HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Lance Cpl. Benjamin E. Palmer deployed with Regimental Combat Team 7 to Camp Dwyer, Helmand province, Afghanistan in October 2009, as part of the first full-sized RCT to stand up in Afghanistan.
The Marines who arrived in October have seen the RCT accomplish great things and are pressing on as they finish their year-long deployment.
Camp Dwyer was comprised of circus tents and moon dust when the Marines first stepped foot in country. The combat operations center was housed in a tent and the Marines were packed into 80-man circus tents for the first few months of their deployment.
“Dwyer was nothing when we first got here,” said Palmer, a logistics operations center watch noncommissioned officer from Katy, Texas. “I just remember we got of the bird and got into (armored 7-ton trucks) and we were like ‘wow, this is where we are living.’”
Marines have seen Dwyer grow since then. Now The COC is in a hardened structure compound. The camp has two morale, welfare and recreation centers, a post exchange, dining facilities, gyms and permanent lodging facilities for Marines.
“(Living conditions) have definitely gotten a lot better out here,” said Cpl. Leroy Gomez, the operations NCO for RCT-7. “Watching this place grow, it’s turning into an amazing base.”
Camp Dwyer isn’t the only place that has seen the positive impact of RCT-7. Helmand province has benefited from the operations and teams sent out. Two embedded training teams were formed with Marines from RCT-7. The teams worked with their Afghan counterparts, teaching them basic war fighting skills and escort missions throughout the province. The partnership of ETT and Afghan national security forces has created a better presence within Marjah, said Cpl. Donato J. Devito, data communications specialist with ETT from Columbia, Md.
RCT-7 also oversaw Operation Cobra’s Anger and Moshtarak, in December 2009 and February 2010, respectively. Through these operations they have seen the Taliban lose strongholds and be forced out of key locations.
There have been incredible changes throughout the region, not just physically, but also in the people of Afghanistan, said 1st Lt. Patrick M. Maguire, the ETT platoon commander. The people have started to trust the Marines more as they see the removal of the Taliban and operations succeed.
The Marines with RCT-7 are deployed for a year unlike the standard seven-month deployment. The Marines came in with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, worked with them and then watched them go home. Marines who have been deployed with infantry battalions find it different because they are used to a shorter deployment.
“That was the hardest part because being with an infantry battalion you are used to seven months. It’s definitely a mind game, coming from an infantry battalion that seven-month mark comes around,” said Gomez, from Denver. “The bus goes to the (landing zone) and you realize you won’t be on that bus for another five months. Those last five months are no different then the first seven. I can’t loosen my pack because my job isn’t done.”
Throughout the next five months, Marines here are still pressing on, as they wrap up the remaining months of their deployment. As the battalions rotate out, RCT-7 is facilitating the changeovers. This will allow Regimental Combat Team 1 to focus on establishing themselves for success.
“The next five months will basically be fine-tuning all the things we have done since we have been here,” said Palmer. “Making sure everything is on the right page for when (RCT-1) gets here for a smooth transition.”
Marines understand the reason why they are here for a year, and can see how far they have come since their arrival in October. While anxious to get home to their families, they know that their job here isn’t done until they are on a plane heading home.
“We are here to clear and hold and establish a local government, which requires us to stay here longer to oversee that,” said Palmer. “It’s not fun being here longer now, but we can look back years from now and say ‘we made a difference.’”