Part One of Three. The Camp Riley Clear mission that takes a drastic turn. A dramatic story about Marines in combat, in the southern Helmand city of Marjah. Taking place in the early days of Operation Moshtarak in 2010.
Here we are again, sitting in a briefing for a clear mission. It doesn’t seem like the barrels had cooled from the last engagement. The push ended a week ago. Seven days of heavy combat, gunfights from sun up to sundown. After we had reached our final objectives, and the convoy forces had finally pushed in to meet us. They loaded third squad up, and shipped us over here to Riley, which is Kilo company’s FOB.
We sat around for a few days waiting to receive a mission. Sometimes we would get called up to go sweep for IED’s on scout missions, but those were few and far between. The higher-ups were giving us all a cool down period. It wasn’t a long break, and they already had new plans in the works. Our squad leader had been in the planning briefs for this push, but he hadn’t told us much, just that we needed to have our gear ready to move.
Tonight was the big brief, we listened to the CO and first Sergeant. Each giving a long and drawn out briefing. Most of the company sitting around in a large half circle. Its hard to sit through most of these topics. There is very important information embedded throughout the speech, but there’s a lot of filler added that doesn’t really pertain to everyone. A lot of Marine talk gets mixed in. Like “Let’s get out there and GET SOME,” and those subtle “Rah’s” thrown in. The little one liners usually means they want a response. Generally a “OHHHRAAHH” or a “KILL” was enough to satisfy them. We had gotten pretty good at it over the last year, everyone replying in sync.
The mission was a complicated one. Marines from first squad were to be inserted a few clicks (kilometers) away, and set up blocking positions. Then second, third, and weapons would make a three pronged sweeping movement to clear a large area of ground. The object was to root out some hostile that had remained in this part of the city. Secondary to that we were to do a census on the population located in the grid we were clearing. All of this sounds simple and straight forward. But when you have an operation of this size quickly thrown together, and executed, there is always room for error.
Brett and I couldn’t wait to get back out there. We had spent the last few days making furniture out of hesco for our own little pow-wow circle. Some pretty elaborate pieces of crap. Jason also excelled at the art. Our squad leader had told us to stop horsing around many times, but we would usually continue when he would disappear. There was nothing else better to do, and we had just conquered a hostile city! It was time to do what Marines do best when not killing things. We horse ass around, and see who can come up with the funniest joke. Usually at the higher-ups or each other’s expense.
After the brief was over we made our way back to our sleeping area. Our squad leader briefed us on the details of our engineer specific duties. It was always the same for us. Provide IED detection support. Which was fancy for saying, “Swing a metal detector out in front of the infantry.” We did have some other interesting job requirements, like carry all the demolition we could get our hands on. Breaching was our specialty. Need a big hole in a wall? A door removed from its hinges? You could always count on us to blow something up!
SGT B. Finished the brief, and we all sat around and talked for a bit before hitting the rack. Revile was at 0500, we all got up and around. Went through our normal morning routines, hygiene, bathroom, and ate some chow. Then it was time to grab our gear, and head over toward the ECP (entry control point), and form up to move out on our mission.
Leaving the protection of the FOB, we immediately took a left turn, and ventured out into an unexplored part of the city. Using a fairly smooth, and traveled road, we marched in a split column. A line on each side of the road, each Marine staggered with fifteen meters of dispersion between each other. Each compound that we came too, was cleared, searched, and then a population survey was completed. Each persons name was entered into a handheld retinal scanner. It was a quick census of the local population.
We repeated this process over and over and over. After four hours of clearing, we came to a compound that was in disrepair. The walls were crumbling, there were no plants growing in the garden. Inside the compound’s run down living quarters were two military age males, both were high as kites, and couldn’t comprehend simple commands from the interpreter.
As I cleared the back room, I found bricks, and bricks of opium, and marijuana. I don’t know the dollar value, but I’m sure it was in the millions. I noticed a bag that looked as if it were deliberately hidden, under a pile of Urea fertilizer. It was a large leather duffle bag. I inspected the outside, looking for wires, or anything else out of the ordinary. Sometimes these things were booby trapped. As I started to unzip the bag, paper started to burst out of the no open seam. I got excited! It was cold hard American cash. Hundreds of thousands of dollars!
I had so many questions! I brought the bag outside, and showed my SGT. He was also amazed at the sum. It wasn’t uncommon to find American money here. This was unordinary though, so much money in this run down Afghan home. The men wouldn’t tell us where it had come from, so we confiscated it to be handed over to the proper department at a later date. The two men were detained, and would be questioned further later. A fire-team of Marines was left behind to guard the detainees until we came back later, and linked up.
We pushed forward, continuing our task in the extreme heat. I was on point again, and as we left the compound the surrounding area opened up into flat, open desert. About 500 meters to the next compound, with a large canal splitting the whole area in half. I called out the open area, and was told to push on. The road was hard packed, and there were no signs of any recent disturbances to the soil. My pace was faster then normal for that very reason. I made it to the canal, and had just crossed it when CRACK.. CRACK. CRACK.. The air around me exploded with hot lead. Dust rose from the ground as rounds crashed all around my feet. I froze for a split second, then hit the deck! There was no cover. I mean not even a blade of grass. My SGT was to my left behind a small pile of dirt. I got up and sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me.
Diving down behind the dirt pile. Screaming at my SGT. “Where are they?” “Who’s shooting?” He replied with a hurried “I Don’t f*cking know!!” We got down as best we could. The dirt pile was a foot high, and about three feet wide. Just enough to get a small barrier between us, and the incoming rounds. I looked back over my shoulder to see where everyone else had ended up. LCPL Diaz was laying halfway in the water of the canal along with several other Marines. The back half of the column was still back at the last compound, behind those mud walls that are a foot thick. They were doing what they could though, returning fire, and calling in for support.
SGT B and I began firing at anything that could hide the enemy, murder holes, and the brush that we could see. There was no definite sign of the enemy. No dust from a muzzle, no muzzle flashes, no nothing. Just the constant barrage of incoming rounds. I still had my day pack on, it was loaded with half a satchel of C-4, and det-cord. Along with an MRE, water, and a couple of extra magazines. A round hit my pack, I yelled to my SGT telling him something hit me. He did a quick triage to make sure I wasn’t wounded. In a firefight, you cant always tell if you are hit. There’s so much adrenaline pumping that it masks the pain. I hadn’t been wounded, just shot up a bit. Then another round hit my pack. I screamed “THIS IS BULLSHIT!!” While firing rounds into possible enemy locations.
Let me know what you think of “Part One” of this three part story! This has been a tougher one for me to write about, and I always appreciate the support. I will be publishing “Part 2” in the next couple of days!