Leadership of 1/8 changes hands

26 Jan 2007 | Cpl. Matt Lyman

Leadership of 1/8 changes hands

Since returning from Iraq in early 2005, where they played an instrumental role in the November 2004 battle for Fallujah, the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, have kept busy.

From their sudden deployment in September 2005 to the Gulf Coast to aid Americans devastated by Hurricane Katrina to their history-making evacuation of nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon last summer to the first-ever bilateral training exercise with Pakistan Marines, the Beirut Battalion has accomplished an impressive variety of training and real-world missions.

The one constant throughout those events was the man holding the leash of the1/8 war dogs, Lt. Col. Scott Alley.

Alley relinquished command of 1/8 to Lt. Col. Michael Saleh in a ceremony Jan. 26 at Camp Lejeune’s Goettge Memorial Field House.

“It’s always an honor to lead Marines,” Alley said, speaking to his assembled Marines for the final time as their battalion commander. “What I found out during my time in command is that you (Marines) do all the work and you make it happen. I’m just here to make sure we’re going in the right direction. Every time you did something, you amazed me.”

Alley, a native of Enid, Okla., took over at a pivotal time in 1/8 history, immediately following their return from a highly successful combat tour in Iraq and just prior to their attachment to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit as the MEU’s battalion landing team.

Before they could be fully assimilated into the 24th MEU, they were standing by as the ground combat element for the Alert Contingency Marine Air-Ground Task Force, when Katrina struck. The Marines spent a month in the Gulf Coast region lending assistance to victims of Katrina and its weaker but more merciful sister hurricane, Rita.

After returning from Louisiana, 1/8 officially joined the MEU and began its work-ups for the next deployment.

The Marines conducted a six-month training cycle to prepare themselves for a variety of possible missions. Among the training highlights was a robust Training in an Urban Environment Exercise, or TRUEX, which brought the entire MEU to Hampton Roads, Va., for three weeks. Scattered throughout the Tidewater area, the Marines honed their skills in urban war-fighting, humanitarian-assistance missions and mass-casualty scenarios.

The in-depth pre-deployment training prepared the Marines for the massive assisted departure of American citizens from Lebanon in July 2006. Not only did BLT 1/8 help evacuees onto Marine helicopters and air-cushioned landing craft, they reinforced the U.S. embassy near Beirut, passed out food and water, and ensured those in their care felt safe and secure. In the end, nearly15,000 anxious Americans benefited from 1/8’s helping hands.

Shortly after completing the evacuation in Lebanon, the MEU proceeded to Pakistan, where it fell to 1/8 to share their war-fighting knowledge with the Pakistani Marines. Bravo Company and its Assault Amphibian Vehicle platoon took up the challenge of working in new terrain and overcoming the inevitable language barriers that threatened to weaken the effectiveness of the training.

Once again the countless raid packages conducted and analyzed during the work-ups paid off, as the Pakistani Marines came away better prepared to conduct raids at night, during the day, and in various assault vehicles.

Five countries later and many days worth of field exercises, the 24th MEU and its subordinate elements returned home in triumph.

Reflecting on his eventful tour with the battalion, Alley thought back to his first day on the job.

“To the Marines and Sailors of First Battalion, Eighth Marines, 19 months ago I was standing in this same spot when I took command,” he recalled. “I knew at that time I was picking up a phenomenal unit. … All I ever had to say was, ‘This is what I need and you all made it happen.’”

Alley is leaving 1/8 to work as the Plans Officer for 2nd Marine Division. During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Alley was also presented with a Meritorious Service Medal for his successful term as 1/8’s commanding officer.

Alley offered some advice for the incoming commanding officer: “Always remember you can rely on the Marines to accomplish the mission.”

Lt. Col. Saleh, the incoming commander, has served as the 24th MEU’s operations officer the past two years, a job that offered him an opportunity to work closely with many of the Marines he will now lead.

“This is a privilege, a privilege to command this battalion of Marines,” said Saleh, who hails from Chicago. “I’m privileged and humbled to be the commanding officer of this battalion. It’s been a great experience to work with them for the past year, and it’s true what’s been said of them -- everything they do touch turns to gold.”

Saleh added, “I’ve seen them and what they can do, and we are going to continue to do great things.”