CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- While many Americans in the United States were celebrating during the Fourth of July weekend, Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, were engaging Taliban insurgents in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The infantrymen along with Afghan National Army soldiers operated within close proximity of Camp Leatherneck to continue disruption operations and prevent future attacks on the Camps Bastion and Leatherneck, July 4 - 6.
“Our job was to investigate some compounds of interest in order to deny the insurgents the ability to consolidate in certain areas where they could potentially plan attacks,” said 1st Lt. Robert Kay, a platoon commander with Bravo Co. and a native of Palmdale, California.
The Bravo Co. Marines inserted into Gereshk via CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters while the sky was black and the sun had not yet risen, July 4. They began to patrol across freshly tilled fields while monitoring the surrounding area with night vision goggles mounted on their Kevlar helmets.
By sunrise the Marines arrived at compounds and began to interact with local Afghans. Suspicious areas were being investigated and locals were being questioned when the infantrymen came under enemy fire.
Insurgents engaged the Marines from three different positions with machine guns, AK-47s and a precision-grade rifle. The Marines immediately took cover and began to maneuver on the enemy fighters while returning fire. Machine gunners with M240B medium machine guns provided suppressing fire as several Marines sprinted across an open field to reach a better firing position.
Audible cracks, pops and explosions of gunfire and high-explosive munitions quaked across the surrounding village as the Marines gained fire superiority. Riflemen with M16A4 service rifles, M4A1 Carbines and M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles gathered in the prone position behind berms and returned fire at the insurgents. Bullets zoomed within inches of several Marines, but after several minutes of exchanging fire, the firefight concluded and no Marines were injured.
It was mid-morning after the firefight when the Marines moved to set up a security posture for a landing zone in a nearby field to prepare to extract from the area. Two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters arrived shortly after. The infantrymen darted through a cyclone of dirt and hay caused by the helicopters’ rotors and arrived back on Camp Bastion within several minutes. The company’s first day of operations had concluded; two more were to follow.
The following morning the company inserted into a different area of Gereshk. Insurgents were awaiting the Marines’ arrival and fired rounds from several compounds at the helicopters. The crew chiefs aboard the helicopters responded to the enemy fire with mounted .50-caliber machine guns and silenced the enemy fighters.
The company landed in the area shortly after and began patrolling on foot. A combat engineer led the infantrymen through several freshly harvested fields with a mine sweeper. Often times disturbed earth or protruding wires can be visual indicators of an improvised explosive device. The patrol had to rely on mine sweepers to protect their lives as they maneuvered across fields with entirely disturbed earth in darkness.
The sun began to rise over the horizon at 4:30 a.m. and squads of infantrymen were already at their designated compounds. Locals emerged from their homes and began their morning prayers. The infantrymen respected their customs and waited for their prayers to conclude before enrolling the Afghans into a biometrics system. The Marines patrolled smoothly about the area without harassment, but the mounted element did not. Four vehicles struck IEDs; miraculously, no one was injured. After hours of patrolling and interacting with locals, the Marines set up security at a landing zone and extracted from the area to prepare for their final day of the operation.
Once again the company gathered aboard the Camp Bastion flightline and departed friendly lines in the bellies of helicopters. As the infantrymen neared the area, small-arms fire spewed from compounds below.
“We came under pretty heavy fire from about five different points of origin.” Kay said. “When I looked out of the helicopter I could see tracer rounds flying into the sky.”
The crew chiefs returned fire and the helicopter pilots continued with their mission and landed to offload the Marines. Once on the ground, squads split up to move to different compounds. Daylight broke as Marines finished speaking with locals at a compound and then patrolled to their next objective. Only the deep breaths and crunch of boots crushing dried hay could be heard as the infantrymen maneuvered across a tilled field with full combat loads.
Suddenly machine gun and small-arms fire exploded from the corner of a compound nearly 150 meters away from the Marines.
Machine gunners with M240B medium machine guns instantly returned fire. Deafening gunfire and explosions filled the area within a matter of seconds. The only objects protecting the Marines were a flimsy mud wall and a small berm, the Marines needed to move from their positions. Staff Sgt. Matthew Ingwerson, a platoon sergeant with Bravo Co., immediately took charge.
“Everybody looks in one direction, at either the platoon commander or platoon sergeant, and someone has to remain level headed because if the leadership starts losing their mind, the Marines start breaking down and they start losing their confidence in their abilities,” said Ingwerson, a native of Nampa, Idaho. “I try to mitigate as much stress as I can in order to allow my squads to maneuver effectively and to ensure the junior Marines have confidence to do things they thought they could never do before.”
Machine gunners provided suppressive fire as riflemen sprinted for their lives across an open field to reach the insurgents. Bullets kicked up dust as they impacted between the Marines’ feet, and many of the Marines ran faster than they ever had before. ANA soldiers led them into compounds to search for insurgents and question locals. The fire slowly died out and the insurgents retreated.
After conducting a thorough search of the surrounding area and enrolling several Afghans into a biometrics system, the company linked up with the mounted element and departed the area via Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Every Marine returned to base unharmed after the three days of kinetic activity with their mission accomplished.
“A lot of coalition forces haven’t been present in that area recently,” Kay said. “The Taliban start getting comfortable in places and think they can do whatever they want. We told them that they are not safe there. I don’t care if they go north, south, east, or west; the Marines are going to find them. We denied their ability to consolidate and their ability to plan and we also showed the local population that we are there to help them.”