CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- A vehicle convoy stirred the air with dust as Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, departed Camp Leatherneck, March 13.
As the battalion prepared to take control over the battlespace controlled by 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, the company conducted a partnered Mission Rehearsal Exercise at Forward Operating Base Juno with Afghan National Security Forces to prepare themselves for potential future operations.
“The MRX was an opportunity to take the company outside of the wire with support of 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, who has been doing our mission set,” said 2nd Lt. Matt Stelmach, a platoon commander with Weapons Co. and a native of Lake Orion, Mich. “It was also an opportunity to go outside the wire and rehearse what we are actually going to be doing in missions.”
Although it was a training mission, each Marine carried a full combat load of ammunition due to the constant threat of improvised explosive devices and enemy fire outside of friendly lines. The infantryman had prepared for this deployment during rigorous training exercises throughout the past 12 months in Yuma, Ariz., and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. The MRX was their final test before they assumed control of the battlespace.
“In a lot of the training we do, everything is an IED and every guy is a bad guy, but it’s not like that at all in Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Jake Meyer, a lead vehicle commander with Weapons Co. and a native of Stafford, Kan. “There are farmers, shop owners and people that are just trying to get paid to do their normal daily jobs so they can go home to their family at night. When Marines first get here, they can think everything is suspicious, every plastic jug they see is an IED and every guy wearing black is Taliban. The MRX really helps give Marines that experience so they can focus on what behaviors to look for.”
The convoy exited Camp Leatherneck and traveled northwest to FOB Juno, an Afghan Army base. They were briefed on potential vehicle-borne IED threats in the area prior to moving.
“I was a vehicle commander during my previous deployment to Afghanistan,” Meyer said. “There is a lot of stress involved with planning the route and finding the best routes to travel, but I like being responsible for ensuring everyone behind me takes a safe route. I have to constantly be aware of the threat outside of the wire as far as vehicles, motorcycles, terrain we move across and IEDs. IEDs are not everywhere, but they can be anywhere.”
After arriving at FOB Juno, the infantrymen cordoned off three objectives with vehicles. Marine assault elements provided security around the objectives as ANSF cleared the area of hostile threats.
“Generally speaking, the assault element is ultimately the main effort on missions,” Stelmach said. “When we work with Afghan National Security Forces, they are the main effort. It was a great opportunity to work with them to make sure they can conduct their operations.”
The Afghans ultimately cleared each objective, and the Marines headed back to Camp Leatherneck shortly after. Although a route may have been safe during the initial travel, it may not be safe during return trip, so the Marines traveled along a different route on their way back. The convoy returned to Camp Leatherneck safely, and the battalion is now preparing for real potential future operations.
On March 15, 1st Bn., 7th Marines, officially took over the battlespace. Their mission is to conduct limited offensive operations, security force assistance to defeat enemy forces throughout their battlespace, and set conditions for the transfer of full security responsibility to ANSF in Helmand Province.