FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan -- During the beginning years of the Marines’ occupation in the Sangin District, the area was a hornet’s nest of Taliban insurgents and became one of the most dangerous areas in the country.
After years of blood, sweat and tears shed, the infantrymen of 7th Marine Regiment along with Afghan National Army soldiers rid the area of a vast number of Taliban insurgents. The Marines of “Suicide” Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, were the final Marines to depart Sangin when they left Forward Operating Base Sabit Qadam, May 5.
Prior to the regiment occupying the area, the local populous was being suppressed by Taliban insurgents, which resulted in only 177 votes from the area for the 2009 presidential elections. Since the Marines arrival in Sangin, they have been clearing the area of enemy fighters and training the Afghan soldiers so they could operate independently in the future.
“There were times where my platoon couldn’t move more than 100 meters outside our patrol base without getting pinned down by enemy fire,” said Sgt. Troy Garza, a squad leader with 1st Bn., 7th Marines who also deployed to the Sangin District during 2010, and a native of Harlingen, Texas.
While conducting several patrols each week, Marines still devoted time to train the Afghan soldiers. Throughout the course of more than two years, the soldiers underwent thousands of hours of training and gradually became the lead element.
When “Suicide” Charley Co. deployed again during March 2014, Sangin had a completly different atmosphere compared to their 2012 deployment. During their time at FOB Sabit Qadam, the company didn’t conduct a single patrol because the Afghan soldiers had taken the lead. The soldiers were the sole force patrolling the area, and they proved their ability to operate independently. The only aid the Marines provided was to assist in treating urgent casualties from ANA patrols.
“It was a bittersweet feeling for this deployment in Sangin,” said Sgt. Dylan Roe, a squad leader and a native of Troy, New York. “As an infantryman I want to be out patrolling, but it’s great that I’m not because it means the ANA (soldiers) are doing their job.”
The success of the combined forces was proven during the latest Afghan presidential elections. More than 5,000 votes were cast from Sangin this year, compared to the 177 votes total during 2009, and the area is much less kinetic now.
The ANA assumed full security responsibilities of FOB Sabit Qadam and began to take control of Marine posts the morning of May 5. Shortly after the turnover, the company departed FOB Sabit Qadam for the final time.
The battalion named the retrograde operation after retired Maj. Kurt Chew-Een Lee, an infantry officer who served with 1st Bn., 7th Marines. Lee’s actions during the Korean War earned him the Navy Cross and Silver Star.
Following several days of exhausting combat during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Lee’s platoon was tasked with spearheading a 500-man thrust against Chinese forces in an attempt to relieve Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Lee’s platoon marched with heavy loads through snow, up and down wooded hills, through extreme cold under the limited visibility of a blizzard and darkness. As a point man, Lee used only a compass to guide his way and led the force in single file.
“Suicide” Charley Co. drove single file in Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles on Afghan roads as they convoyed back to Camp Leatherneck. After more than nine hours of driving, the company entered friendly lines, slated to never return to Sangin.