‘Silent Sentinels’ change commanders

Lt. Col. Michael R. Challgren (left) passes the guidon of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion to Lt. Col. Mark F. Schafer during the change-of-command ceremony Friday at McGlachlin Parade Field. Challgren led the signals intelligence unit for two years. (Photo by Phil Grout)
Lt. Col. Michael R. Challgren presents an honor salute to the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion after relinquishing command at the change-of-command ceremony Friday at McGlachlin Parade Field. (Photo by Phil Grout)

As if by empowered edict, the constant downpour that threatened the leadership change for one of Fort Meade’s many tenant units suddenly stopped an hour before the scheduled event.

Under gray skies and mild summer weather Friday, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion recognized its outgoing commander and hailed a new leader heading into its 60th year of service to the nation.

Lt. Col. Michael R. Challgren relinquished command to Lt Col. Mark F. Schaefer after two years of leading the Marine Corps’ highly decorated signals intelligence unit, and firmly establishing the MCSB as the “Marine Corps’ fixed site for signals intelligence,” according to his award citation.

The change of command was officiated at McGlachlin Parade Field by Col. Ryan Gutzwiller, commanding officer of Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, who also formerly commanded the MCSB.

“He [Challgren] spent a lot of time reinvigorating the organization and helping realize a little bit better that organization’s capability to bring the goodness that [the National Security Agency] has to bear to the operating forces of the Marine Corps as well as the joint force at large,” Gutzwiller said.

He noted that the men and women of the MCSB have been instrumental in providing reach-back targeting information to operating forces in the field. This was done not by forces deployed forward, Gutzwiller offered, but by forces from garrison locations of the MCSB, resulting in effective kinetic effects on the battlefield and lives saved.

“Colonel Gutzwiller mentioned that the sun never sets on the MCSB,” Challgren said. “And, that’s true. We have 550 Marines, spread out in eight sub-units in six different companies, in eight different states and five different nations around the globe.

“The sun truly never sets on the MCSB. We’ve got ‘Jarheads’ all over the place!

“These young Marines are exceptionally talented,” the Albion, Mich., native said. “It’s absolutely eye-watering to consistently witness these young Marines performing above their grade, above their billets. I’m so proud to be a part of this unit.”

GroupLt. Col. Michael R. Challgren thanks members of his family and the troops of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion. (Photo by Phil Grout)

Challgren especially noted that the demonstrated esprit de corps within the unit as “really something special,” he said.

“No more time was that so apparent as during [our] darkest time when we lost a young Marine, Lance Corporal [James Ray] Walden, to a tragic accident not his fault. The way MCSB Marines responded demonstrated the truest meaning of cohesion, esprit de corps and compassion for others, and has helped make this unit stronger and better.”

Schaefer, a native of Deerfield, Ill., assumed command of the MCSB after serving in several levels of intelligence operations, including service with the Defense Intelligence Agency and, most recently, as the S-2 officer at the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit supporting combat operations in Libya.

Gutzwiller noted that Schaefer brings higher-level DIA experience as well as operational down-range experience with the 22nd MEU.

“The things that this battalion does — I refer to them as ‘Silent Sentinels’ — [are] deeds that go largely unrecognized in public,” Gutzwiller said. “At the end of the day, it’s about helping commanders make decisions, mitigating uncertainty and saving lives on the battlefield. That’s what these Marines do.”

On assuming command, Schaefer praised the MCSB.

“It is truly an honor to take over command of the battalion,” he said. “I look forward to sharing my all-source intelligence experience with this battalion and the National Security Agency.

“You represent what is best about our nation — the United States Marine Corps.”

Lt. Col. Mark Schaffer gives his first speech as the newly installed commander of Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion. (Photo by Phil Grout)

In closing, Schaefer provided his new unit with a slogan he said he heard many years ago:

“Aspire to inspire before you perspire and expire,” he said. “Reflect on the greatness that is inside you, harness it, inspire others, and continue to lead with our core values — honor, courage and commitment. Semper fidelis!

GroupThe Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion, Bravo Company, salutes the flag as it is lowered to half mast in honor of Lance Cpl. James Ray Walden III of MCSB who was killed in a motorcycle accident. The commemorative event was conducted in March by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7472 in Ellicott City. (File photo by Nate Pesce)
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