AN NASIRIYAH, Iraq -- Less than two weeks after Marines took control of the city here, Lt.Gen. Earl B. Hailston, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, and SgtMaj. Royce Coffee, sergeant major of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, visited the Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) as they continue to secure the city and begin humanitarian operations to get the city back on its feet.
"As you've watched this unfold, you've watched a tremendous chapter of history unfold for our country," Lt.Gen. Hailston said about the 15th MEU's performance in Iraq. He said that it is very important for the United States to continue it's efforts to liberate the country and help the Iraqi people become an independent nation.
Lt.Gen. Hailston and SgtMaj. Coffee arrived by CH-46E Helicopters at an old Iraqi military compound outside of the city. They were brought to the 15th MEU's command post in the city for a quick brief on the unit's current and future operations.
"This is really one team and one fight," said SgtMaj. Coffee about the joint coordination between all the services. The 15th MEU has worked with all the three other services in addition to being commanded by the British Royal Marines before and during the early days of the war.
At the heart of this joint teamwork is the heart and character of the individual Marine, Coffee added. "People in the United States don't think much of today's youth, but they don't know the youth, they really don"t." SgtMaj. Coffee said that when he and Lt.Gen. Hailston were recently traveling around hospitals and visiting wounded Marines, they ran into some outstanding young individuals.
"The biggest problem that we had was Marines trying to bum rides back to their units. This one [Marine] actually dressed up in his MOPP suit and tried to get in the car with us," Coffee said. The Marine who was injured and recovering tried to sneak out of the hospital to get back to his unit. "Did you bother to check with the doctors and nurses?" he asked the Marine. "No, I feel fine." the Marine replied. Both Lt.Gen. Hailston and SgtMaj. Coffee said that these Marines are a great example of quality individuals in the Corps' ranks.
After addressing the Marines, Sailors and other service members currently attached to the 15th MEU, Lt.Gen. Hailston and SgtMaj. Coffee were escorted to MEU Service Support Group-15 water purification station on the bank of the Euphrates River.
For more than a week now, the Marines have been working more than 12 hours-a-day purifying and dispensing water for local Nasiriyah citizens. The Marines had already dispensed thousands of gallons of water when Lt.Gen. Hailston and SgtMaj. Coffee arrived. Lt.Gen. Hailston also visited a medical treatment site where doctors and corpsman of the 15th MEU were treating local residents.
After a short visit and a few photographs, they were taken on a driving tour of Nasiriyah. Col. Thomas Waldhauser, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and LtCol. Alvah Ingersoll, commanding officer of the Battalion Landing Team 2/1 explained some of the key points of the city as the convoy drove past numerous locations that had been attacked as targets.
Toward the end of the tour, the convoy stopped at a local bank where the general and sergeant major were shown how Marines of the MEU had stopped a group of Iraqis who were trying to break into the vault. The Marines secured the bank and took possession of more than $13 million of Iraqi Dinar.
While addressing the service members, Lt.Gen. Hailston reminded everyone that this has been just the beginning. "We've been able to defeat the traditional military enemy as easily as we knew we could," he said. However, "This is not over, this is going to take a long, long time and we're going to keep on [going] with our end of this thing."