James Rada Jr.

When the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) went into Kabul, Afghanistan, in August to assist in the evacuation of U.S. and Afghan citizens, Catoctin graduate Cody Torres was among them. Cpl. Torres is a geographic intelligence specialist with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Torres joined the Corps after graduation. He went through training at Parris Island, South Carolina, before receiving additional training at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

The 24th MEU deployed in March 2021 and traveled to places such as the United Kingdom, Norway, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

The 24th MEU consists of a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24, and an aviation combat element, Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced. The unit is a self-sustained amphibious fighting force, comprised of a command element, ground combat element, aviation combat element, and logistics combat element. Embarked with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, this Marine air-ground task force is forward deployed in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.

“MEUs operate globally, year-around as the Nation’s Force-in-Readiness,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Eric D. Cloutier, commanding officer, 24th MEU and reported on the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet website. “As we lean into the future fight, expanding our reach and flexibility by utilizing platforms like HIMARS gives us the ability to facilitate maneuver and freedom-of-movement for friendly forces, and our Allies and partners, while denying our adversaries the ability to do the same.” HIIMARS is High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

When the U.S. military began withdrawing from Afghanistan in August, the 24th MEU was called on to assist in the evacuation of U.S. citizens, Afghans who assisted the U.S. military, and Afghans with visas. This was taking place as NATO forces were also withdrawing from the War in Afghanistan, and as the Taliban was quickly taking over the Afghan government. When Kabul fell to the Taliban, the Hamid Karzai International Airport was the only non-Taliban controlled route out of the country. NATO and American troops protected it as evacuees were flown out of the country.

“It was chaotic,” Torres said. “People were having to leave their lives behind.”

The 24th MEU arrived in Kabul in late August and began assisting.

The Marines “primarily focused on … the evacuation control center. That is the efforts to process American citizens, [Special Immigrant Visas applicants] and other Afghans and partner-nation citizens for evacuation and ensure that they get on the planes and get out of the country to various locations,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Huntley, director of operations at Marine Corps headquarters, as reported by USNI News. “We also are participating as part of the perimeter security,” along with the 82nd Airborne Division.

“My job was providing intelligence,” Torres said. “I was trying to get a good picture of what was going on on the ground and the surrounding area to avoid problems.”

Torres was in Afghanistan for about two weeks, including when a suicide bombing on August 26 killed 183 people, including 13 members of the United States military, one of whom was a member of 24th MEU. Sgt. Nicole L. Gee was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 24.

According to Torres, around 177,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan, making it the largest airlift in history.

Once the evacuation deadline was reached, the Marines left, along with all other NATO personnel. The 24th MEU returned to Camp LeJeune in early October, marking the end of their seven-month deployment.

“The Marines and sailors that have arrived today, it’s been a long-anticipated time, a long deployment,” U.S. Marine Capt. Kelton J. Cochran told WNCT 9 News.

Torres is proud of the work he and his fellow Marines were able to do in Afghanistan. “The deployment showed me that there will always be things to do and problems to deal with,” Torres said. “I was never more proud of myself. It showed me that I could overcome any challenge. If there’s a problem, I want to be there to face the challenge and to help.”

Cover Photo: Courtesy Photos – Aboard USS IWO JIMA: Cpl. Cody Torres and Sgt. Cody Huestis

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Transiting the Suez Canal: Cpl. Cody Torres, Sgt. Nicholas Santelmo, Capt. Ryan Sutherland, LCpl. Jake Bledsoe, and Sgt. Cody Huestis.

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