POSTED: 7:03 p.m. HST, May 22, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 7:42 a.m. HST, May 23, 2012
Eight years of continuous war in Iraq and Afghanistan are over for the 3rd Marine Regiment's 3,000 Marines at Kaneohe Bay, officials said.
A ceremony will be held at 7 a.m. Thursday to re-dedicate the regiment's battle colors with awards earned in war and peace over the past 96 years, and to officially mark the regiment's final combat deployment to Afghanistan — a tour by the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who just returned to Hawaii.
More than 3,000 Marines and sailors of the 3rd Marine Regiment will stand in formation during the hourlong ceremony that will include presentation of the regiment's 17 award streamers, which will be attached to the regimental battle colors.
"The ceremony will reflect on the success, dedication, and sacrifices of the regiment during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as honor the history of 3rd Marines and pay tribute to brothers lost in combat," the Marine Corps said.
The ceremony marks the close of a chapter in the 3rd Marine Regiment's history as it ends its deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
About 1,000 Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, returned home last week from Afghanistan as the last Hawaii-based Marine infantry battalion that was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, officials said.
The regiment's three battalions will continue to train and deploy overseas to Japan and other locations as part of a resumption of what's known as the Unit Deployment Program, which was cut back during the height of the wars.
In July 2004, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of Hawaii left for Okinawa on a UDP rotation to be part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, but was re-routed to Kuwait and then Iraq to take part in the Battle of Fallujah in November of that year — becoming the first Kaneohe Bay infantry battalion to fight in either of the wars.
Eight of the Marines were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack; 11 more Marines perished in ground fighting — most of them in Fallujah; and 26 Hawaii Marines and a Navy corpsman were killed in the crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in a sandstorm on Jan. 26, 2005 on the deployment.
Hawaii-based Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, the "Ugly Angels," are on the last deployment to Afghanistan with the CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters that were based at Kaneohe Bay, officials said. The Vietnam-era helicopters are being retired.