FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan --
Four years ago, Sgt. Troy Garza, then a fire team leader with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan. By the end of the deployment, his platoon was rendered nearly combat ineffective due to the number of casualties they sustained.
With fearsome prior experience, Garza returned to Sangin during March 2014 and is currently serving with Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
Garza was raised in Harlingen, Texas, by a father who served 22 years as an infantryman in the Army. Following high school, Garza pursued a college education at The University of Texas-Pan American. He had intentions of earning a degree and working a normal 9-to-5 job, but he had a change of heart after his sophomore year.
“One day I just wasn't satisfied with where I was at with my life,” Garza said. “I was doing fine in school and I had a job working at a bank, but I wanted to accomplish a lot more than where I was headed. I continually saw things on the news about the war, and it made me want to be out there like my father was.”
Garza enlisted as an infantryman in the Marine Corps during December 2008, and left for recruit training two months later. Following recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, he underwent training at the School of Infantry – West at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and proved his tenacity, motivation and leadership skills when he graduated as a squad leader. These qualities didn't fade when he arrived at 3rd Bn., 5th Marines.
Garza earned a position as a fire team leader and was meritoriously promoted to lance corporal shortly after arriving to the unit. As a junior Marine with no prior combat experience, he fearlessly led his fire team when the battalion deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan, during 2010.
“Before we deployed, our battalion commander told us to prepare for one of the craziest battles that we would ever be involved in,” Garza said. “Sure enough, during the first two weeks we sustained nine casualties.”
Their mission was to clear all of Sangin in order to give the local populace freedom of movement and regain the region from the Taliban. At times, Garza and his platoon couldn't move more than 100 meters outside their patrol base without getting pinned down by enemy fire. Improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire were a constant threat, but the Marines relentlessly continued with their mission.
The number of casualties the unit was sustaining slowed after their first two weeks in Sangin, but they continued to occur at a steady rate. By the end of the deployment, the battalion sustained 28 Marines killed in action and more than 200 wounded in action.
“A lot of times I think about that deployment and realize how lucky I am to have survived it,” Garza said. “We had the most casualties the Marine Corps had seen since the war began.”
Rather than letting the deployment have a negative impact on him, Garza only grew stronger. Upon returning from the deployment to Sangin, he completed the Infantry Squad Leaders Course as a lance corporal and earned a meritorious promotion to corporal. He deployed in support of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his actions on the MEU.
His attitude didn't change once he returned from his second deployment. Garza became a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor and earned a meritorious promotion to sergeant before receiving orders to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, for his third deployment.
“When he first came to us, the platoon was lacking experience,” said Staff Sgt. Roberto Ramirez, a platoon sergeant with Charley Company, and a native of Chicago. “He passed on to the Marines all of his knowledge from his past experiences and made my job a lot easier.”
After rigorous predeployment training exercises in Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Garza arrived in Sangin, Afghanistan, for his second time during March 2014.
“It’s a lot different coming to Sangin this time because last time I was here, the Marines were the lead element,” Garza said. “We were the ones out fighting every day and the Afghan National Army was in support of us. Now it’s completely different. The ANA are patrolling and fighting every day and they are coming to us for support.”
Charley Company’s mission is to transfer full security responsibility of Forward Operating Base Sabit Qadam to the ANA. The Marines are currently manning security posts along the perimeter of the FOB until the transition occurs.
“The sergeants are the main effort on this FOB,” Ramirez said. “They run the entire guard force and quick reaction force, and that’s a huge responsibility. I work the night shifts, so when I’m resting during the day, Sgt. Garza is in charge of the entire platoon. I feel very lucky to have him and I’m glad he came to this battalion because he is a huge asset. ”
Following his current deployment in Afghanistan, Garza plans on becoming a combat instructor at The School of Infantry. He also plans to make a career out of the Marine Corps.
“I love being the individual who leads Marines into combat,” Garza said. “I get a huge sense of accomplishment after leading a squad of Marines to different objectives, successfully completing an infiltration mission, or maintaining a defensive position for five days with minimal food, water and rest. There aren't a lot of people I know that can say they can do that.
“One more thing I love about my job is that no matter how miserable something is, how much pain I’m in, or how challenging something is, I have Marines to the left and right of me who are feeling the same way, and we go through it all together,” Garza added.