A U.S. Marine color guard composed of Marines with Regimental Combat Teams 5 and 6, lower the regimental colors as the national anthem is played during a transfer of authority ceremony here, July 5, 2012.(Photo by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan (July 6, 2012) — Since their activation in 1917, 5th and 6th Marine Regiments have courageously fought for America, most notably in World War I when they fought side-by-side in the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood.
In December 2011, Regimental Combat Team 6 arrived in northern Helmand province to support Operation Enduring Freedom, joining RCT-5 on the same battlefield for the first time in 94 years.
This historic partnership is now coming to a close. Colonel Roger B. Turner Jr. and Sgt. Maj. Alberto Ruiz, the commanding officer and sergeant major of RCT-5, cased the colors of “Fighting Fifth” and transferred authority of their area of operations to Col. John R. Shafer and Sgt. Maj. Jamie Deets, the commanding officer and sergeant major of RCT-6 here, July 5.
“It truly is significant in the fact that 1918 is the last time that 5th and 6th regiments have fought together, side-by-side against an opposed force who was truly was intent on destroying the Marines that came to the battlefield,” said Shafer.
Since Belleau Wood, 5th and 6th Marines have fought in the same conflicts but not under the same command. In World War II, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, they were members of separate divisions operating independently of one another.
“It really is special for us to be able to finish up our tour here and turn over to RCT-6,” explained Turner. “There have been a couple of other times in Marine Corps history where we have been able to serve together, but then to do this ceremony here in Afghanistan 95 years after the two regiments were brought into existence has really been special.”
In August 2011, RCT-5 arrived in southern Helmand. For the past 11 months, the regiment and its subordinate battalions worked in partnership with Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan government to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Marjah, Nawa, Garmsir, and Khan Neshin districts.
“Over this last year, we’ve really spent the time trying to transition the Afghans into the lead, and build their forces,” said Turner. “They’ve increased their capability and they’ve gotten to where they can really run the show.”
Afghan forces in the key districts across southern Helmand have taken the lead in security operations as Marine forces operating under RCT-5 have shifted to an advisory role. The increase in security has allowed the Afghan government to focus on the development of key infrastructure for these districts
“In places like Marjah, Nawa and Garmsir, there’s education, there’s healthcare, there’s good irrigation, they’ve got good roads, they’ve got good security,” explained Turner. “The people are generally appreciative of what the Marines have done for them here. Our job has really been to transition the coalition effort over to the Afghans.”
The “Fightin’ Sixth”, has been tenacious in keeping pressure on the insurgency in northern Helmand. Most notably was the recent completion of Operation Jaws, when RCT-6 effectively crippled the insurgent network and set the conditions for a successful transition to Afghan forces.
With the transfer of authority now complete, RCT-6 Marines and sailors are now responsible for an AO that has doubled in size.
“We’re here, to develop the ANSF, and they want to succeed,” said Shafer. “It’s absolutely nothing that they [my Marines] can’t handle. I have full confidence in the Marines of the regiment to carry this through all the way to the end of the mission.”
The “Fightin’ Sixth” has been presented with an imposing challenge, but both leaders emphasized an important point at the close of the ceremony: the moment was less about the historic transfer of authority, and more about the increasing ability of the Afghan people to secure their own country.
“Before, when we were in the lead, we needed a much more focused effort out there,” explained Turner. “Now, since the Afghans are [growing] increasingly capable, one regiment can run the whole area. So, it’s less about the transfer of authority between us and more about the progress the Afghans have made.”
“We wouldn’t be doing this if the Afghans weren’t ready,” said Shafer. The whole reason why we are here is to enable the ANSF. They’re as trained as any other force can be… we’re ready because they truly have shown and demonstrated that they are ready.”
With the 5th Marines’ colors cased and one final salute to those of 6th Marines, Turner and his Marines and sailors will begin preparing for their journey home to Camp Pendleton, Calif., as RCT-6 continuous to support and protect the people of Helmand province.
Editor’s note: Regimental Combat Teams 5 and 6 are assigned to 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.