MARJAH, Afghanistan --
The Marines with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, recently patrolled the Marjah area surrounding Combat Outpost Angry, and returned without receiving one round of enemy fire.
For these Marines, this is a surprise that lately, is few and far in between.
In the day following what the Marines described as “one of the biggest firefights” they’ve engaged in, a squad from Echo Co.’s 3rd platoon set out on back-to-back combat patrols Aug. 15-16, expecting similar circumstances from the previous 24 hours.
Their platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Robert W. Warren, is able to keep the Marines focused. He knows that as infantrymen, his Marines want to do what they’ve trained to do best – seek out, close with and destroy the enemy.
“We knocked the hell out of them. It’ll be a while before we get anything out of them again,” said Warren of the Aug. 14 firefight.
This fighting spirit has earned every Marine with Warren’s platoon a Combat Action Ribbon – a Marine Corps award given to Marines who performed their duties satisfactorily under enemy fire.
Warren has mentored his Marines to strike a balance between their combative spirit and the nature of counterinsurgency. Warren, who has previously deployed to Afghanistan on two different occasions, reminds them of the value of the youth of Afghanistan.
“The grown-ups have their minds made up already. The kids are the future of these people. When a Marine shook his hand, gave him candy, smiled at him, he’s going to remember that,” said Warren, 27, from Peshtigo, Wis.
And he’s proven this fact to his Marines. On July 19, Warren suffered a gunshot wound to his right forearm. That same day, Warren says a young boy, no older than six years old, pointed out the Taliban firing position and ran away.
On another occasion, a young boy approached an Afghan National Army soldier and began speaking with him. The curious Marines brought their interpreter into the conversation, only to find out that the boy was revealing some of the Taliban’s fighting methods and techniques, to include how they egress from the fight and how they evacuate their casualties.
“We’ll go out to fight the Taliban, but we’ll also go out of our way to avoid civilian casualties, and to talk to them,” Warren said.
The counterinsurgency strategy employed by the Marines of Echo Co. is proving effective in this area of Marjah, as they are receiving more feedback from the local population.
“Before they would turn away and close their doors. Now they tell us where the Taliban is, and where their IEDs are at,” Warren said.
On the Aug. 15 patrol, the Marines were ready for an encore. With the patrol brief and gear checks out of the way, the Marines, along with soldiers from the Afghan National Army, left their combat outpost and headed into the potential site of their next firefight.
The Marines walk through Marjah, vigilant and ready, but also just as eager to approach Afghan children with a high-five, a piece of candy or just a simple wave and a hello. They simultaneously focus on the terrain ahead. High stalks, jagged rocks and uneven fields await them, along with wadis and canals. Sometimes they make the leap of faith across the water, sometimes they don’t.
Some Marines point out what may be suspicious activity, but doesn’t come to fruition. Anything from military-aged Afghan males riding on mopeds to Afghans on rooftops, the Marines stop and investigate from their positions, but make the strategic decision to keep moving.
After nearly two hours, the Marines return to their outpost, surprised at the lack of enemy resistance or presence. But they are not fooled.
“They’re watching us,” one Marine says.
Less than 24 hours later, the same squad from the same platoon embarks on another combat patrol, with the same expectations. It seems hotter, the terrain seems rougher. The whole patrol seems longer. While the physical variants of the patrol have changed, the end result hasn’t. They return to base without enemy contact.
So, as the Marines patrolling Marjah, endure relentless humidity, unforgiving terrain and a seemingly endless flow of sweat lost from their bodies, the absence of enemy bullets means one thing – whatever they’re doing, it’s working.