The Camp Riley Clear (Part One)

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!

Okieschaos.com
@okieschaos
WillCornell2007@gmail.com

The Smoke Pit

The smoke pit is the place business is conducted in the corps. Good or bad, serious or just having a laugh. It usually happens in a Marine smoke pit.

In the Marine Corps, the smoke pit is the place were all the behind the scenes business occurs. Wether it’s back home in garrison, or in a combat zone like Afghanistan. A good majority of Marines smoke, so it makes it not only a convenient location, but a practical one. Smoke pits are strategically placed all around bases at home, and abroad.

After we had been in country a month or so, civilization had started to catch up to us. We went from living in small two man tents. To living in large comfortable, and air conditioned Alaskan shelters. They sent in two full sets of gym equipment, and a tent were we could fight over computers, to get on Facebook, or Skype home. Eventually there were even showers. You might have to walk in cheap shower shoes a half a mile to get to them, but they were there.

We rarely went to these places during the day though. It was either to hot, to crowded, or our family’s would be in bed. So it made sense that these activities were done at night. My engineer unit would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning, sleep for a few hours. Then get up and work in the morning until it inevitably got to hot. We would sleep during the hottest part of the day, then get up that evening, and finish up our work before enjoying the necessity’s that had found their way to our camp.

For myself and my closest friends. We would work out anywhere from 2 to 4 hours every night. Usually after 2am. The gym and computer tent weren’t jam packed after 2. Unless we had a mission the next day, then this schedule became irrelevant, but the smoke pit is where we would congregate between chores, or whatever else we had going. The place you could always find someone to talk to, relieving the stress’s that inevitably piled up on your shoulders. Or just find someone to talk to when everyone else was asleep or busy.

There were many smoke pits scattered around camp Hansen. We claimed one that was close to our tents. There were a dozen of these giant tents, three wide in perfect rows. On one side of the tents was the inner wall. The inner wall was a giant triangle made of hesco. It was the original base that we had moved into, before the follow on forces arrived, and the base had to be expanded. On the other side was a long mortar shelter that was made of hesco, concrete, and sandbags. In the event the base was under mortar attack, these shelters were your best chance of survival. They ran from one end of the tents to the other.

A small gap used as a quick entrance in the long bunker, also served as the back door to our claimed smoke pit. The pit was about 25 feet in diameter. In the center was a butt can. With a ring around that, made up of improvised chairs. Some were just a simple sandbag on the ground. Others were full on arm chairs made of sandbags. Even better then the sandbag chair, was a chair made out of hog wire and hesco felt. These could be so elaborate that they resembled comfy beach chairs.

My friends and I spent many nights talking about all sorts of things. The “how are we not dead” subject was popular, along with criticizing politicians, or our higher ups. A lot of the time we would reflect on those thoughts that you normally get in the shower. You know! The meaning of life! Stuff like that. There were a lot of nights we would be smoking Pine cigarettes, and watch the sun rise. We had commandeered the Pines from the bazaar, cigarettes were hard to get in country. They were Russian in origin, and very strong. The sunrise in Afghanistan is spectacular, bright reds, purple, yellows, and orange colors were brilliant. The sand and dust in the air always brought the most amazing shows. The night sky is something else too. With there being very little electricity in the country, there are no lights to drown out the stars. Adding to that, the southern provinces see almost no rain, and the sky’s were almost always clear.

Looking back, and reminiscing, really helps me deal with the bad emotional memories. I would go back in an instant. Looking past the death, and dreadful ordeals we found ourselves in. There is always a good memory that trumps it. I have never experienced anything like the comradery that I experienced with my brothers. I regrettably have lost touch with a lot of the guys that shared these experiences with me, but there are still a few that I talk with often if not daily. Its true, that saying.

No better friend, No worst enemy, then a United States Marine.

Okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

Afghan Kids have Jokes Too!

A funny story about Afghan children having some fun at a Marines expense! A small insight into the relationship between the two different cultures.

It was another scorcher in the Helmand river valley. Our patrol left the wire almost an hour ago, and traveled a few clicks (kilometers) down the MSR (Main Supply Route). The mission was to escort a civilian contractor, to a prospective bridge site, which would cross the main canal. The location was only a few of clicks from where we had landed in the middle of the night on helo’s a few months prior.

I was in the last Vic as usual, providing rear security. Brett was in the first, on the .50. Zane, and Abnet were in the trucks between us. My sector of course being the rear, made me somewhat oblivious to the scene behind me. Occasionally I would turn and look back at what was going on. The contractor, along with our Engineer Lieutenant, were standing next to the canal discussing the project. The contractor wore nice clothing, with a flack jacket and black Kevlar helmet. He also had his private security contractor with him.

The contractor was a spectacle in itself. He wore tennis shoes, and a Hawaiian style collared T-shirt, sported kakhi shorts, and Oakley sunglasses. All under his plate carrier and black high-speed Kevlar helmet, complete with a go pro. I guess he had been on the golf course when the mission had popped up. His weapon of choice was a AK with a collapsible stock. He sported a super high speed leg harness. His sidearm was almost down at his knee, I’m sure it was a .40 or .45, but I don’t recall. He walked with confidence, and authority, always on the contractors hip like a puppy seeking approval of his master.

We sat there for what seemed like hours. I’m sure it had only been 15 to 20 minutes, but it was hot sitting in our turrets. There were a dozen or so kids playfully swimming in the canal to my right, and slightly behind me, just out of view. They would holler in their native tongue at us, trying to get our attention. When we would look, they would jump off the bank into the canal. Doing flips, and cannon balls, some of them with an actual talent. Apparently I wasn’t giving them enough attention at one point. So the older boys in the group took action.

When I hadn’t been paying attention for awhile, they decided a more aggressive approach was necessary. One of the boys found a large rock and chucked it at my turret. Hitting the thick armored plating on my right side. Now I had been shot at in these turrets before. They offer great protection all the way around, and rounds hitting the armor made a specific “TING” sound when they hit the armor. Well it just so happens a rock does the same thing, and almost perfectly mimics a rifle round’s sound.

I hastily started searching for where the shot came from. I called over my radio that I had taken a pot-shot. Zane replied that he hadn’t heard the report of a rifle. After searching for awhile, I calmed down, but was still vigilant. A few minutes later it happened again! This time Zane saw the rascals throw the rock at me, letting me know over the radio. Since they had almost made me piss my pants twice now, I decided to return the favor. My turret was electric, and would move really fast with enough pressure on the joy stick.

So I swung it around really fast. When I was pointed in the culprits general direction, I half racked my 240B Medium machine gun. Never locking the bolt to the firing position, just enough to make the sound. The kids faces lit up with surprise, and they began scrambling to run! I laughed along with Zane. Of course I had no intention of firing. I just didn’t want to have the crap scared our of me like that. I’m surprised they weren’t walking on water, the way they ran.

I gently turned my turret back to the rear facing position. The kids walked back with big smiles on their faces, giggling, and talking amongst themselves. I threw them a few bottles of water in good faith. They laughed and went back to swimming. A few minutes later the contractor and his party returned to the Vic’s, and we sped off down the road, and headed for home. Never receiving any “real” contact, we made it home safe.

okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

Camels, Tornados, and dirty Marines

The Engineers leave the wire on a 8 hour round trip to resupply, encountering Camel, Tornados, and much more!

We were in our heavily armored MAT-V’s sitting in a line in front of the engineer area. That was our home. A walled off compound inside of the larger base. All of our equipment was here, along with our platoon HQ. We were the only unit that had the luxury of piss tubes in our area. We also sported a homade poker table, and blackjack table. Living in style, in the middle of the arid Afghan desert. In a few minutes we would be leave the safety of Camp Hansen, and venture out into the city, then beyond to Camp Bastion. The mission was to resupply our lumber pile, and other essential gear.

It would be a four hour, rough, and most likely boring mission. We should have been on our way an hour ago but, a common problem was holding us back…. COMMS. It is important, being able to communicate in battle is vital to winning an engagement. The sophisticated, but complicated COMM systems we used were always suffering problems. Us gunners had the standard black Motorola handheld radios. We kept with us in our turrets. They weren’t encrypted, so we normally either used them to B.S. and pass insulting messages to other members of each respective vehicle. Marine talk!

We had six vehicles in the convoy for this mission. Four MAT-V’s and two 7-ton utility trucks. The MAT-V’s are large, powerful, and fast, lacking in cargo room. They are well armored with a V-Shaped hull to direct blasts from mines and IED’s. The 7-Tons were like semis, only they sat really high off the ground. Making them fairly survivable in a blast. The convoy would start with two MAT-V, then the 7-Tons, followed by the other two MAT-V’s.

Brett was always the front gunner, manning the only ma-deuce that we had. Its a Browning .50 heavy machine gun, and has been around since WWII. A beast of a gun, always up front to deal with oncoming traffic. The rest of the MAT-V’s had 240B Medium Machine guns. They fired 7.62 and could mop up a squad of insurgents like it was nothing. The two 7-Tons were sporting a couple of SAW’s (Squad Automatic Weapon) each squad has a M249 SAW. We only had three 240’s that were functioning, so we had to settle. The M249 fires a 5.56 and make body’s reflect Swiss cheese. I was always the rear gunner, manning my 240B, I protected the rear of the convoy.

Finally the COMM guys found the issue, and it was time to go. The convoy rolled up to the ECP (Entry Control Point) stopped, and requested permission from HQ to leave the FOB. Permission was granted. Our Platoon Commander’s voice came over the radio “Engineers, were Oscar Mike.” Marines use the Phonetic Alphabet when communicating over the radio. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned a word. A=Alpha, B=Bravo, C=Charlie, and so on. Oscar Mike means “On the Move”.

The gate guard moved the concertina wire out of the road. The trucks roared to life, turning right onto the hard packed, clay road. Brett and I had a tradition. Every time we left the wire, brett would say over his Motorola “Party like a Rockstar!” Then as my vehicle passed the ECP, I would reply “and F*ck like a Porn Star!” We had never been blown up before, and for some reason we credited it to saying our traditional words when leaving the protection of the wire. #MarineLogic

We made the right turn and sped up fast, the plan was to push hard to Bastion, resupply, then turn right around, and head home. It would be a long day, but it was doable if we didn’t run into problems. For the next hour we rolled through little villages and bazaars. They all belonged to the city of Marjeh, but were spread out. There would be a group of homes, separated by fields of poppy. We drove by the fields were we had landed in helo’s in the middle of the night, three months earlier. Dodging kids as they played in he road. The ladies we would pass were covered from head to toe in their burkas. Every single one of them. The only skin showing on them was their hands. This comes as nothing less then a culture shock, you never get used to it.

After two and a half hours we made it to the outskirts of town. It is a shocking sight. You see, Marjeh is situated in the Helmand river valley. A fairly lush area, irrigated by an ancient canal system. It is also very flat, there is almost no discernible change in elevation while you are in the valley. But here green instantly turns to course, blowing sand. Gigantic dunes rise up, right next to homes, gaining in elevation the farther in you go. A lot like the Rockies, only dull and hot, and maybe like 70 feet tall. There are vehicle tracks that run off in every direction with no plan or reason. They cris-cross in random directions.

We drove out into the desert for half an hour before turning, and running parallel to the river valley. The only thing in view was a dry, ancient land, sand from horizon to horizon.. A perk to this area, was that you could haul ass! We drove as fast as we could, which was about 55 MPH. The MAT-V’s could do 70-75 MPH, but the 7-Tons ran 55 flat. 20 minutes into our new course a herd of wild camels appeared, hundreds of them in every shape and size. Walking along lazily on top of giant sand dunes, with their heads bobbing with each step. As we passed them I just thought about how unreal this place was.

Out of nowhere a giant tornado appeared under a clear blue sky. Being an Okie from Oklahoma, I am used to seeing the occasional tornado. Nothing like this though. These were enormous, at least an 1\8 mile wide at the base. Roping up into the sky for hundreds feet. A beige- light brown column of dust. Then another appeared on the horizon, and another! Then one more! It was insane! In a line moving parallel to us in the opposite direction, no more then a mile away. Never would I have thought that I would see four gigantic dust devils, vacuuming up the dessert floor. The camels didn’t seem to mind them, and went on with their business. Kind of like a lot of people I know in Oklahoma. Sitting on the back porch with a beer and watching a tornado pass by. Just another day in Afghanistan!

We finally made it to Bastion and got our supply’s loaded, just in time to get some grub at the fancy chow hall on base. It was a huge tent that employed civilian contractors from country’s in Southeast Asia. We were so dirty, us gunners had solid white faces, except for where our goggles had been. The cammies that we wore were drenched in sweat and mixed with the dirt from the road. We ate the delicacies, and laughed and poked fun at the “fobbits” that never left the security of the wire. We finished eating with out incident, surprise! Jumped back in our Vic’s, and headed back to Marjeh. Riding off into the sunset, winding our way through the desert, back the way we had come. Making it home without trouble, and completing our mission in record time.

Thought this was a good little story to share! Hope you enjoyed! If you can relate in any way let me know in the comments! Don’t forget to share to social media, and leave a like!

Okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

WillCornell2007@gmail.com