MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
As the sun began to set over the horizon Sept. 24, service members from all three Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command installations stood solemnly in formation to bid farewell to their commanding general.
Soon, a crowd of family and friends arrived at Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field here to attend a change of command ceremony between Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, the outgoing MAGTFTC and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center commanding general, and Brig. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, the current commanding general.
Gurganus spoke fondly of his time at the Combat Center, remarking how he learned from and shared a number of unique experiences with his colleagues both on base and in the local community.
“We didn’t know what to think when we first came to Twentynine Palms,” said the Wilmington, N.C., native in his distinct southern drawl. “But once we drove up the hill to Morongo Valley [Calif.], one of the things we realized is what a warm and genuine community this really is.
“It has really been an honor and a privilege for Janet and me to have had a chance to interact with you,” he continued. “Most importantly, I’d like to thank all of you for everything you do on a daily basis to make this a better place for Marines, sailors and their families as well.”
The 33-year Marine Corps veteran finished by recognizing several of his colleagues, who have helped him, and the installation, become more successful during his command. He also thanked all the personnel aboard the base, both military and civilian, for their service to Corps and country.
“We’re going to miss this community; we’re going to miss our friends outside the gate,” he said. “And we’re going to miss the camaraderie of not only the Marines who wear the uniform, but also our civilian Marines – the ones who keep this base moving, and moving forward day in and day out.”
Clardy, who previously served as the director of the Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and who has an extensive background in both education and war fighting skills, expressed excitement and optimism at returning to the Combat Center to serve at the installation’s commanding general, and the commander of MAGTFTC.
“As you know, this is sort of a homecoming,” said the Pawleys Island, S.C., native. “I came out here for [combined arms exercises] as a lieutenant and a captain, then came back here as a battalion commander. We’re really happy to be here, and we really appreciate the hospitality and the welcome we’ve received both on base and out in town.”
The two generals, proving how small the Marine Corps truly is, recalled the last time they served together leading Marines together in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007 and 2008. At the time, Clardy commanded Regimental Combat Team 2, while Gurganus served as the operations officer for 2nd Marine Division, Ground Combat Element, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
“Maj. Gen. Gurganus has been my mentor for the last couple years,” Clardy said with admiration. “I served with him in Iraq for 13 months and I believe he was one of the great contributors to the success we had in Al Anbar Province.
“For better or worse, I am Gurganus trained,” he joked briefly before returning to a serious, yet assuring demeanor. “Therefore, you can expect the continuity between the two of us here within MCAGCC and MAGTFTC.”
Clardy ended his speech by recalling the tale of a World War II veteran who attended the ceremony, who trained for war in California and Hawaii before fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima with Combat Team 28 in 1945. He said he felt honored to continue to uphold the legacy of preparing Marines for combat.
“Within our commands here in Twentynine Palms, up north in California and down in Arizona, there are thousands like him who we’re responsible for training to do just one thing for our country – to go to war and win. That’s what we do,” he said with pride. “As the commanding general for these two commands, I take that responsibility not lightly, but I accept it and I look forward to those challenges.”
Clardy thanked everyone in the audience who attended the ceremony. Following the age-old Marine Corps ritual, a festive, yet casual reception was held at the Officers’ Club here where friends, family members and colleagues mingled, shared stories and celebrated the successful careers of the two generals.