Royal Tongan Marines awarded for service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
February 6, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - A contingent of Royal Tongan Marines made a mark upon Camp Victory during a six-month deployment here, and they were honored for their service during that time at an awards presentation at the Al-Faw Palace Feb. 5.
Fifty-five Marines from the South Pacific island of Tonga were honored with three U.S. Army Commendation Medals and 53 U.S. Army Achievement medals for their service in support of the Multi-National Corps - Iraq mission.
The Tongans were tasked with providing 24-hour internal and external security for the 48,000 square-foot Al-Faw Palace - a job they've done "extremely well," said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for MNC-I.
"You've been recognized by all for the expert manner in which you have carried out your day-to-day duties," Joseph said as he addressed the Tongans during the ceremony. "You do [your jobs] every day with a positive attitude. You are energetic, very enthusiastic, and by in large, very professional. We very much appreciate that."
Before the Marines were to be awarded their medals, however, a Camp Victory tradition had to be upheld. The unit was called to attention by their chief of naval defense, in which he simply proclaimed, "a song."
Booming voices from the larger-than-life Tongans had servicemembers from all three floors of the palace coming out of offices and cubicles, clambering to take a look. The Tongans set a precedent since starting their deployment in September of 2007 by singing at numerous MNC-I ceremonies, the likes such as this one coming to cheers, rounds of applause and words of gratitude.
"You are dedicated to executing your duties, but as you've just demonstrated today, you're also an awesome chorus," Joseph said. "We thank you for making many of our ceremonies and services all that much more special."
The Tongan's company commander, Capt. Tau Ahoelei, explained that the honor in which the unit was bestowed comes from the ability to take any mission given, "and give it our best shot," he said.
"Whatever mission it is, we work hard at it, we enjoy it and we are happy to do it," said Ahoelei, who hails from Nuku'alofa, Kolomotu'a. "We've made a lot of friends, learned about the culture here, and we've even learned American footie (football)."
The ceremony closed out with the Tongans receiving a multitude of congratulatory hand shakes from their coalition partners.
This is the second contingent of Tongan Marines to be sent to support OIF. The first deployed in June of 2004 to support operations in Iraq's Al-Anbar Province. The unit makes up approximately 10 percent of the total Tongan Defense Forces.
The Tongans will leave later this month to be replaced by 55 more of their fellow countrymen.