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Military

Last 100 Marines wrap up Kandahar mission
By David Josar, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, February 6, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The last 100 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary
Unit left Kandahar airfield on Tuesday.



"Nine-Eleven [Sept. 11] started this, and we've been here to close this
chapter," said Marine 1st Lt. James Jarvis, a Marine spokesman. "We're
going back to our amphibious ships and get ready for whatever our president wants us to do
next."



The 26th MEU, based out of Camp LeJeune, N.C., was deployed for about five months
- almost half of that in Afghanistan - and is due back March 18. Most units are
gone six months.



"We're looking to getting back to the ship and taking showers," Jarvis
said.



Army spokesman A.C. Roper said Tuesday the military presence at the airfield at Task
Force Rakkasan now numbers 3,600, which includes 1,600 soldiers from the 101st Airborne
and 200 Canadian troops who began arriving Monday morning.



Roper said there would eventually be about 800 Canadian troops stationed at the
airfield.



Using Marines - first from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Rhino and
then from the 26th MEU - at Kandahar airfield was unique.



Jarvis said MEUs usually operate less than 200 nautical miles from where their ships
wait off shore. In Afghanistan they have been inland 460 nautical miles, roughly 500 air
miles.



"A lot of people didn't think this could be done, but we did it," he
said.



The 26th MEU is also special operations capable. The Marines worked with other Special
Operations Command forces throughout the country, particularly the Khost region where
teams fought determined pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.



The last Marines to leave were mainly support personnel involved with communications
and computer networks.



"It took a Herculean effort to fly into this area," Jarvis said, referring to
the poor condition of the airfield's runway.



Marine Cpl. Stephen Demel, a computer network administrator, said he's ready to
get to the ship with its hot showers. Demel is anxious to return to Camp LeJeune but added
he was ready for the next mission if that's what's in store for him.



"That is what we trained to do," he said.



Demel said the airfield has quieted since he arrived about 55 days ago.



"It was a combat zone and it still is, but it's much safer," he said.
"People have built up the perimeter, and they are training."



The return to the ship on Tuesday meant just one thing for Lance Cpl. Matthew Georgia:
hot chow.



"MREs can get tiring," said Georgia as he spread peanut butter between
vegetable crackers on Tuesday afternoon. Georgia, a communications operator, had the
opportunity to drive into downtown Kandahar in a convoy, and said he was impressed by what
he saw. He said the people were hungry for the fall of the Taliban.



"They know how bad it was and now they are ready to work hard to keep it
free," he said.



Georgia, too, said he would be ready for another mission even if that means he
doesn't return to North Carolina as soon. He has e-mailed his girlfriend, a secretary
in Detroit, Mich., and called her a few times. "It's tough being away, but
I'm here to serve my country."




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