As the bulk of the Corps bid farewell to Afghanistan months ago, a small group of Marines stayed behind, continuing the fight in the war-torn country.
Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan exited Helmand Province in October, turning Camp Leatherneck over to local troops and departing for the States. The highly-publicized transition marked an end to the Corps' major role in Afghanistan. Two months later, U.S. officials declared the end of combat operations in the 13-year-old conflict.
But an unidentified number of Marines stayed on to help defend Bagram Airfield while remaining coalition troops train and assist Afghan troops and police officers. Part of the Georgian Deployment Program, the Marines arrived with that nation's 51st Light Infantry Battalion, said Marine Lt. Col. Peter Lang, the team's officer in charge, in an email describing the rotation.
The rotation, the program's 14th iteration, began in January 2014 when its base unit, the Georgian Liaison Team, formed. In May, the Marines departed for Georgia where they embedded with the light infantry battalion, offering infantry advisers as well as experts in intelligence, communications, logistics, operations and medical aid.
The Marine liaison team remained in Georgia until September. They trained with the local troops, culminating with a mission rehearsal exercise at Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
Meanwhile, Marines forming the other two components of the rotation — Supporting Arms Liaison Team D of 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and what's known as an "enabling detachment" — also underwent rigorous training, Lang said.
The Marines arrived in Afghanistan in September, just weeks before the Corps left Helmand province. Their primary mission is to help the Georgians defend Bagram Airfield.
It's a role rife with risk. Lang highlighted three incidents, one of which left a Marine and Georgian troops injured.
The details on the engagements are limited, but in the one that left a Marine hurt, a patrol consisting of U.S. and Georgian personnel came under attack by a motorcycle-borne improvised explosive device, Lang said. Two Georgians suffered serious injuries, receiving lifesaving aid from a Navy corpsman. The injured Marine on arranged for a medical evacuation.
For their actions, the Marine and sailor received Georgian medals, Lang said.
In another, two Marines similarly performed lifesaving aid on five grievously injured base personnel following an indirect fire attack and routed an ambulance to the site.
In a separate indirect fire attack, a joint-Georgian and Marine team converged on the launch site, discovering another rocket aimed at the airfield. After securing the scene, the team arranged for an explosive ordnance disposal unit to respond, Lang said.
"We are proud to be partnered with the Georgians," he wrote, "there is a mutual respect and shared understanding that allows us to function as a cohesive team."
Lang joins a chorus of voices praising the partnership between the two nation's armed forces. Cooperation began in 2009, with more than 11,000 Georgian troops deploying to Afghanistan in the years since. Officials have described it as a model for working with other developing militaries.
The Georgian Deployment Program is expected to conclude by the end of fiscal year 2016.
Deployments last about seven months, though no end date has been announced for Lang's team, he said. But Marines stateside began preparing to replace the current rotation last year.
SALT A, also of 2nd ANGLICO, tested its readiness for deployment to Afghanistan in early December, according to a Marine Corps news release. The exercise assessed the team's ability patrol for to counter IEDs during patrols and determine the origin of enemy fire.
And a new Marine liaison team is training with the 43rd Georgian Infantry Battalion in Germany, officials said in a news release.
Lang described his time with the Georgians as "extremely rewarding."
"They represent their country in the highest regard through their professionalism, discipline and demonstrated courage," he said. "They are great ambassadors for their armed forces."