After six-decade stay, Marines leave Iceland
Stars and Stripes May 3, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Another era has come to an end.
After more than six decades, the Marine Corps has pulled out of Iceland, having completed its last mission detail on Wednesday.
Now, the Marine Corps security force — all 51 of them — are packing up and leaving.
But Navy officials at NAS Keflavic won’t have to worry about filling their boots — because the Marines didn’t really pull security detail.
“The actual security of the base has been done by Navy and Air Force [security personnel] and the Marines were here on a contingency plan,” said Navy Lt. Steve Mavica, Iceland Defense Force spokesman. “They didn’t fulfill the security role, didn’t actually do gate guard duty, and were not doing anything here other than training.”
And even there, the Marines often had to deploy to Greenland, Germany, England and Norway because Iceland has no ranges on which they could practice with their rifles, said Capt. Matt Morgan, spokesman for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C., under which the security forces fall.
For five years, the Marines’ security forces in Iceland had been “invalidated,” and the process of actually getting them out has just really, really slow going, Morgan said.
“Back in 1998, the Chief of Naval Operation invalidated the posts and determined they were not necessary,” Morgan said. “But these things take time, and then world events changed with 9/11, and you just don’t drop the protection immediately.”
Marines were the first American military forces on the northern European island when the first batch landed ashore on July 7, 1941, as part of the 1st Provisional Brigade to protect Iceland from becoming embroiled in World War II.
Over the years, their mission status in Iceland fluctuated, with the last major change prior to the deactivation coming in 1987 with the establishment of the barracks.
The 51 Marines are being transferred to the Hampton Roads and Norfolk area in Virginia and will be used as the core group to set up the 3rd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company, Morgan said.
The Corps already has two existing fleets, and the creation of the third is part of the Corps’ refocusing of security force battalion capabilities to have more rapidly deployable force protection troops, Morgan said.
The entire Marine security forces battalion is made up of more than 2,300 Marines and sailors deployed to 10 locations around the world, providing armed anti-terrorism and physical security.
Life without the Marines, who served on one- and two-year tours, won’t change all that much for the roughly 5,000 military and civilian folks living at Keflavic, Mavica said.
“It’s 51 people, mostly young 18-to-21 year olds, who didn’t have families with them,” Mavica said. “It won’t be that much of an impact. It’s a ceremonial end of era more than anything. They were the first Americans to come here in 1941 and now they’re gone.”