CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Marines of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) support coalition forces every day here in Southern Afghanistan, but 33 of them are performing a unique duty.
Assigned to 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion here, this group of 3rd MAW (Fwd) devil dogs are standing guard around Camp Leatherneck’s perimeter 24 hours a day.
They are serving as the base defense augmentation force, manning towers, gates and main entry points to the base, explained 1st Sgt. Brian Platte, the Alpha Battery first sergeant for 3rd LAAD Bn., from Mexico, Mo.
These Marines are the first line of defense for the base, explained Master Sgt. Robert Blankenship, the Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3 senior enlisted advisor. They were brought from their home station, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., to augment the BDAF because 3rd MAW (Fwd) is required to support the security element with manpower. However, the operational tempo is extremely high and the squadrons need their Marines to keep the aircraft flying and ensure mission accomplishment.
The Marines roam the base perimeter and stand watch on guard towers looking for suspicious activity. Those manning main entry points perform vehicle and personnel searches to ensure people entering the base are not carrying harmful materials.
At MCAS Miramar, the Marines serve as administrative clerks or in aviation element billets with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and would normally not deploy. Here, the Marines are trading in their paperwork and aviation tools for long hours standing watch and manning machine guns during a three-month deployment.
A lot of the junior Marines are enjoying themselves despite the long hours.
"They tell me all the time they are glad they came out here and are doing something other than pushing papers," said Sgt. Noel Harris, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force entrance control point guard chief and an aviation operations specialist, from Montgomery, Ala.
The hard chargers completed several hours of refresher training to get back to their "every Marine a rifleman" mentality before they left MCAS Miramar last month.
"This is not my first rodeo and coming from [the infantry] I felt like [the training] would be a very good quality for the Marines to adopt on their first deployment," said Harris. "All the sergeants here have previous deployments to Iraq. We took our experiences and made a training schedule and passed on our knowledge to the junior Marines."
The Marines learned basic infantry skills including weapons training and patrolling, Harris added.
They also received classes on anti-terrorism/force protection, laws of war, rules of engagement, how to manage access control points, and how to handle unauthorized and authorized personnel after they arrived, explained Platte. They also received refresher courses on firing and maintaining the M240G medium machine gun, the .50-caliber machine gun and the Mk19 grenade machine gun, the weapons they use here.
Their deployment is a short one, but the Marines are happy to be here.
"I just wanted to come to Afghanistan," said Lance Cpl. Benjamin Ortego, a tower guard and aviation ordnance Marine, from Opelousas, La. "This was my chance to gain more experience as a Marine, so I took it."
The days are hot and the nights long, but the 3rd MAW (Fwd) Marines are willing to stand through it all to ensure the safety of their fellow Marines.