Story and photos by U.S. Marine Cpl. Timothy L. Solano
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Under the rule of Emperor Augustus, known also as Octavian, early first century Rome saw the creation of a dynamic legion of elite warriors, known most commonly today as the Praetorian Guard of the Roman Empire. Almost 2,000 years later, the Praetorian namesake has been donned once again, though this time by the members of Task Force Belleau Wood, who serve aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Protectors of the emperor and defenders of Rome, the Praetorians of history made a name for themselves by aiding in leading Rome into an extended period of peace, or “Pax Romana.” It is in this capacity that Task Force Belleau Wood took on its symbolic mascot, as the success of Camp Leatherneck and the surrounding area is heavily dependent on the effectiveness of its own guard force.
“Looking at the history of what the Praetorians did for Rome fit our mission,” said Sgt. Maj. Craig Cressman, Task Force Belleau Wood sergeant major, and a Gladwin, Mich. native. “We adopted the name and everything else started to fall in place. We have protected the general and aided his staff. We have grown a camp to be one of the greatest in Afghanistan, and we have secured and policed Camp Leatherneck and made it a functional, habitable place to live.”
The task force is broken into five subordinate Marine Corps battalions and other NATO International Security Assistance Force entities, to include a Royal Air Force squadron and a detachment of Bahraini Rangers, who support the highest echelon of command on Camp Leatherneck, Regional Command Southwest.
Within each supporting element of the task force, service members operate in a myriad of capacities ranging from radio operations, to patrolling on foot, to administrative support. What makes the unit distinctive among others on Camp Leatherneck is the fact that these job-specific skills are performed by service members operating outside of their assigned occupational specialty.
“Every Marine is a rifleman here at Task Force Belleau Wood,” said Cressman, “because everyone has to be.”
Marines who typically operate in an administrative or logistical position within the unit can often find themselves donning full personal protective equipment, and assigned as a security detail for various missions in Belleau Wood’s area of operations. It is this uniquely adaptable trait of the task force that allows it to consistently yield results from the versatile group of service members.
“I have seen my Marines work longer hours than most people,” said Cressman. “I have seen them work not for themselves, but for the unit by supporting the war fighter – either securing the (area of operations) or providing administrative and logistical support to the (Marine Expeditionary Force).”
Eleven months into a deployment to Afghanistan, the service members of Task Force Belleau Wood are preparing to wrap things up in Helmand province and transfer authority to the I Marine Expeditionary Force, due in theater in the coming months.
Many of the unit’s accomplishments came at a cost: time away from families and friends, grueling work hours, and the loss of several brothers-in-arms, were just a few of the sacrifices made in pursuit of mission success.
“Fortuna audaces iuvat,” translated from Latin to mean fortune favors the brave, serves as a constant reminder to each Praetorian in the unit that all great things come with a price. As the original warriors did centuries ago, the service members of Task Force Belleau Wood aim to see the mission through, as protectors of their beloved nations.