MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, Jacksonvile, NC -- The last time these Marines and sailors saw Ryan Crocker, they were all half a world from home and hip deep in problems.
July 26 at Camp Lejeune marked a different set of circumstances for members of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan when the embassy was reopened in Kabul in January. Crocker, deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, came to reward 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Lima Company with the State Department's superior honor award.
Crocker said the Marines and sailors earned the honor for their work in reopening the embassy.
"It was a concept brilliantly conceived and executed," Crocker said. "I've seen a lot of service but I have never seen anything work as well. No one could have done it better.
"The foreign services and the Marine Corps has long been linked and they made history in Afghanistan," Crocker said. "This award is rarely given in the Foreign Service and only a few select Marines have earned it in the past. As far as I am aware, this award has never been presented to a regular military unit."
Approximately 100 Marines and sailors arrived in Afghanistan in December, relieving a skeleton crew from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who seized the shell of the old U.S. Embassy.
"The first couple of days were difficult," said 1st Lt. Javier Diaz, 1st Platoon commander for Lima Company. "There were no toilets, the place was in disarray, and it was obviously vandalized."
Taliban and al-Qaida had used it as a headquarters, so everything had been broken and there were bullet holes everywhere, Diaz said.
The only thing that was left untouched was the U.S. Embassy seal over the doorway.
Members of the infantry company got little sleep over the next three weeks because while one-third of the force manned defensive positions, the rest cleaned up the debris, improved fighting positions and turned the complex into a fully functioning embassy.
"There was a lot of dust and debris making it difficult to breathe," Diaz said. "We set up positions along the perimeter and on the roof top to view people exiting and entering the embassy."
After they strengthened the defense, they took turns standing post in an area where it was dangerous to be an American.
"We constantly changed the defense so no one could see a pattern and plan an attack," Diaz said. "We also began to establish an American presence by playing colors in the morning and taps in the evening so they would always know that we were there."
In January, Crocker arrived and the Marines gave him the protection due a U.S. embassy ambassador; as well as provided security for visiting dignitaries. That was the way the situation remained until April when both Crocker and Lima Company departed.