KABUL, Afghanistan -- "This day symbolizes the return, after more than a decade of absence, of the United States to Afghanistan," said U.S Special Envoy James F. Dobbins here. "This officially opens the U.S. Liaison Office here."
A ceremonial reopening of the U.S. Embassy here Dec. 17 started as 1st Lt. Erik V. Orient of Pittsburgh sounded attention to begin the historic event that bodes to renew relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan and unite all the multi-ethnic Afghan factions in an attempt to bring peace and stability here.
"This is probably the most historic thing I've ever been involved in," Orient said. "I think we've set the standard for dealing with locals, the Northern Alliance and the state department."
"The U.S. returns as apart of an international coalition committed to rooting out terrorism and those who support it and assisting in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," said Dobbins serving as a Department of State and U.S. government representative.
He addressed a crowd of more than 400 people, including Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Qasim Fahim and several German, British and Spanish diplomats. There was also a large contingent of international media representatives on hand to witness the American flag being raised here by a color guard provided by Camp Lejeune Marines. It was the first time an American flag was flown here since the Marine security guard detachment hastily lowered its colors and evacuated the diplomatic mission Jan. 31, 1989.
"I was amazed that an event like this attracted such an international interest," said Squad Leader Sgt. Brent T. Conover from Burlington, N.J.
The color guard, manned by Philadelphia's Sgt. Vernon H. Pitts and Lance Cpl. Daniel T. Dalin, Cpl. Christopher P. Broussard of Sumrall, Miss., and Lance Cpl. David Vega from Hamden, Conn., raised the very flag that was lowered from the Charge d'Affairs residence Jan. 30, 1989.
Dobbins read aloud a note that was found with the flag.
"Take care of it. For those of us that were here it means a lot," wrote Gunnery Sgt. James M. Blake. He was the embassy's last Marine security guard detachment commander. "For those of you yet to enter Kabul, it could mean a lot to you. We endured as I'm sure you will."
"I'd like to find out where he [Blake] is and let him know we felt a lot of pride," said Gunnery Sgt. Robert C. Schmidt of Ofordville, Wis. "It made me feel proud when the letter was read."
Led by Capt. J.P. McDonough of St. Louis, Mo., the cannon cockers from Kilo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 3/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived here Dec. 9 to augment the U.S. Department of State security personnel and to aid in the reestablishment of the embassy here.
"The Marines have done really well. They have maintained situational awareness," he said.
"...a new generation of Afghan leaders will have a historic opportunity to lead Afghanistan into a whole new era," said Dobbins. "They can be assured that the U.S. will be there with them with the reopening of the U.S. mission in Kabul. America has resumed its diplomatic, economic and political engagement."
"This unit has worked as a team and is capable of accomplishing any mission handed to them," said First Sgt. James L. Dalgarn Jr., from Columbus, Ohio. "The younger Marines have written their chapter in Marine Corps history by providing security and maintaining traditions. They honored the country by raising the flag here. It shows that all Marines aren't just basic rifleman, but diplomats in uniform."
"These Marines are professionals. During [deployment] work-ups , we never thought that we'd be doing something like this, but here we are in Kabul, Afghanistan," said Maj. Ray White from Sonoma, Calif.
The Marines from the 26th MEU will remain on post here until relieved.