CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were honored Aug. 19, with a visit by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John Estrada, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott.
Here, they praised the Marines and sailors participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom for the time and sacrifices they’ve made.
“The world is a much safer place because you’re in it,” said Estrada to a captive audience. “Thank you for serving at this point in our nation’s history.”
Marines of the 24th MEU were happily surprised to see their senior enlisted travel into such a dangerous area just to express their encouragement to the troops.
“It’s nice to know they aren’t afraid to come to a combat zone to [speak to us],” said Sgt. Ray Warman, 24, a native of Millington, Tenn., and CH-46E air framer with HMM-263.
But it wasn’t just the daily hazards of living in Iraq that made this a surprise visit, but also their decision to speak at one of the smaller bases in Iraq.
“I never thought he’d come to [Forward Operating Base Al Taqaddum],” said Lance Cpl. Leonel Ramos, 23, an operations clerk with HMM-263 and a native of Bridgeport, Conn.,. “You’d think that he’d just go to the bigger bases, but it was nice to see [him] come here.”
Estrada began his speech by expressing his camaraderie towards our fellow sailors, and the important role they play in the war against terrorism.
“The reason [Scott and I] are traveling together is to remind everyone that this battle is being fought by the Navy-Marine Corps team,” said Estrada.
He also shared stories of his personal experiences with the troops before giving the Marines here an opportunity to ask questions.
“I was walking one day, and was stopped by a total stranger who began thanking me for what I do for my country,” Estrada told the Marines and sailors. “What she really meant was, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done to keep our country safe.’”
In addition to offering encouragement, Estrada brought some good news for the troops of the 24th MEU.
“ I was really happy to hear we’re still looking at seven month rotations,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class William Galegor, 29, a native of Saint Louis, Mo., and hospital corpsman with HMM-263.
This was a significant announcement for the troops of the 24th MEU since the MEU’s last deployment was extended in excess of nine months. The Marines and sailors realize that their time in country is dependent on the mission, but they appreciate knowing their return date hasn’t changed yet.
Before leaving, Estrada and Scott’s closing remarks encouraged each member of the 24th MEU to be proud that they represent the highest standards of military tradition.
“Each of you here serve with pride and dignity,” said Scott. “Continue to be the role-models our nation looks up to.”