24th MEU (SOC) Marines turnover with Austrians in Kosovo

20 Sep 2002 | Cpl. Jeff Sisto

In a scenic mountainous setting, Marines from Company G, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, held a turnover ceremony with a company of Austrian soldiers that has been operating in mountains of the Multi-National Brigade South Area of Operations since May.
The ceremony marked the arrival of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) to the region and provided the unit with a clear sense of its mission.

With a view of the mountains they would be patrolling spread out before them, Marines stood in formation alongside the Austrians and saluted as the Austrian flag was lowered and the American flag raised. It was a moment in which the Austrians were able to look back proudly while the Marines expectantly looked forward.

"Within the last nine days we have detained 25 illegal border crossers, as well as the 86 we had in May," said Maj. Volkmar Ertl, Austrian Shark Coy (Company) Commander. "This makes us really proud, as we hand the area over to the Marines"
"We are used to this terrain. This helps us give a better area brief to familiarize the Marines," added Ertl, whose unit regularly trains in the Austrian mountains.

"As part of Operation Dynamic Response, we hope to promote stability in this region by operating in what the Kosovars call 'The Bootleg'," said Lt. Col. Lee Miller, commanding officer, BLT 2/2. "Our intent is to emerge as a better trained BLT and to safely return to the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group prepared for follow-on tasking."

Many of the Marines also felt confident in their own ability to work in a mountainous environment.

"Our men are well trained for the terrain and the weather - and whatever else we may encounter," said Sgt. Cory Dunlap, a mortarman from Brocton, N.Y., who recently served with 3rd Bn., 8th Marines in Afghanistan." We are definitely ready for this mission."

The turnover also allowed Marines to mingle with their Austrian counterparts. Before the Austrians left, Marines traded covers, rank insignia, and coins and listened to each other's stories.

For Lance Cpl. George Hirniak, a rifleman with BLT 2/2, it was a chance to reminisce about his birthplace. Born in Vienna, Austria, Hirniak is fluent in German and holds dual citizenship in Austria and the U. S. His hometown is Stamford, CT.

"We reminisced about Austria, then I introduced them to my friends and we traded covers," said Hirniak. "We also talked about the mountains and how they operated there."

"I'm looking forward to picking up where they left off," said Hirniak.