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Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2011

Marines uncase unit colors

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The Marine Corps Detachment already had a few boots on the ground but made it official Thursday.

“The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand,” Lt. Col. Michael Muller, the detachment commander, said after the unit colors were uncased in a ceremony on Brave Rifles Field at Harmony Church.

The detachment spent about 40 years at Fort Knox, Ky., where it was formally shut down a few weeks ago, and moves to Fort Benning with the Armor School as part of Base Realignment and Closure. It will operate here as a combined Marine Infantry and Armor detachment.

Counting permanent-party personnel and students, the unit will number about 350 at any given time, Muller said.

“It’s a historic day for the Marine Corps,” said Col. Robert Wallace, chief of staff for Training Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “The U.S. Army has really embraced us … as we continue this marriage of Armor and Infantry.”

Muller said coming to Fort Benning presents the Marines with a unique opportunity.

“We train alongside the Army, so that when we fight alongside the Army, we’ll both be better off,” he said. “You can’t just wait till the bullets start flying. We have to get in the tanks and work with the Infantrymen.”

The Marine Corps Detachment has its own cadre, who lead a half-dozen Marine-only courses, he said. It funnels Marine students and instructors into both Armor and Infantry schools across the Maneuver Center of Excellence. They routinely get sent to the post’s established units for Airborne, Jumpmaster, Pathfinder and Ranger training.

Muller has deployed twice to Iraq in an Infantry capacity. In July 2005, he was assigned as the deputy senior adviser to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division in Fallujah. Muller returned to serve as senior watch officer for Regimental Combat Team 6 from December 2006 to January 2008.

“We train our Marines to be riflemen from Day One,” he said. “We’re organized to fight … in any environment. And we know how to take that (tank) and put it where it needs to do the most damage.”

Last fall, the Marines became the first U.S. branch to send a battle tank company to Afghanistan.

Muller said the Marine Corps Detachment shipped 23 pieces of armored hardware from Fort Knox, including M1A1 Abrams tanks and M88 recovery vehicles. The Armor School supplies many of the tanks it uses in training, slightly modified with Marine components. Soldiers drive the newer M1A2 version.

“The differences from the outside are minor. You can’t really tell,” he said. “(But) you put a crewman inside, it’s sort of like the difference between us driving a 1965 Ford Mustang and them driving a 2011 Cadillac.”

Wallace said Fort Benning has a rich heritage and historically strong bond with the Columbus and Phenix City areas. He urged the Marines on Brave Rifles Field and in the crowd to embrace both.

“You’re breaking in new ground and a new tradition,” he said. “Everything you do here is going to pay off in the operational forces.”

Muller praised the reception MCoE leaders gave his command but said the relocation is bittersweet. “For me, I have that little place in my heart because I understand the history behind Fort Knox. I always hate to start a new history line,” he said. “But I love the people here.”

The detachment’s advance elements showed up at Fort Benning last September. Sixteen Marine Corps lieutenants arrived earlier this month for the Armor School’s Basic Officer Leader Course. Meanwhile, the first Marine-only class, the Marine Armored Crewman Course, begins Monday.

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