ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- The Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) received a special visit today when the commandant of the Marine Corps visited the troops deployed aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf.
General Michael W. Hagee addressed the massed Marines and Sailors on each of the ships giving them his views on the War on Terror and the role of the Expeditionary Strike Group.
The commandant wasted no time addressing the one question most Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU had on their minds as they prepare to enter the second half of deployment. “Why has the MEU not been deployed into Iraq?”
The commandant stressed the importance of maintaining the 26th MEU (SOC) as the theater reserve. He recently spoke to Gen. John P. Abizaid, the theater commander for Central Command, who maintains concerns for other areas in the region where “bad things” could happen, Gen. Hagee said.
“He sees the expeditionary strike group as that flexible, fast force that can respond to a contingency almost anywhere in the AOR,” the commandant said. “And he knows that if he asks, you will accomplish your mission.”
The General then fielded questions from the Marines and Sailors that ranged from uniform changes to the latest round of base closures.
The commandant made it clear there were no Marine Corps bases targeted for closure on the latest base realignment and closure (BRAC) talks and only one installation, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, was identified for realignment.
General Hagee closed his flight deck address on the Kearsarge with a coin presentation for fourteen deserving Marines and one Navy Corpsman. General Hagee made it clear he has strict guidelines for giving out the coveted coins.
“I don’t just hand out a coin because an individual can fog a mirror. You have to accomplish two things in order to get a commandant’s coin,” he said. “One, you have to do something above what a normal Marine or Sailor does, and that is a pretty high standard because Marines and Sailors are doing magnificent work today,” he said. The second criterion is the Marine or Sailor has to be recommended by his or her command or supervisor.
“These Marines and Sailors have met both those criteria and it’s my pleasure to present them a coin,” he said.
Among the recipients was 28-year-old Cpl. Christopher L. McPherson from Santo, Texas. The former ranch hand turned Light Armored Vehicle gunner joined the Marine Corps at 26 to do his part in the Global War on Terrorism, he said.
He was the winner of a recent meritorious promotion board and is described by his leaders as the most well-rounded Marine in Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines. The presentation caught him by suprise and said he felt honored to shake the commandant’s hand.
“This definitely gives me something to remember about the Marine Corps and its something that will make me strive to do even better,” he said.
General Hagee wrapped up his visit by meeting with Marines and Sailors one on one on the hangar deck and posing for photos before boarding a CH-46 bound for shore.
He asked one thing of all the Marines and Sailors before he left. “Take care of one another while you are out here and on your way home,” he said.