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

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

Dust Storm on the horizon

The sun was low in the sky, we had been in country for over five months. This was probably my fourth haircut. Sitting just outside of the back door to our Alaskan Shelter. I was sitting on a box of MRE’s (Meals ready to eat). Diaz was cutting my hair. I liked it short and usually kept it about a quarter of an inch tall on top. I liked a high fade, and barely any hair on the sides and back of my head. We called this, getting a barracks cut, because they weren’t professional. In fact they usually looked like a blind cat cut your hair.

It was mid-July, and it had been a scorcher. Over 115 degrees. We didn’t do anything today, sat around and watched movies in our air conditioned tent. I usually would spend two to three hours in the gym late at night when it was fairly cool. We were all making jokes about how bad our hair looked, and wondering what the First SGT or SGT MAJ would say about them. They were always on our asses about Proper this and Proper that. It was their job though, so I understand.

The sun was fading by the time Diaz finished cutting my hair. It actually wasn’t to bad this time. I walked around the alaskan shelter, shirtless, and I brushed the hair off of my body as I went. I looked up and there was a wall of sand coming towards us. It hadn’t blocked out the sun yet, but was about too. i had never seen anything like it. It was out of the movie The Scorpion King. When that cloud is chasing the airplane. All I could do was watch it. I ran into the tent excited, and worried at the same time. I yelled for the guys to get out here. Marine after Marine stumbled out of the tent. Asking dumb questions, but when they saw it then stood wide mouthed.

Like idiots we stood there watching it come closer. As fast as a freight train. Laughing that this was it. We were done for. It hit like a tornado. Sandblasting everything. It got dark and hard to breathe. We all fought to get into the Alaskan shelter without the door being ripped off. I finally got through and into the tent. There was dust floating in the air inside! I coughed hard for a few seconds. My body hurt, and was red as a tomato. I had been standing out there without a shirt! Everyone looked like they had been showered in fine yellow/ brown dirt.

It lasted through the night. I woke up and looked around stretching. There was a inch of dirt on everything and everyone inside the shelter. Sighing I got up, and picked up my laptop off the make shift table I had build out of MRE boxes, and a piece of wood. Dumping the dirt into the floor. Brett looked up at me, “Dude, do that outside.” I just turned and started dumping the dirt from the rest of my stuff into the floor. it took us a full day to clean the tent. It was a fun experience!