Many of the Marines I’ve talked to from the 2004-2005 deployment to Afghanistan swear that 3rd Battalion was the first American unit that operated in the Korengal Valley. However, other Marines I’ve talked to from 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines’ 2005 deployment and 1st Battalion 3rd Marines’ 2006 deployment all swear the same things about their units. A pro-Army site even suggests that 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment was the first unit in the Korengal as late as April 2006. They can’t all be right… can they?
I’ve already touched on the problems in the Afghanistan/Iraq historical narratives caused by the 6-12 month unit rotation policy. But another problem encountered in writing this ‘first draft’ of history is that many historians and journalists often accept claims like these at face value, because they’re usually next-to-impossible to fact-check. Too many unit records are overclassified, unavailable, or have simply vanished.
Many units also did a lousy job archiving their operations outside of the ‘turnover’ briefs with their replacements: in 2010, 3rd Battalion conducted an operation in the Helmand Province village of Shorshorak called New Dawn. However the villagers surprised us by saying that a previous Marine unit had conducted at least one operation there. One year later in 2011, another Marine unit about to conduct a similar operation also had no idea any Marine units had been there before.
Regarding the Korengal, the more I look, the more I’m convinced the first Marines into the Korengal may have actually been 3rd Battalion 6th Marines (3/6), who operated in eastern Afghanistan for most of 2004. The evidence is purely circumstantial — two 3/6 Marines were killed on 24 June 2004 about forty kilometers northeast of Korengal — but the location is close enough to suggest 3/6 was operating near there. Also 3rd Battalion launched Operation FAIRBANKS, its first operation into the Korengal, only a week after their TOA with 3/6. To me this strongly suggests that, at the minimum, 3/6 was looking at the Korengal, if not actually operating there.
Of course this is ultimately a moot point since Special Forces and Army Rangers had been operating in Kunar Province for several years prior and had almost certainly done at least one operation there.
Update (28 November 2014): A conversation with a senior 3rd Battalion leader has confirmed that 3rd Battalion 6th Marines was the first Marine unit to operate in the Korengal Valley. In late October 2004, 3/6 sent a platoon (-) into the Korengal to relieve a Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) team there just before 3rd Battalion arrived in-country. As he recalls, they were there for about 3-4 weeks and their primary purpose was to facilitate planned 3rd Battalion operations which would begin in December 2004.
Site News: I’ve added the July events in Hawaii, a previously-unknown deployment by part of Kilo Company to Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines in 2003, and some of the April SIGACTs. I’m also looking into transferring this page to a system called Omeka, and have started building a page for our Desert Storm veterans called Task Force Taro so I can play around with it.