GARMSIR DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Cpl. Kerry Timms is from Shallow Water, Texas, and at times, he and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment have skated on some pretty thin ice.
Timms, the fourth squad leader of Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, recalls lying in the sand, gingerly following a suspicious wire back to a hidden pressure plate beneath him. The pressure plate should have conducted an electrical current through the wire, triggering a nearby bomb, but fortunately, the pressure plate malfunctioned. Mortar Platoon retained its 100 percent IED find rate, and most importantly, Timms lived to fight another day.
As a whole, 2/1 is almost perfect at finding IEDs, having successfully discovered and disposed of more than 90 percent of those they’ve encountered. In fact, 2/1’s success rate beats any other Marine battalion currently in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Maj. Brent Cook, 2/1, attributed most of the battalion’s success to its non-commissioned officers, who he says have had to shoulder unusually high levels of responsibility due to the battalions’ limited manpower.
Of the four Marine battalions in Central Helmand province, 2/1 has the largest land area, the most combat positions, and, consequently, a need for NCOs to take charge of some billets that staff NCOs would normally fill, explained Cook, a native of Fort Gibson, Okla. The battalion mans more than 50 positions along approximately 60 kilometers of the Helmand River, beginning at the Garmsir District Center and stretching south to Patrol Base Durzay.
For 2/1’s NCOs, the gravest part of their job is often the most tedious: staying on alert for an enemy that seldom surfaces.
According to Cpl. Skylen Redmond, a team leader with Heavy Guns Platoon, Weapons Company, the local threat is almost exclusively IEDs, and combating them is a constant process. It’s a matter of continuously watching for small irregularities– anything that could be used to make or disguise a bomb.
Typically, Redmond finds nothing. About once a day, he patrols nearby villages with a metal detector, but he spends much of that time interacting with local elders. In fact, Redmond, who is considered one of the best IED hunters in Weapons Company, has found a grand total of three after serving more than half of a six-month deployment.
However, the Marines have learned they don’t necessarily have to find the IEDs themselves.
According to Sgt. Matt Reid, a squad leader with Redemption II, Weapons Company, the locals have tipped the company off to most of the makeshift explosives discovered in Weapons’ Company’s area. He attributes 2/1’s strong community rapport to two things: 2/1’s continued efforts, and groundwork laid by 3/1, its predecessor.
“We’ve just carried on the relationship they established,” Reid said.
Still, near disasters, such as Timm’s potentially fatal encounter with the faulty pressure plate, remind 2/1 to be ready for anything.
Timms said he and his Marines make sure they’re ready by maintaining basic discipline: wearing the proper equipment, keeping their weapons clean and their eyes peeled.
“When they leave this [patrol base],” said Cook, “they know there is an active enemy who wants to kill them.”
In the Marine Corps, practicing discipline is called being squared away.
In Afghanistan, it’s called staying alive.