CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - The third contingent of Royal Tongan Marines to deploy to Iraq took security control of the 46,000 square-foot Al-Faw Palace here during a transfer of authority ceremony Feb. 28.

The 55-man contingent is replacing an equal number of their counterparts from Tonga and will be responsible for the internal and external security of the palace and its members.

"You should all be proud of your selfless service," said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. George J. Flynn, deputy commander, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, as he addressed the departing second contingent during the ceremony. "You have truly set a standard of performance, professionalism and soldierly virtue for others to emulate."

The ceremony was conducted in typical military fashion, marked with the atypical, choir-like singing of the Tongans as they belted "Amazing Grace," which gave gathered soldiers the chills, according to some at the ceremony.

The second Tongan contingent set a standard by singing at various MNC-I ceremonies during its tour here, and the third contingent proved to be just as harmonious as the Marines sang along side their brothers-in-arms for the occasion

Taking all this in on a special trip to witness and speak at the event was one of Tonga's senior-most ranking commanders, Brig. Gen. Tau'Aika 'Uta'atu, commander of the Tongan Defense Services.

'Uta'atu thanked the second contingent Marines their hard work and professionalism during their tour, while also showing his appreciation to the American commanders.

"I personally thank the commander, officers and men of the second contingent for a job well done," he said.

"And thanks to all of you [the coalition] for the trust you bestow my officers and men as they conduct this very challenging, satisfying and most prestigious of jobs," 'Uta'atu continued. "The Tongan Defense Services is very privileged to have such a strong and firm ally and friend like America, with military leaders that are tough and at the same time generous; defined by wit and determination."

He concluded by saying that the third contingent "comes armed to write another page in the history of the Tongan Defense Services."

Following the speeches and benediction was the highlight of the ceremony as the Tongans performed a traditional war challenge known as Sipitau.

Sipitau is a Polynesian warrior's ritual performed before battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition.

The challenge consisted of guttural yelling, beating of chests and stomping of the ground. Some of those in the palace which weren't attending the ceremony quickly came out of cubicles and offices to see what was going on.

The old guard performed the ritual first, challenging the new guards on their readiness. The new guards returned the challenge, showing the old guards that the Tongan forces are always ready to accept any duty.

These challenges concluded the ceremony, as Tongans from both sides laughed and embraced each other.

"We are very proud to be here as ambassadors to Tonga and act as good representatives for our defense forces," said 2nd Lt. Kiu Kaho of the third contingent.

Approximately one-fifth of Tonga's military might was represented at the ceremony.

The first Tongan contingent to Iraq deployed in June of 2004 to support operations in Iraq's Al-Anbar Province.