By Army Sgt. Anthony Lee
International Security Assistance Force Regional Command South
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 2013 – Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, made a Christmas Day trip to the southern part of the country to visit with coalition troops and thank them for their service and sacrifices.
Dunford began his trip by departing Kandahar Airfield and flying to Forward Operating Base Apache in Zabul province to meet with U.S. soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and Romanian service members.
Army Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, Regional Command South and 4th Infantry Division commanding general, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark, RC-South and 4th Infantry Division command sergeant major, accompanied Dunford on his trip through southern Afghanistan.
Romanian service members who were celebrating Christmas in their chapel at FOB Apache sang a few Christmas songs -- including Jingle Bells, in English -- upon Dunford’s arrival.
Dunford addressed them and wished them a Merry Christmas before moving to another chapel at FOB Apache, where he met with more service members and shook their hands.
“Not only do I wish you a Merry Christmas but I just ask that you tell your families that I stopped by and that I said thanks to them as well,” Dunford said.
Some service members were away from their families during the holidays for the first time. Others had served on previous deployments and were used to being away from families in December, although it didn’t make it any easier.
“I don’t want you to forget the fact that we came here in the first place to protect the American people,” Dunford told the troops. “We came here to protect our European coalition partners.”
Dunford continued, “The sacrifices we’ve made over the last few years, over the last decade, the pressure we have put on al-Qaeda, the pressure we have put on the network that supports al-Qaeda, is the reason why your families back home today can have a day [when] they don’t even think about anything other than just enjoying the day, enjoying their way of life. And that’s what you’ve delivered to them. I very much appreciate it.”
He also spoke about the role Afghan forces have had in taking responsibility for their country’s security.
“You all are doing a superb job in getting them out there now in the front,” Dunford said. “They’ve had a good summer. They have provided security to the Afghan people.”
The general then flew to FOB Walton in Kandahar province, where he visited and walked around the dining facility, sitting down at tables to talk to service members.
Dunford then made his way back to Kandahar Airfield, where he visited U.S. service members with the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing.
Service members expressed their appreciation that Dunford visited them on Christmas.
“It was good to see that the leadership cares, to see how the soldiers are doing on Christmas,” said Army Sgt. Natasha Elusme, a door gunner with Alpha Company, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division “You want to be home with family, but we do have our A Company family.”
Army Spc. Rodney Dunbar, another door gunner with 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, said he was stationed in South Korea two Christmases ago, but this is his first combat deployment. After briefly speaking with Dunford as the general made his way through the airfield, Dunbar described what the Christmas visit meant to him and his fellow service members.
“It shows that he cares about how the troops are doing and how they’re handling the deployment and how they’re handling being away from family during this holiday season,” Dunbar said.