The Marine commander who prepped the sprawling Marine base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for the onslaught of Hurricane Florence left for Afghanistan on Oct. 11 to command the next rotation of Marine advisers in Helmand province.
Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford, the now former commander of Marine Corps Installations East, will relieve the current commander of Task Force Southwest, Brig. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson, according to a command release.
Task Force Southwest currently is in its second iteration to Helmand province, Afghanistan, where roughly 300 Marine advisers have been training and rebuilding the Afghan 215th Corps and 505th Zone National Police.
That rotation is slated to be replaced soon, but not all the Marines with the new third rotation of Task Force Southwest are currently on deck, according to Maj. Joshua Benson, a Marine spokesman.
The current rotation will start a hand over process commonly called a “RIP” or “left-seat, right seat ride” where the incoming rotation of Marines will be briefed on their new area of operations and lessons learned about their battle space.
Before deploying to head up the new rotation of Marines in Afghanistan, Alford was the base commander of Camp Lejeune.
In September, Alford was derided on Facebook by an angry mob of families of Marines stuck in the path of a powerful hurricane that was barreling toward the base.
The Lejeune commander made the bold decision to hold in place instead of evacuating.
The base’s social media account became the target of scared Marine family members and some misinformed individuals, some who even claimed the base’s decision was based on monetary concerns.
Alford likened the base’s preparation for the storm to a pending battle.
“The commands and personnel who remain are well-postured to react to situations and will be working together, like Marines always do in battle, to get through Hurricane Florence,” Alford said in a Facebook post.
“As a reminder, all non-essential personnel who are not designated in the upcoming fight against Hurricane Florence have been released from duty with their command's approval,” Camp Lejeune’s Facebook page said before the storm made landfall in September.
Alford will be taking the helm of an Afghan mission in a bit of turmoil.
While Task Force Southwest has made some progress in the war-torn region and increased the security belt around Helmand’s beleaguered capital of Lashkar Gah, Afghan forces continue to be plagued by high battlefield losses.
A New York Times story found that during one volatile week in September, nearly 57 Afghan soldiers and police were dying a day.
In August, Ghazni, a populous and strategic city, partially fell to the Taliban until it was retaken with the aid of American special operations forces and airpower.
To complicate matters, Afghans are slated to kick off parliamentary elections on Oct. 20.
Alford’s deputy commander, Col. Scott A. Baldwin, will serve as acting commander of Marine Corps Installations East until Watson arrives later this year, a command release said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.