assistance to defeat enemy forces throughout their battlespace, and set conditions for the transfer of full security responsibilities to Afghan National Security Forces in Helmand Province.
Initially, First Team will be ready to support the ANSF during the April presidential elections. They will also have the opportunity to complete the full transition of security responsibilities.
“This is largely due to the efforts of all the 7th Marines battalions,” Yost said. “One unique thing we have is that 7th Marines has been deployed to Helmand Province for some time, so the battalions that came before us have set conditions to facilitate that transition to allow the ANSF to take control of their security situation.”
With fully trained, prepared and motivated Marines and Navy corpsmen, they will work toward mission accomplishment during their final deployment in support of OEF.