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thedrifter
03-29-08, 05:11 AM
New senior NCO takes helm
March 28, 2008 - 11:15PM
MELINDA OVERSTREET
DAILY NEWS STAFF

CAMP LEJEUNE - The man who just wrapped up a year serving as the senior enlisted Marine in al Anbar province in Iraq - and earning a Bronze Star along the way - passed the sword to a new ser-geant major of 2nd Marine Division on Friday morning in a ceremony bittersweet for him and those familiar with him.

Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia returned in February after a year in Anbar as the command sergeant major for II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward and Multina-tional Force West, which covers that province. About 34,000 to 35,000 service members were within the province, with the majority being enlisted service members.

All services were represented, as well as governmental and nongovernmental agencies, he told The Daily News before the relief and appointment ceremony."As the senior enlisted Marine, my job pretty much entailed handling enlisted matters in regard to a conglomerate of things that took place within the year that we were there, both operationally, tactically and administratively," Batta-glia said.

"I was a spokesperson, for lack of a better word, for Maj. Gen. (Walter) Gaskin (commanding general for II MEF Forward). We traveled as battle buddies together through the entire battle space very frequently."Pictures of changeComparing this last tour with his first there in 2005 and even from the ime he arrived in February 2007 to now, Batta-glia said the change was absolutely sig-nificant in a positive increase in atmospherics etween the Iraqi people, the tribal leadership, the municipal and ro-vincial leadership and the Iraqi securi-ty forces - all working hand in and." It didn't quite happen overnight, but a sig-nificant catalyst propelled the change."It came to a head one day. ... The Anbar Awakening took place," he said.

"The awakening is that the people and the tribal leaders are just sick and tired of the violence performed and the murder and intimidation that al Qaida in Iraq influenced on it's people. So it was time to awaken and stand up for what they believed in hopes to live in a peaceful and prosperous city and township."Another key factor in the change, he said, was State De-partment personnel with the Embedded Provisional Recon-struction Teams, specializing in areas such as microfinance, banking , city manager, agricul-ture - things needed to restore and build on an economy."The young men of al Anbar need money to support their families. We'd rather give them an honest way to earn a dinar ... so they aren't as tempted to go over to the insurgency and finance themselves that way," he said.Battaglia was there to see the scenery go from not being able to get through some areas in a vehicle, much less on foot, without some type of terrorist activity to having children play soccer in the street and their parents going to the city mar-kets stocked by food coming in from Baghdad and other major cities.

Schools opening not only created the educational atmo-sphere for children, it brought back jobs for teachers and even maintenance workers to take care of the schools, he said. "During the tenure of a year there, many operational mile-stones have been achieved," Battaglia said. "And it couldn't have been achieved it wasn't for the spectacular performance of all the Marines, sailors and airmen that we had under our charge in al Anbar province."But there is still work to do."There are some challenges with the utilities," he said, de-scribing work to build those ca-pabilities.

Some major genera-tors are in need of restoration, and portion of a day that elec-tricity is available from the na-tional grid coming out ofBaghdad, the nation's capital, varies from place to place, rang-ing from about 40 percent to 65 percent, Battaglia said. An ef-fort is under way now to install solar lights in Fallujah.

"That lights the streets, which provides security, which deters against criminal activity," he said.The single biggest accom-plishment he saw was the en-hancement of the "phenomenal training academy" in Habban-iyah for members of the Iraqi army and police. "We swear by it; we think we have it right," Battaglia said.

The facility improved the transition and capacity building within the Iraqi Security Forces that required buy-in from the tribal sheiks, who wield consid-erable influence."We've increased by the thousands in both Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army, Battaglia said. "That's important, if we want to leave Iraq in a restored sense of security, they're going to have to have someone to protect them.

The insurgency is not going to go away."A significant disappointment going forward, he said, has been the disconnect between the pro-vincial government and the national government, but U.S. Am-bassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is working hard to merge those better, he said.Moving alongUnder a mostly blue sky with a cool breeze gently tousling the flags on the grounds of the II MEF Headquarters aboard Camp Lejeune, Battaglia wel-comed those in attendance, in-cluding Gaskin.

Gaskin revealed one of his nicknames for Battaglia - "Sgt. Maj. Encyclopedia" - that he earned from being "very, very intelligent, very well read and very opinionated."That's just the kind of man a commanding general needs in his corner - one who will tell you straight-up what you need to know, Gaskin said. Then he spoke from a deeper place."I personally thank you for our moments," the major gen-eral told the exiting sergeant major.

Battaglia's "sweetheart of 22 years," Lisa L. Battaglia, was also praised by Gaskin - and thanked by her husband - for her work as the key volunteer coordinator for the division and with the family readiness program.

Gaskin turned his attention to the one taking over Battaglia's role aboard Camp Lejeune."Just as the Corps has pro-duced this one, they've pro-duced this one," Gaskin said, pointing in turn to the sergeants major for whom the ceremony brought job changes as they sat amid three previous 2nd Ma-rine Division sergeants major and myriad generals and other dignitaries, including a commo-dore from New Zealand.

"It's been said that you have big shoes to fill, but I know you brought your own," Gaskin told Sgt. Major Michael F. Jones.

The two sergeants major of-ficially embarked on the next chapter of their work as Batta-glia passed a sword - a tradi-tion since 1875 that represents the transfer of sacred trust from one to another - first to Gaskin, who then passed it to Jones.

With that gesture, and orders from Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the U.S. Ma-rine Corps, Jones, a Salemburg native, ceased being the regi-mental sergeant major for 10th Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and became the sergeant ma-jor for the division, taking over Battaglia's role since his return from Iraq. The division contains about 20,000 Marines and sail-ors, Battaglia said.

Battaglia will be going to work as the command sergeant major at the Joint Forces Com-mand in Norfolk, Va., which is commanded by Gen. James N. Mattis, who was commander of the Marines when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and also serves as NATO's Supreme Al-lied Commander Transforma-tion. It's the type of move not often afforded to enlisted per-sonnel, saidMaster Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mehringer with the 2nd Marine Division Public Affairs Office.

And it's important for the Ma-rine Corps, because now the commanding officer and the senior enlisted of Joint Forces Command will both be their brothers. "For him to get a posi-tion like that is very prestigious; it's a great honor," Mehringer said.

Contact Melinda J. Overstreet at moverstreet@freedomenc.com or 910-353-1171, ext. 8465.

Ellie