By John Burton
RED BANK – It was a gathering to “celebrate 60 years of truckin’ it like nobody’s business,” in the words of U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Peter Mahoney.
The 6th Motor Battalion, headquartered at the Monmouth Armed Forces Reserve Center, at Newman Springs and Half Mile roads, marked its six decades of service on Saturday, July 14, with a gathering of its members, current and former, prepared remarks touching on the unit’s history and presentation of the colors.
The unit, comprised of active and reservist members, has seen duty in Iraq, during both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Afghanistan.
According to Sgt. Maj. Derrick A. Smith, who has been assigned to the battalion since February 2010, over the course of its service three of its members died in the line of duty: Cpl. Alan R. Auger was killed in action in Kuwait on March 19, 1991 when he was 22 years old; Lance Cpl. Richard A. Perez Jr. was 19 when he was killed in action in Iraq, taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and Warrant Officer 1 Charles G. Wells Jr., 32, was killed in Iraq on March 30, 2005.
Unit members have received 22 Purple Hearts, with another five or six expected to be awarded by August, said Lt. Col. Edward D. McNulty, the battalion’s commander. That translates to one wounded member for every deployment rotation, McNulty explained.
“What we end up doing is theater distribution,” said McNulty, meaning the unit was responsible for moving personnel, equipment and supplies to the front lines.
“And, because of that we’re on the road a lot,” where the 6th Battalion, along with the allied forces, faces the continued threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The unit was under attack “constantly,” said McNulty, a reservist, who spent seven months in Fallujah, Iraq.
The 6th Motor Battalion is made up of about 1,040 Marines, almost evenly divided between reservists and active duty military, spread over such locations as Orlando, Fla., New Haven, Conn., Texarkana, Texas, Las Vegas, Nev., Providence, R.I., and Red Bank, N.J.
There are about 200 Marines assigned to the Red Bank facility, McNulty said.
Mahoney detailed the unit’s history, starting in Port Newark on July 17, 1952, when it began as the 24th Special Infantry Company. The unit then became the 6th Battalion on July 1, 1962.
Over time the unit was relocated to Middlesex County, and then to Fort Monmouth, Eatontown, before settling into this spot, according to Mahoney and McNulty.
In December 1990 the unit was activated and mobilized in support of Operation Desert Storm/Desert Freedom. It was during its time in Iraq and Kuwait that the unit earned the nickname “The Baghdad Express,” Mahoney said.
During its time in Operation Iraqi Freedom beginning in Jan. 14, 2003, the unit completed more than 400 missions, driving more than 1.7 million miles and transporting more than 15,000 troops, 7 million gallons of fuel, 500,000 short tons of ammunition and 4,000 palettes of Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs), the portable meals used by troops in the field, Mahoney said.
“Just hearing that name ‘Baghdad Express’ sends chills up my spine,” Col. Patrick J. Hermesmann said. Hermesmann, now deputy commander for the 4th Marine Logistics Group, was familiar with the 6th Motor Battalion’s record and operations, having served with the battalion in the 1990s.
“The 6th Motor Battalion performed miracles on the battlefield,” Hermesmann quoted a general who told him about the unit’s performance in Iraq.
“The battalion has a spectacular legacy, a spectacular history of which we’re all proud,” Hermesmann said.
That assessment came as no surprise to Robert Chenoweth, who served as a reservist with the unit back in the 1990s. Chenoweth, who has been with the Little Silver Police Department for more than 4 years and was at the ceremony in his police uniform, said he attended the event to “celebrate with my brothers and sisters of the Marines.”
Richard Henley of Hazlet served in the Marines from 1953-1957, although he wasn’t with this outfit. That doesn’t matter, he said, all Marines are connected. “It’s a brotherhood other services don’t understand.
“I think the Marines are more tight-knit,” Chenoweth said. That comes from “just being shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy next to you through some of the toughest training and situations in the world.”