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Engineer Marines overcome adversity in Afghan deployment

Sgt. Aaron Rooks

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 12/09The 8th Engineer Support Battalion, a subordinate command of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, was scheduled to deploy to Iraq’s Al Anbar province in early 2009.

The engineer unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., steadily trained for more than three months in preparation for its return to Al Anbar. That changed in early February when Lt. Col. William Truax, the battalion’s commanding officer, received word that his Marines were headed to Afghanistan.

He learned of the official decision while the majority of his Marines were on their predeployment leave.

“I expected it,” said Truax, who served in Afghanistan two years ago with the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command Capital. “The commandant [Gen. James T. Conway] visited us while I was there and told us Afghanistan was where we needed to be, not Iraq.”

This expectation is the reason why Truax implemented contingency measures for training and readiness within his battalion. These measures went into effect as soon as the Marines returned from leave. The battalion deployed throughout the following months.

Truax’s Marines were forced to hit the ground running upon their arrival in Helmand province due to the fact that there was little infrastructure waiting for them or the many Marines who followed.

Throughout the next seven months, the unit helped pave the way for follow-on forces by setting up bridges throughout the area of operations and reinforcing and winterizing combat outposts used widely by infantry Marines.

“We expected to do a little bit of everything,” Truax said. “That’s exactly what we ended up doing.”

Truax said his contingency plan worked out well. Part of that plan was to lay the foundation for the follow-on unit’s success. That part involved the Marines of 7th ESB, from Camp Pendleton’s 1st MLG, who assumed control of 8th ESB’s battle space, Nov. 23.

“It was the best of times - it was the worst of times,” said Truax, of the seven-month deployment. “But my goal for my Marines was to tee up the ball so (the Marines of 7th ESB) could kick it through the uprights.” Lt. Col. Phillip Frietze, commanding officer of 7th ESB, responded by stating he’s ready to continue his predecessor’s pace.

“It’s time to get to work,” he said, concluding his unit’s transfer of authority ceremony.

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