BLT 3/8 concludes operating in Afghanistan, ends deployment --
Marines with Battalion Landing Team 3/8 concluded operations in Afghanistan this week, ending a deployment that started in August 2010 with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Marines and sailors will return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., after more than eight months deployed at sea and ashore.
"The Marines of BLT 3/8 have performed magnificently in the past eight months. By the time we get home it'll be into the ninth month of deployment," said Lt. Col. Farrell Sullivan, commanding officer of BLT 3/8. "The flexibility that they've demonstrated, from serving aboard ship to patrolling the jungles of Kenya, standing ready to save shipping taken over by the Somali pirates, and then having a no-notice deployment into Afghanistan and go into an area that had been off-limits to coalition forces the last three years and opening this thing wide open – these guys are heroes."
BLT 3/8 deployed as the Ground Combat Element of 26th MEU in August 2010 aboard the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. From Kearsarge ARG, the Marines conducted bilateral training in Jordan, Kenya, Djibouti and other countries.
Detaching from 26th MEU in January 2011, BLT 3/8 and several support Marines from the MEU deployed to Afghanistan to establish and maintain security in portions of Helmand province not previously permanently held by the International Security Assistance Force. Attached to Regimental Combat Team 8 as part of the International Security Assistance Force, the Marines provided security in portions of the Upper Gareshk Valley in order to allow the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to foster socio-economic development in the area.
One development project afforded by the security the Marines provided was construction of Highway 611, the second major paved highway in Afghanistan. Completion of the road allowed greater access for security forces, as well as goods and services in the remote region.
"Before we came in here, there were about 50 vehicles a day that went north and south along this route. Now you've got 750," said Sullivan. "You've got gas stations popping up along the route. You have access to Sangin and Gareshk in a way that had not existed before. People's vehicles can make it back and forth now without breaking down, something as simple as that. So the people appreciate it. I think this road, this thing's going to be here for 40, 50, 60 years. It is the symbol of the demise of the insurgency in this area, frankly speaking. It gives the Government of Afghanistan access to the area in a way they didn't have before. Now they can link with the people and continue to make progress towards a peaceful future."
Once in Afghanistan, the Marines established Combat Outpost Ouellette in the name of their fallen brother, Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette, a 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, squad leader posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for actions during the unit's 2009 Afghanistan deployment. From COP Ouellette, BLT3/8 provided security to the north, established patrol bases and conducted counterinsurgency operations in nearby villages, including in Helmand province's "Green Zone." The Green Zone is an area of fertile farmland between the Helmand River and Nahr-e Saraj Canal, serving as the heartland of a poppy/heroine drug trade that funds the insurgency.
BLT 3/8's Afghanistan deployment featured the first-time use of a series of technologies and tactics in Afghanistan. This included the first combat use of the Expeditionary Fire Support System's 120mm Mortars, with Marines from F Battery, BLT 3/8, firing the first rounds in support of operations Jan. 29. The deployment also featured the first use of U.S. tanks in Afghanistan, with Marines from Company D, 1st Tank Battalion, firing their first combat rounds Feb. 6 in an engagement with insurgents.
BLT 3/8 has been relieved by Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Transitioning back to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, during the second and third weeks of April, the Marines and sailors of BLT 3/8 now begin the process of re-deployment back to the United States.
"3/8 did a phenomenal job," said 3/4 Executive Officer Maj. Jackson Doan. "Coming in here off the MEU with the BLT with the expectation of staying only temporarily, they came in here and laid down a foundation for any unit to come in and fall in on and have success."