FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The phrase, “every Marine a rifleman” is so overused it’s gone from motto to cliché, but if Cpl. Eric Ramirez has his way a new battle cry will emerge — every Marine an infantryman.
Ramirez is no stranger to the life of a grunt. His boots have seen more than 600 dismounted patrols in Iraq, but for his current deployment, the third in just as many years, the 21-year-old infantryman wanted something different.
Instead, Ramirez ended up in the same scene, but with new characters.
He still patrols. He still stands post and sets up vehicle checkpoints. He still denies the enemy movement, only now it’s with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Headquarters Company Guard Force, a group of mostly non-infantrymen who perform infantry duties in the H&S battle space.
“The deployments I’ve been on before, H&S has never had its own battle space,” Ramirez said. “When they decided to give H&S its own space they needed infantrymen to step up to the challenge and help lead the guard force.”
An H&S battle space isn’t new. The current area of operations 3/3 occupies was inherited from their sister battalion 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who also had a guard force. The 1/3 guard force didn’t take over its own battle space until near the very end of the deployment.
Of the 12 men in Ramirez’s squad, only three, counting him, are infantrymen by trade. The rest hold billets like truck driver, administrative clerk, radio operator … all grunt support. But for Ramirez their military specialty doesn’t matter as much as another title — Marine.
“A lot of grunts would put these guys down,” Ramirez said. “They’d say, ‘they’ve never patrolled, they’ve never done this or that, blah, blah, blah …’ Yeah, they’ve never patrolled but we’re still all Marines. You can train a Marine to be an infantryman. If they haven’t had the same training as you of course they won’t be on the same level, but I guarantee by the end of the deployment they will be. It’s just how much time and how much effort do you want to put into these Marines, and I’m teaching them everything I know.”
At first Ramirez worried the Marines under his charge wouldn’t be enthusiastic about their new positions. They already had jobs they’d been trained to do. Who would want to be dropped into an unfamiliar role? But the men surprised him with their motivation and eagerness to head outside of the wire, a term used to describe the uncertainty outside of a forward operating base. His squad completed their first patrol without being accompanied by a platoon sergeant or commander May 30 near Forward Operating Base Geronimo, and Ramirez was pleased by how quickly they had absorbed his training.
For some in Ramirez’s squad, like with many Marines, there’s always been grunt envy.
Pfc. Aramis C. Sandoval went to his local recruiting office in Bronx, N.Y., just a little more than a year ago hoping to enlist as an infantryman. When his recruiter told him he’d have to pick a new military occupational specialty, Sandoval settled on administrative clerk. He hopes to be a lawyer one day and figured a chance to work as a clerk in a base legal office would help him build experience.
With less than a year in the Marine Corps, Sandoval, the trained office worker, is a rifleman in Afghanistan — a white-collar warrior.
“I give all the respect to the grunts,” Sandoval said with a tired sigh. “This work is not easy at all. It’s physically and mentally demanding. The pressure is the biggest challenge. I don’t ever want to look back and think I got a Marine hurt because I wasn’t doing something right.”
The work is as fulfilling as it is demanding. Sandoval’s face may usually be covered in sweat, dirt and awkward tan lines from constant, post, patrol and training, but it’s got a smile on it as well.
As for Ramirez, when he’s out on patrol he doesn’t see the difference between leading a squad of infantrymen and a squad of clerks.
“Just because you’re not a grunt doesn’t mean you’re not a Marine,” Ramirez said. “Everyone knows a Marine is a rifleman. If they wanted to do just one job they would have probably joined (another service) or something. The Marine Corps is a combat-arms service. We’re all expected to be combative.”