CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines and sailors from I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Camp Pendleton, Calif., loaded buses and said final goodbyes to family members before embarking on the MEF’s second Afghanistan deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the deployment, the Marines and sailors of I MEF (FWD) will fall under Regional Command Southwest, which carries out counterinsurgency operations with the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, commanding general of I MEF (FWD) will assume command of RC-Southwest, which is comprised of approximately 10,700 personnel. I MEF (FWD) will replace II MEF (FWD) in Helmand province and take over combat operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces to help establish security and governance.
Sgt. Wisner D’Meza, watch chief with I MEF (FWD), expressed anticipation and excitement for his first deployment to Afghanistan. Though his job will be to support operations from a command operations center on a forward operating base, D’Meza said he hopes for a chance to experience Afghan culture.
“I’m hoping to get out there and interact with the local population,” D’Meza said. “I’ve never been to Afghanistan. It’s my first time, so I can’t wait.”
Many other Marines and sailors spent the early morning with loved ones who are all too familiar with the experience of watching their husband, wife or child deploy for a long period of time.
“Probably, the most difficult part of the deployment is what we’re doing right now, which is saying goodbye,” said Navy Capt. Guy Lee, I MEF (FWD) chaplain. “What our families do to support our mission is so incredibly important because I think in many ways the more difficult part is what our families have to put up with.”
Many of the Marines and sailors deploying can expect to serve in Afghanistan for a period of approximately one year. Family members back home are often left to fight the battles on the home front.
“I just so appreciate my family, my wife, my daughter and my son for all the support and encouragement and love that they give,” Lee said. “What they’ve done, I know, is just representative of what all Marine Corps families and Navy families do to support their Marines or sailors.”
“I’m proud of him and I’m supportive of what he wants to do to serve his country,” said Carol Lee, wife of Navy Capt. Guy Lee. “It’s not easy. We’re going to miss him greatly.”
I MEF family readiness officer, Wayne Bell, said he is personally committed to service members and the well-being of their families. His department provides a link between family members and the Marines and sailors who are forward deployed.
“It’s rewarding for me seeing the beginning process of preparing families for deployment, keeping the families minds at ease during the deployment and then the reunion of families and their service members returning from deployment,” Bell said. “The homecomings are what I look forward to more than anything else.”
Meanwhile, the Marines and sailors of I MEF (FWD) remain focused on the challenges ahead.
“It’s a huge mission, a very challenging mission, but we have prepared for this very, very well and we are very excited to be able to go,” Lee said. “We want to get it started so that we can do a good job and then come back home.”