Story by Master Sgt. Brenda Varnadore
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Major Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) commanding general, assumed command of Regional Command Southwest, from Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, II MEF (Fwd) commanding general, during a Transfer of Authority ceremony here, March 12.
During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Gurganus, along with Brig. Stuart R. Skeates, the RC (SW) deputy commanding general, assumed responsibility for Helmand and Nimruz provinces.
“The strength of RC Southwest, it’s obvious to me, has always and will continue to be the combined efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Gurganus. “This is a coalition made up of 10 coalition nations coupled with our Afghan National Security partners and friends. It’s also comprised of the Helmand (Provincial Reconstruction Team) and our regional platform. And lastly, and just as important, and probably more, is the leadership provided by our Afghan officials, led by Governors (Gulab) Mangal and (Abdul Karim) Brahui, who is not with us today. For everyone here, just understand that we intend to try and maintain those relationships.”
Maj. Gen. Gurganus went on to recognize the important role the Afghans play in continuing the successes II MEF (Fwd) and their coalition partners.
“That’s the key to being a team. But, the one partner that I haven’t mentioned, that is probably the most important partner to me, is that of the Afghan people. The people of Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Gurganus. “Because it’s their choices that they will make in the future that’s really going to be the true measure of our success. And I think for those that would continue to fight to destroy the possibility for that better future, I think they should know that they also have choices and they also have opportunities to be a part of the better future. So, I would ask that they weigh their options carefully and make wise choices as well.”
II MEF (Fwd) focused on the development of the Afghan National Security Forces and transitioned to professionalizing the force by the end of their yearlong deployment. I MEF (Fwd) will continue the professionalization of the ANSF to enable the government of Afghanistan to deliver goods, services and provide security to their people and give legitimacy to the whole government.
“You know, the number one line of operation that we focused on was what we call ANSF development,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “ANSF development meant getting the people out into the areas and working closely with the coalition forces in sort of a partnering, mentoring role. That ANSF development started more than a year ago when we first got here. It was a matter of marrying them up with their equipment, getting them familiar with how to conduct patrols, how to give a five-paragraph order. Over this past year, what we’ve done is gone from ANSF development to ANSF professionalism. Now, we are in the process of training their (non-commissioned officers), trying to build an NCO corps. We all know that the heart of any organization, the heart of any army, is their NCOs. We’re putting them into training and mentoring them with our own NCOs.
“The sergeant major (Sgt. Maj. Michael F. Jones, II MEF (Fwd) sergeant major) has spent an untold amount of time working with their senior staff NCOs – really trying to get them to understand that if you want an organization to function properly, that the backbone is the NCO corps,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “That’s what professionalization is all about.”
The work of II MEF (Fwd) did not go unnoticed. The reviewing officer for the ceremony, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir William Patey personally thanked Maj. Gen. Toolan for his efforts.
“As I travel around Afghanistan, it is without doubt Helmand enjoys the highest reputation of the province that has made the most progress in the past year,” he said. “Children going to school. Farmers going about their business. Government officials going about their business without fear. This country will look back on this year and the contributions you’ve made. There is no doubt, in history, you will go down as a general who’s made a significant and outstanding contribution to this country and to Helmand in particular.”
The turnover between I MEF and II MEF began back in August 2011 as the I MEF (Fwd) staff formed, with their British partners, in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The staffs conducted predeployment site surveys, conference calls and video teleconferences so the transition was seamless to the coalition partners and Afghan forces. II MEF (Fwd) sent representatives from Afghanistan to California to assist with the Mission Rehearsal Exercise during December to ensure I MEF (Fwd) had the most up-to-date information and procedures from theater.
“Our II MEF brothers and sisters have set us up for success and we look forward to carrying on where they left off,” said Sgt. Maj. Harrison Tanksley, RC (SW) sergeant major who relieved Sgt. Maj. Jones. “I would like to see us take it to a new level. II MEF has done a fantastic job, but there is always room for improvement and under Gen. Gurganus’ watch there is no doubt in my mind that I MEF (Fwd) will take this thing to a new level.”
Now that I MEF (Fwd) has assumed command, Maj. Gen. Gurganus and his team will take to heart Maj. Gen. Toolan’s final assessment and continue to assist the ANSF in Helmand and Nimruz provinces.
“They know how to use their weapons, they still have some challenges with counter (improvised explosive devices) and part of that has to do with that it’s just a difficult job,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “The Afghan National Security Forces today have more casualties than we have, but they’re out there. They’re taking charge of their own country, and they’re learning as their going. They’re getting better every day. I’m convinced that as the professionalization of the Afghan National Security Forces goes up, the insurgency is going to go down. That sweet spot in the middle is what we are searching for because that’s where governance takes charge and that’s when the government of Afghanistan all of a sudden is capable of providing goods and services to its people. That’s success. ”