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After 10 years, SoCal Marines still key to Afghanistan war

October 7, 2011 | 11:05 am

As the war in Afghanistan enters its 10th year, Marines from bases in Southern California continue to play a major combat role, primarily in the longtime Taliban stronghold of Helmand province on the Pakistan border.

In 2001, Marines from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego flew some of the first combat missions into Afghanistan. Marines from Camp Pendleton were the first conventional ground troops “into country.”

A decade later, more than 50 Marines from Camp Pendleton have died in combat in Afghanistan (along with 345 Marines from Camp Pendleton killed in Iraq, and 115 from Twentynine Palms).

Interactive database: Californians who have died in Afghanistan

On Monday night, Marines from the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment will return to Camp Pendleton from a deployment to the Sangin district of Helmand province. In seven months, 17 Marines from the One-Five and its attached units were killed and 185 wounded.

The One-Five had replaced the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, which had 25 killed and more than 200 wounded in Sangin.

As the One-Five returns, its replacement in Sangin, where Taliban fighters continue to attack Marines with roadside bombs and booby traps, is the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment from Twentynine Palms. The Three-Seven is making its second deployment to Afghanistan.

In 2008, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, also from Twentynine Palms, had 18 killed in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan remains a “work in progress,” said Capt. Brian Huysman, a One-Five company commander close to finishing his second deployment to Afghanistan.

“They [the Three-Five] were able to put their foot in the door,” Huysman said in a telephone interview from Afghanistan. “We were able to get into the room.”

In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters this week, Major Gen. John Toolan, who led Camp Pendleton troops into Baghdad in 2003 and now leads U.S. and coalition troops in Helmand province, said there has been significant progress thwarting the Taliban and mentoring the Afghan forces but that considerable effort remains, including potential combat.

“Major offensive pushes are now underway,” Toolan said.

At the end of the question-and-answer period, Toolan drew attention to Sgt. Ricardo Ramirez of the One-Five. Ramirez lost a hand due to combat injuries in Iraq in 2006.

Still, he reenlisted, the first hand amputee to be allowed to remain in the Marine Corps. He has been a patrol leader in Afghanistan.

“The same grunt things he did with two hands, now he does with one hand and a hook,” Toolan said. “These are the kind of people we have over here and that’s why we’re making progress.”


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Photo: Sgt. Ricardo Ramirez from Camp Pendleton, in Afghanistan. Ramirez is the first hand amputee to be allowed to remain in the Marine Corps. Credit: Cpl. Benjamin Crilly