Photo Information

Royal Tongan Marines assigned to Tranche 7, the seventh and final rotational contingent of Royal Tongan Marines to Afghanistan, lower their nation's flag while participating in a ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2014. The lowering of the flag symbolizes the end of the Kingdom of Tonga's participation in Operation Enduring Freedom and return to their homeland. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan/ Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Darien Bjorndal

Royal Tongan Marines say farewell, lower flag in Afghanistan

2 May 2014 | Cpl. Cody Haas

Distinguished military service members with Regional Command (Southwest) and International Security Assistance Force including Lt. Gen. John Lorimer, deputy commander of ISAF, attended a farewell ceremony and witnessed the lowering of the Kingdom of Tonga flag, aboard Camps Bastion and Leatherneck, Afghanistan, April 28.

During a morning ceremony aboard Camp Bastion, each Royal Tongan Marine was awarded medals for their devoted service to the coalition’s efforts. Afterward, the Royal Tongan Marines lowered their flag aboard Camp Leatherneck to symbolize the end of the country’s participation in support of combat operations in Helmand province and return to their homeland. 

“I feel my men have done a very good job here along with our training in the United Kingdom before we deployed,” said Royal Tongan Marine Lt. Col. Cyle Tuevai, the national contingent commander with Her Majesties’ Armed Forces. 

During the short morning ceremony, the Royal Tongan Marines sang their national anthem, a song written and composed by one of their own lance corporals, and performed the Sipi Tau, the traditional Tongan war dance.

“You have repeatedly demonstrated courage and capability,” said Lt. Gen. Lorimer, as he addressed the Royal Tongan Marines. “You should be justifiably proud of the important role you have delivered here on Camp Bastion, protecting thousands of military and civilian personnel.”

The Tongan troops served with the Camp Bastion Force Protection Wing where they helped guard the base perimeter as well as man the entry control points.

“While in Afghanistan the troops conducted force protection training exercises at least twice a week. It’s important to stay sharp while we’re here,” said Tuevai.

Tongan troops have continuously deployed to Helmand province in six-month rotations since November 2010, when the commander of the Tongan Defense Service signed an agreement in London committing a minimum of 200 soldiers to the mission in Afghanistan, nearly half of Tonga’s entire military force. 

The last deployed contingent of Royal Tongan Marines account for more than 10 percent of total Tongan forces. A 10 percent commitment of troops from a nation of approximately 500 service members strong is equivalent to the U.S. sending approximately 140,000 service members into the region.

“Your mission now complete, you can return to Tonga with proud hearts and heads held high, reassured you have had a truly positive effect to not only the ISAF mission, but to the safety and prosperity of the people of Helmand province,” said Lt. Gen. Lorimer, as he addressed the troops. “You leave behind a great legacy.”

Since the beginning of their commitment, the Kingdom of Tonga has sent almost three-quarters of its entire fighting force into Helmand province. 

“We have sent 70 percent of our homeland forces here since 2010, and that is as much as we have to offer,” said Tuevai. “We are honored to be the last contingent here.”

“Return to Tonga as valiant victorious warriors, a status you wholly deserve,” said Lt. Gen. Lorimer, addressing the troops. “You truly have been fantastic ambassadors and representatives of your armed forces. Well done.”