CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- While most aboard Camp Leatherneck were eating breakfast as the early morning sun began burning the earth in a golden heat wave, turret gunners of Combat Logistics Battalion 7 were already mounting .50 caliber and M240B machine guns inside the turrets of their vehicles, preparing for one of the battalion’s last missions, July 14.
The gunners and the rest of the Marines from CLB-7 were at work for a few hours ensuring that they as well as all of their gear were ready for another trip outside the wire to Patrol Base Boldak.
“They’re the eyes and ears,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Gerdes, platoon commander of 1st Platoon with CLB-7. “They’re the muscle, making sure that everybody is safe. If anything happens they can talk to their (vehicle commanders) and the VCs can talk to myself or my staff sergeant, so we can make decisions.”
“Being a gunner, it’s the best part of the convoy,” said Lance Cpl. Timothy Murphy, turret gunner, CLB-7 and a 21-year-old native of Auburn, New York. “Everyone gets nervous, but the training we did before we came out here helped a lot.”
As the trucks and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles’ dust kicks up, nerves can be as sharp as the concertina wire surrounding the base. The turret gunners tighten the harness on their emotions to stay alert for their mission.
“Right before we’re about to depart friendly lines I feel like there’s a different mindset that comes, and I’m closer to the people that I’ve worked with over a year now,” said Cpl. Alex Roberts, a turret gunner and weapons noncommissioned officer with CLB-7. “My gunners, to me, are my little brothers, but I just want them to be safe out there. We just have this special bond.”
“I’m always on the lookout for anything suspicious and report it up,” said Cpl. Jose Orozco, a turret gunner with CLB-7. “If we hear or see anything, we report it up immediately to the vehicle commanders.
“It feels good; we’re guardian angels for the whole convoy. We definitely have a big responsibility,” said Orozco, a native of Lincoln, California. “Every time we go out I still feel like something’s going to happen, but after time I feel more experienced, so it kind of made it easier as we’ve gone on. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“Sometimes, I don’t want to say it like this, but it’s an adrenaline rush,” said Roberts, a native of Dunnellon, Florida. “Just that moment you’re up in the turret, you put your gear on, you make sure your weapon is good, it’s just like – you can see everything. It’s one of the most motivating things I’ve done in my whole life – even before I was a Marine. Knowing that you’re responsible for every person in the truck, everybody inside the convoy, knowing that you’re going to protect them no matter what, you’re here for them. It’s a lot to take in, but at the same time I really love it. I love everything about weapons and just being a gunner.”
Through fair and unfavorable weather, the turret gunners are able to experience their deployment from a different point of view and observe life around them as they feel every bump, dip and curve in the Afghan roads that seem to feel more like the path less traveled.
“I’m glad I could experience all of this,” said Roberts. “It’s really a new way to see everything. We get to see not just the people, but a different culture and the way they act and just how they live.”
As the Marines of CLB-7 and CLB-1 completed their mission aboard PB Boldak, the gunners once again took the honor of gearing up to watch over their fellow brothers and sisters for the trip back to Camp Leatherneck.
“They’ve done phenomenal,” said Gerdes, a native of Huntingtown, Maryland. “They’re extremely proficient with their escalation of force procedures. They have prevented multiple situations from escalating and are just really proficient with the weapons systems as well. They can definitely handle their own behind both the .50 cal and M240. I feel safe with my gunners, and I wouldn’t want any other people up there.”