JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- There have been well recognized battles in all wars. The war in Iraq had its Fallujah and Afghanistan has Marjah. Now two units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are being recognized for their participation in the battle to liberate Marjah.
The Navy Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, during a ceremony here, March 23.
The units earned the citation for their month long actions in "Operation Moshtarak," a word that means together in Dari, and their assistance in the liberation of the Marjah district, Afganistan, in February 2010. The 4-23 Inf., also known as the Tomahawks, partnered with units of the Afghan National Security Forces, Marine Expeditionary Brigade and other coalition forces in preparation for the mission, said Lt. Col Gregory Harkins, commander 4-23 Inf.
Operation Moshtarak was a major joint coalition offensive to oust anti-government forces in the Marjah district. The operation was one of the largest of the war up to that time. The district had been used as a base of operations in the area for the two years prior.
"Marjah was the poppy producing capitol of Helmand and if you couldn't clear out Marjah then you weren't going to make any progress in the district center. So the Marines targeted the area to clear it out of Taliban control in order to allow the government of Afghanistan to start providing goods and services for the people of the providence," said Harkins.
The Marines targeted Marjah for a major offensive to break the Taliban's control of the district which had been in place for several years setting the conditions for the city to stabilize under government control, said Harkins
"Once we started the operation initially the largest obstacle was the Taliban. We met significant resistance from them with both direct fire and improvised explosive devices. We averaged around one IED per day, some days with none and some days with several," said Col. Burton Shields, commander of 4-23 Inf. during the operation.
"The first 10 days, we were in direct fire contact everyday with elements of the Taliban," said Shields. "After those 10 days, the will of the enemy broke in our area and across Marjah, enough of them had been killed or their will to fight was done."
"Before this operation, there was no police presence, no district leaders, no Afghan government in the area at all; the Taliban wouldn't allow it," said Shields. "The Taliban had to be defeated in order for the government to establish a presence in the area."
Operation Moshtarak, "gave the people of Afghanistan the ability to regain control of their lives and not be dominated by the Taliban," said Shields.
Once the Marines did a relief in place and took control of the area security had been restored and commerce started to return, said Shields.
Army and Marine service members often spout friendly barbs at each other, but in this case the Marines recognized the determination and discipline of the two JBLM units and recommended them for the Navy PUC, said Harkins.
To put it in perspective the Navy PUC is the unit equivalent of an individual receiving the Navy Cross, which is awarded for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The Navy Cross is the second highest individual award for valor one can receive superseded only by the Medal of Honor.
"The Marines are the ones that supported the battalion for this award," said Harkins. "It's the professionalism and discipline with which these Soldiers carried out a tough mission that they are being recognized for."
The Tomahawk Battalion has seven other PUC awards with the unit's history and lineage dating back to the American Civil War. Members of the battalion awarded the PUC will now forever belong to that lineage.
"I'm extremely proud of the award [Navy Presidential Unit Citation], it means more to me than any individual award I have received," said Shields. "It is recognition for the tremendous work that all the 4-23 Inf. did. They accomplished every mission they were given and did it with honor."
"We have added another chapter to the tremendous legacy of the battalion," said Shields.