CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The Marine command that spearheaded combat operations in Iraq in 2003 assumed responsibility for training Iraqi Security Forces in western Iraq during a transfer-of-authority ceremony Tuesday.
First Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) took charge of the Al Anbar Province from the North Carolina-based II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
The ceremony officially relieved the II MEF command of its Multi-National Force - West title and bestowed the California-based I MEF with the new job. Commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, I MEF (Forward) commanding general, MNF-W is composed of active and reserve Marine, Army, and Navy units from throughout the United States.
"I am here to tell you that I MEF is ready to assume our position as part of this great force," said the Reading, Penn., native and graduate of Kutztown University, Penn.
I MEF spent the past year preparing for its current deployment to Iraq by training in the Southern California coastal base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Combined Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, Calif., located in the Mojave Desert.
Zilmer and Sgt. Maj. Thomas H. Howard, I MEF (Forward) sergeant major, unfurled the unit's colors carried by an MNF-W color guard, which included an Iraqi soldier, during the small courtyard ceremony attended by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Multi-National Force - Iraq commanding general, and Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Multi-National Corps - Iraq commanding general. The unfurling of I MEF's colors and battle streamers symbolized the transfer of authority.
During his brief comments, Zilmer noted the accomplishments of II MEF (Forward) and 2nd Marine Division commanding general Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck and his Marines and Sailors, who are returning to the United States this week.
"It is an honor to follow your lead," Zilmer said to Huck. "We have watched from afar for the last year...the great work (you and your team) have done. You have written new pages in the history of the 2nd Marine Division."
During 2005, MNF-W conducted major operations, such as Steel Curtain in November, and provided security during the Iraqi national elections in December 2005.
This is the third time I MEF has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Throughout the two previous deployments, I MEF was crucial in bringing stabilization to the western province of Al Anbar.
Zilmer emphasized the difference of this year's mission.
"Our mission here first and foremost is to develop the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to allow them to win this counter-insurgency in Iraq," said the Operation Desert Storm veteran.
Zilmer also addressed Iraqi Security Force commanders in the audience.
"I look forward to the great association that we will develop over the next couple months as we collectively work to make our forces much stronger and win this important conflict."