New commander takes over 1/7 Marines

25 Aug 2003 | -

Almost four months to the day after the Marines left Baghdad and assumed the mission to provide safety and stability in Najaf, the "First Team" said goodbye to the man who led them into battle and welcomed his replacement who will prepare them for upcoming challenges.Lieutenant Col. Christopher C. Conlin, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in 29 Palms, Calif., relinquished command to Lt. Col. Christopher I. Woodbridge, during a morning ceremony Aug. 25.Since April 24, the battalion has been helping to stabilize and rebuild the government infrastructure in the holy Shiite Muslim city of An Najaf. The ceremony was held on soccer fields outside the Battalion's Najaf forward combat headquarters so local residents could attend as well. Except for C Company, which is providing security for Camp Babylon in Al Hillah, the battalion gathered in formation wearing their utility uniforms and soft covers, shunning the uncomfortable and bulky combat gear under the blazing Iraq sun."We could not have done this three months ago," said Navy Lt. Richard T. Clark, the battalion surgeon, from Arlington, Texas, "not having our flacks on and doing this outside the fence. This is a true measure of our success," During the ceremony, the unit acknowledged Conlin's fight-from-the-front leadership style as Maj. Richard Hall, the battalion executive officer, ordered the Marines to fix bayonets.The act symbolized Conlin's order for his Marine defenders to place bayonets on their M-16 rifles to disperse an unruly crowd that had threatened the governate support team's headquarters in Najaf. The tactic was successful, and no civilians or Marines were injured during the protest. Conlin is scheduled to be promoted to colonel in September after he takes leave to reunite with his family. Afterward, he will assume a staff position at Joint Forces Command."I earned my promotion not by anything I have done, but by the work and loyalty of the men of the First Team," he said.When Woodbridge, a Desert Storm veteran, accepted the battalion colors from Conlin during the formal ceremony, it marked his return to the First Team. His first assignment in the Corps after graduating from the Marine officer course was as a platoon commander with B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in 1988. It will be Woodbridge's job to bring the Marine warriors home to 29 Palms, Calif., in September and prepare them for the next fight wherever it might be."I know I am getting a great unit," said Woodbridge, a Brooklyn native, who completed a tour with the Marine Combat Assessment Team at U.S. Central Command. "The First Team has always been the best in the Corps, and I will do my best to continue that tradition," he said.To underscore the importance of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines' legacy in Operation Iraqi Freedom, both Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, First Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, First Marine Division commanding general, attended the ceremony.