Pano Aqil, Pakistan --
Marines across the Corps observe Nov. 10 as their birthday, whether in garrison or deployed to the far reaches of the globe. Marines with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit supporting flood relief operations in Pakistan had the rare opportunity to observe their birthday on the same day they observed a ceremony marking the end of their current mission.
"It's very important to look back on our history and our heritage. It's who we are and where we come from," said Maj. David Schreiner, senior officer conducting the cake-cutting ceremony. "It's the bond that all the Marines share, and it's our responsibility as leaders to teach the younger generations, no matter where you are, what you're doing, you'll stop, reflect and remember."
The Marines held a cake-cutting ceremony marking their 235th birthday on the flight line at Pano Aqil, Pakistan, Nov. 10, 2010. After hearing Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune's and current Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos' birthday messages read aloud, the Marines cut their cake with a k-bar knife, the most suitable blade available in their austere deployed environment. Maj. Mark Thieme, a 23-year veteran of the Corps, passed a piece of cake to the youngest Marine present, Lance Cpl Joseph Patti, 20, who enlisted Oct. 20, 2008. The handing of cake from oldest to youngest Marines, a time-honored tradition at Marine Corps birthday observances, symbolized the passage of knowledge and tradition to the youngest generation of Marines.
"The limited resources make the birthday celebration so unique. This year for them, they will remember that we were in Pakistan," said Schreiner. He said he found Gen. Amos' reference to the Pakistan mission particularly poignant for the young Marines listening. "I think it's also important when we look back on it, as the Commandant's message even says, this is what we are all about. This is who we are. ... We are part of that message, the message that he writes about, that is what these Marines are doing. We're in Pakistan doing what he referenced. And I think that that's amazing."
The birthday observance followed moments after the Marines were personally thanked by senior Pakistan and U.S. military leaders for their hard work and dedication during two months of daily flood relief operations in Pakistan. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Nadeem Ahmed, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority Chairman, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Mike LeFever, Defense Representative to Pakistan and Maj. Gen. Nasrullah Tahir Dogar, the Pakistan Army's 16 Division Commander, spoke to an assembled formation of U.S. Marine and Pakistani soldiers, thanking them for their dedication and compassion during the humanitarian mission.
"The operation made the difference between life and death for many people totally surrounded by water who could not be reached by any other way," said Nasrullah, noting the gratitude of Pakistanis affected by the flood.
"The job is not yet over, but largely the lead part is coming to an end," said Nadeem of the transition from urgent humanitarian airlift to follow-on recovery and reconstruction projects that will be conducted by USAID and the World Food Program among others.
Along with 15th MEU, which redeployed at the end of October, 26th MEU conducted humanitarian relief efforts at Pano Aqil from Sept. 3, through Nov. 3, 2010. The Marines delivered more than 3.9 million pounds of food, water and other supplies throughout Sindh Province, flying more than 450 sorties using their heavy-lift helicopter capabilities.
Since Aug. 5, 2010, U.S. forces operating throughout flood-stricken Pakistan have delivered more than 23 million lbs. of relief supplies and transported more than 34,000 displaced persons. U.S. efforts are part of a multi-national humanitarian assistance and support effort lead by the Government of Pakistan to bring aid to flood victims.
The Marines will now consolidate with the rest of 26th MEU aboard the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and conduct training and operations at various locations ashore in the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility.