Marine Corps Base Hawaii – Kaneohe Bay
Story by Lance Cpl. Reece Lodder

U.S. Marines 1st Lt. Michael Landes, artillery liaison officer, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, shares a moment with his 10-month-old daughter after returning to Marine Corps Base Hawaii from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, Dec. 7, 2010. After replacing 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in Helmand province's Nawa district last May, 3/3 supported Regimental Combat Teams 1 and 7, as part of counterinsurgency operations during Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion's operations varied from securing elections and ensuring school openings, to more traditional combat operations such as security patrols and clearing danger areas, said Maj. Jay Garcia, executive officer, 3/3, of Honolulu. The return of "America's Battalion" brought 925 Marines back to Hawaii.
                                       Photo by Lance Cpl. Reece Lodder
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Hawaii - Every day away was a test — but “America’s Battalion” is finally home.

Families and friends gathered at Hangar 105 here to welcome home about 760 Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment returning from the seven-month deployment, Dec. 7.

They joined 150 Marines and sailors from the battalion’s advance party who returned to MCB Hawaii, Nov. 7.

Since May, Marines and sailors with 3/3 have been conduits for progress in the Nawa district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Braving the country’s bitter cold and unbearable heat, 3/3’s warriors secured elections, helped open schools and built relationships with Afghan nationals during their deployment. They performed disruption operations, destroyed weapons caches, and patrolled endless miles through fields, towns and along dusty, rocky roads.

But that was behind them as they walked into the arms of loved ones.

Both excited and anxious for the return of her husband, a corpsman with Company L, 3/3, Melissa Trevino clutched a small Marine Corps flag and bounced their daughter on her hip as she waited.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “It feels great that he is coming home, but it doesn’t feel real yet.”

The reunion, falling on their daughter Jordin’s first birthday, was bittersweet. Melissa said raising Jordin alone during her husband’s deployment made her feel like a single mother, but she worked through the challenges by looking forward to his return.

“You know he’s coming home, so you just keep on doing what you’re doing,” she said.

In May, 3/3 replaced 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in Nawa district, supporting Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, as part of ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Operation Enduring Freedom. RCT-7 transferred authority over the area to RCT-1, 1st MarDiv, Sept. 28.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but 1/3 set us up for success,” said Sgt. Maj. Andrew Cece, battalion sergeant major, 3/3. “They prepped the battlefield and enabled us to make an easy transition into Nawa district.”

Nestled in southern Afghanistan, 3/3’s area of operations spread over approximately 100 square kilometers and 26 positions, said Maj. Jay Garcia, executive officer, 3/3.

While the battalion’s operations were less kinetic than had been anticipated, the deployment still wasn’t easy, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Holt, commanding officer, 3/3.

Using Corps leaders’ “clear, hold, build” strategy, 3/3 worked to clear the area of enemy threat, said Garcia, of Honolulu.

Thorough training, preparation, and well-coordinated, distributed operations, formed a strong basis for success, Garcia said, “but it took the young Marines being on the ground every day to make it work.”

He said the battalion’s success was reliant on the Marines’ presence in the community — whether by constant patrols, standing post at patrol bases or the extra hours spent assisting Afghan families.

Lance Cpl. Domingo Luna, a team leader with Company K, 3/3, reaffirmed the importance of his battalion’s presence.

“Building these relationships with the locals enabled us to do a better job assisting them,” said Luna, from Corpus Christi, Texas.

Between “hard days and good days,” Holt, from Dallas, said the union of effort along 3/3’s lines of operation, strengthened tribal unity and strong relationships with district officials helped make Nawa safer and more secure.

Since the region was identified as one of the few ready for transfer of responsibilities back to Afghan National Army security forces, the battalion played an important role in hosting visitors.

During recent visits to Nawa by the deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn III, and several senators, Holt said he told each of them, “Nawa is open for business.” He asked them to exploit 3/3’s success in the future, and maintain the battalion’s momentum for progress.

With 3/3’s return, the ongoing task of holding and building Nawa district now falls on 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who arrived in Nawa last month.

“Our Marines could have just done the seven months and come home, but they didn’t,” said Cece, of Sacramento. “They bonded with the local nationals — it became their lifestyle. As long as 2/3 carries this on, they’ll be successful.”

Returning Dec. 7, Holt noted on that solemn day 3/3 did not return complete.

Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman, a team leader with Company K, 3/3, died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, July 18. Wrightsman was from Jonesboro, La.

1st Lt. Scott J. Fleming, a platoon commander with Company K, 3/3, died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Sept. 17. Fleming was from Marietta, Ga.

“We can’t forget that Lt. Fleming and Sgt. Wrightsman didn’t come home on the flight with us,” Holt said. “Even as we rejoice at our return, the Marines we lost are remembered.”