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10-03-03, 07:03 AM #1
1st Marine Division headquarters heads for home
Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps
Story Identification Number: 20031021431
Story by 1st Lt. Eric M. Knapp
CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait (Oct. 3, 2003) -- The 1st Marine Division's job in Iraq is finally over, after fighting the war and then conducting months of post-war reconstruction and peacekeeping from January through October.
The division headquarters, based at Camp Babylon during post-war operations, oversaw seven governorates in Iraq at its height, each one the responsibility of a battalion task force commander.
Each governorate came into the Marines' hands mid-April, when the 1st Marine Division marched south from Baghdad, leaving the country's capital in the control of the U.S. Army.
The last battalion to leave Iraq, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, turned over authority to a Latin American brigade composed mostly of forces from Honduras and El Salvador, Sept. 23 in the city of Najaf.
"As members of the Coalition, we are proud and fortunate to have Honduras and El Salvador here," said Col. Joseph F. Dunford, 1st Marine Division chief of staff. "It is clear to us that the Iraqi people share our affection and respect for their soldiers."
The Latin Americans are part of the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central-South, composed of personnel from 21 countries from around the world, which assumed authority for the First Marine Expeditionary Force's battlespace Sept. 3.
The 1st Marine Division headquarters didn't walk into an easy role as governors in Iraq. They met many challenges along the way.
"We were short of people. We didn't think we would be nearly as busy as we were," said Maj. Roger D. Standfield, headquarters battalion commander. "The Marines just did an amazing job. They never lost focus on the mission."
Most of the 1st Marine Division went home shortly after major combat was declared over in May. Those who were to take part in post-war operations moved the division's headquarters from Ad Diwaniyah to Babylon while everyone else got aboard ships and planes and headed home.
"When we got to Babylon, we thought we were going to leave a month later but we got extended," said Standfield, 43, and a Ada, Okla., native. "We told the Marines you'll go home when the mission is done. We accomplished everything through good NCO leadership - it's the way we train."
During the post-war operations, the division worked together with Army civil affairs to help set up and evaluate local police and emergency services; a governor and a city council; the water, fuel and power services; hospitals and public health programs; schools, universities and educational opportunities; as well as judges and lawyers working off a legitimate criminal code.
"By making those services predictable and consistent, we reduced the amount of young and angry men who could be persuaded by those opposing us," said Lt. Col. David J. Furness, future operations officer for the 1st Marine Division.
"Our security operations brought us into contact with a lot of people. Contact gets you goodwill. Goodwill gets you information. Our success was mostly built on that human intelligence, and it says a lot that these people were willing to risk their lives to give us that information," said Furness, 41, of Richmond, Va.
Such information led to the arrest of many of those planning attacks in the 1st Marine Division's area of operations, and about a 2/3 reduction in attacks across the governorates, said Furness.
Now that the Marines are leaving, the Polish-led Multi-National Division will inherit security and civil military operations responsibilities.
"The foundation has been laid for them," said Sgt. Monolito L. Verge, utilities chief for Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion. "They just need to maintain it."
Verge, along with most of the remaining headquarters personnel of the 1st Marine Division, returned to Camp Pendleton today (Oct. 3), although some Marines stayed behind in Kuwait to embark and wash down vehicles and equipment.
"The most important thing is seeing my family," said Staff Sgt. Robert O. Brown, administrative operations chief for the division, and one of the few who stayed behind with the wash down crew. "I can't wait to see my son."
For Verge, relaxation is at the top of the list of things to do.
"I've got plans," said the 26-year-old Marine, of Murfreesboro, Tenn. "I'm going to go to Vegas, go home, and chill out."
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