MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Marines and sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD) are returning home from a year-long deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan.
I MEF (FWD) deployed during the spring last year and assumed command of all Marine operations throughout southern Afghanistan, making it the largest Marine-led command in Afghanistan since the war began nearly a decade ago.
The Camp Pendleton-based unit made history when it raised the NATO flag in July 2010, officially standing up as Regional Command Southwest. This signified the unification of all international security forces in southwest Afghanistan and provided improved operational oversight of Helmand and Nimroz provinces. Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills became the first U.S. Marine to command a NATO regional command in combat.
I MEF (FWD) Marines were also responsible for training Afghan army and police recruits at the Joint Security Academy Southwest on Camp Leatherneck. As a result, Marjah, the once volatile district, opened its first police station in September and was manned by JSAS-trained policemen. Marjah residents experienced increased security throughout their local community.
“Perhaps most importantly, the Afghan security forces have developed a pace,” Mills said during a recent press briefing. “With nearly 12,000 Afghan troops in the province, we’ve seen the results of mentoring and partnering efforts pay off in the three brigades that are rapidly becoming capable of semi-independent operations.”
The Marines and sailors have been arriving home since mid-March, welcomed by family and friends who are ready to put an official end to the deployment.
Rosheil Che, 22, from Tacoma, Wash., patiently waited for her husband of four years, Sgt. Phong Che. Che deployed with I MEF (FWD) and was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was responsible for the administrative work of Marines and sailors going on rest and recuperation leave. This was the couple’s third deployment.
“This time it was easier to cope with the separation,” Che said. “I finished my nursing degree while he was gone. I’ve learned throughout the years how to occupy my time. It was also easier for us both because of the communication capabilities they have now. We Skype’d a lot. Now we’re looking forward to enjoying each other’s company and getting reacquainted.”
Sgt. Amber Chavarria, from Waldorf, Md., returned to Camp Pendleton March 17 and was greeted by her toddler son and daughter.
“My son is a little ham and he was trying to jump out of my husband’s arms,” said Chavarria, the administrative noncommissioned officer for the commanding general. “My daughter literally attacked my legs. She was so happy to see me.”
Chavarria said she learned a large amount about the components of a Marine expeditionary force and is grateful for the experience, but the deployment length challenged her.
“The deployment itself wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Chavarria said. “The length--that was tough. As Marines we are taught to adapt and overcome, but that doesn’t make any less of a difference. It doesn’t make it any easier. It does makes you realize how special things are. It opened my eyes to help me realize how my family has helped me be a good Marine.”
The remainder of I MEF (FWD) will return by the end of March and will transfer authority of RC (SW) to II MEF (FWD).