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News | Sept. 19, 2012

Most decorated infantry battalion returns from Afghanistan

By Lance Cpl. Joseph Scanlan , 1st Marine Division

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – When the father of Cpl. Carl P. Cassels saw his son arrive to the 5th Marine Regiment parade deck here after coming home from Afghanistan Sept. 17, he said an overwhelming feeling of relief swept him over.

“Now that he’s home, I can breathe easier,” said Bailey Cassels, whose son served as a small arms repair technician with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

More than 1,100 Marines and sailors serving with 2nd Bn., 5th Marines, returned home the week of Sept. 15-17 from a seven-month deployment to northern Helmand province, Afghanistan.

The battalion deployed to Afghanistan at the end of February. Second Bn., 5th Marines, was a part of Regimental Combat Team 6 and served as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest). The Marines serving with the battalion worked in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, helping the Afghan army and police provide security services to the Afghan people and smothering insurgent activity.

“The most important responsibility for the battalion was attempting to transition security responsibilities over to our Afghan Nation Security Forces partners and show them that they can do what we do without us being there,” said Staff Sgt. David Terryah, the operations watch chief for 2nd Bn., 5th Marines, and a native of Fresno, Calif.

The battalion was assigned to cover Now Zad and Musa Qala districts in northern Helmand province, and all cities and villages that lied in between.

Major George Hasseltine, the executive officer of 2nd Bn., 5th Marines, said operating in two districts was unique because the battalion had to monitor and correspond with two separate Afghan governmental structures, police departments, governors, and different army units. Furthermore, the battalion is the most decorated infantry battalion in the Marine Corps, and the deployment marked a first to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

During the deployment, the battalion executed a 17-day operation in a village that was a Taliban stronghold between Now Zad and Musa Qala, dubbed Operation Branding Iron.

“We brought the entire battalion in and put the Taliban on the ground for almost three weeks,” said Hasseltine, a Metairie, La., native. “We put the enemy in their place and got inside their decision-making process heavily.”

Hasseltine said the fighting mostly consisted of small arms firefights and improvised explosive device attacks from insurgents.

“In an Afghan fight there is a lot of stuff that we can do, but the key thing was that the Afghan [security forces] were coming up with their own solutions to their problems,” Hasseltine said. “The battalion felt like they gave an opportunity for the Afghan government to take the reins and take it to the next level.”

Tragically during the deployment, the battalion lost three Marines to combat action: Sgt. Wade Wilson, Cpl. Anthony Servin and Lance Cpl. Joshua Witsman.

“A lot of these Marines are very young and have gone out and done things that some people live their whole lives and never come close to the level of responsibility and achievement,” Hasseltine said. “Our motto is ‘Retreat Hell,’ and I think we lived that motto up in Afghanistan.”

Family members who long awaited their loved one’s return were also able to communicate back and forth through various sources of connectivity while away from each other. Through messages put out by family readiness officer Jaime Farrell, families and friends contributed to exceptional homecoming events over the course of the battalions return.

“Marines out in Afghanistan on a patrol can’t do that if he doesn’t have a very strong family background and a strong support structure back at home,” Hasseltine said. “Being able to engage that support structure and bring all those people in, families and friends, who have supported those Marines for seven long months and kind of be able to bring them together for that one point where they are given the chance to reunite is pretty important.”

As the Cassel family, all from Webster, Fla., packed up their posters, banners and flags they had on display for their returning Marine, so did they carry his packs for him back to their car.

“Its nice to have family meet you when you come. I know that from experience,” said Cassel, a retired Navy Seabee with deployment history to Iraq. “I want to thank God for the Marine Corps and the United States of America.”