…and they need to be. 2/7 Marines under the Command of LTC Hall did a great job kicking ass and taking names, along with the 24th MEU. 3/8 Marines need to keep up the fight and never let up. The 2/7 to 3/8 handover happened in November and quite honestly I think that is why November was so quiet in the way of enemy and US deaths. 3/8 was getting settled in and had not had a chance to deal some death out yet. I hope they have their connexes unpacked and weapons loaded, becuase it is time to put some pressure back on Haji to hurry up and go see Allah.
HELMAND PROVINCE, Forward Operating Base Sangin, Afghanistan â€“ A Marine squad on patrol through a local bazaar comes under fire from a small element of enemy fighters.
Before the Marines have a chance to effectively engage the enemy, the insurgents break contact and disappear into the warren of narrow alleyways on the far side of the bazaar.
When the Marines of Company E, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, initially began operating here in June, contact with the enemy was very much â€œshoot and scoot,â€ said Capt. Matthew M. Oâ€™Donnell, Echo Company commander, and Glenelg, Md., native. Contact would normally be with a fire team-sized element and last only two-to-three minutes.
â€œThey would engage our guys, try to inflict casualties and then break contact,â€ said Oâ€™Donnell who has prior experience serving in Afghanistan.
Headquartered in the Sangin District Center of Afghanistanâ€™s Helmand River Valley, Echo Marines operated in one of the busiest areas of operation within TF 2/7â€™s battle space. Prior to arriving in theater, the Marines had prepared for a conventional fight with the enemy. Oâ€™Donnell said he and his Marines were well prepared for the fight of their lives after having received several briefings from British forces also operating in the Sangin area.
Echo Companyâ€™s very first contact with the enemy was a slight aberration to the shoot and scoot tactics Oâ€™Donnell referenced. The enemy ambushed one of his squads in a cemetery behind the Sangin Bazaar with medium machine guns, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and indirect fire. During this engagement, however, the insurgents stayed in contact for awhile. It wasnâ€™t until the Marines threatened the enemyâ€™s egress route that the insurgents broke contact from the original firing positions and took up secondary firing positions and continued to fight. Echo Company sent out a quick reaction force and coordinated fires with the Afghan National Army (ANA), moving in on the insurgentâ€™s flank before they attempted to break contact again.
â€œThat was our first contact. From what we had seen and been briefed on Sangin and the Helmand River Valley, our mindset coming in was very much set on preparing for a stand-up kinetic fight,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œThe British forces that came and briefed us in the States while we were at Mojave Viper said they had been involved in multiple hour engagements at distances ranging from 50 to 400 meters.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what the Marines were prepared to deal with,â€ Oâ€™Donnell continued. â€œSo, when the shoot and scoots started happening, it was really frustrating. We had been trained to establish fire superiority and then begin to maneuver.â€
â€œWe knew that there had been an increase in the use of IEDs in Regional Command South,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œWe didnâ€™t expect such a high volume. I spent an entire year here as an advisor, and in that year, the units I worked with dealt with 25 IEDs. Our Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) responded to numerous IEDs within the first 30-45 days of being here. Overall, they dealt with more than 100 responses. Thatâ€™s just in our area.â€
August brought the beginning of the peak fighting season. This follows the time period when the poppy harvest, which takes place in May and June, is sold and the money comes back to the insurgents to be used to purchase weapons and ammunition. The weapons, ammunition and fighters are generally in place about the same time each year, which happens right around August.
Echo Marines were used to three or four significant events a day, as Sangin was regarded as the busiest district across the task forceâ€™s area of operations. As expected, Echo Marines experienced their worst round of fighting during August.
â€œInitial contact was a lot of gunfights, but it flipped over to IEDs pretty quick,â€ said Cpl. Clarence B. Smith, a squad leader and Teague, Texas native. â€œOnce they realized we were going to maneuver on them immediately and not going to tactically withdraw and drop mortars on them, they switched to hitting us with IEDs.â€
Around the same time, Echo began to work with their coalition partners and begin to use each otherâ€™s strengths to take the fight to the enemy. North of Sangin D.C., there was an area controlled by the ANA. The ANA was aggressive in patrolling and attempting to establish a presence, but they lacked the firepower and ability to coordinate movement of fires in the attack. So, Echo Company coordinated with the British and ANA forces in two separate movements-to-contact operations. During the first operation, the company advanced through 8-to-10 foot high cornfields, and had three sustained engagements over a span of three hours.
About two weeks later, the Marines again teamed up with British and ANA forces for a movement-to-contact operation in the same area. As coalition forces were picking up momentum, the Marines had already maneuvered on the insurgents.
â€œThe operations went a long way in picking the morale of the company back up,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œWe were able to use the skills and the ethos that are unique to the Marine Corps, our aggressiveness, and our ability to coordinate supporting assets in support of maneuver under fire. For the young Marines to be able to lead fire teams and squads aggressively in combat, thatâ€™s what they had trained to do. So, it felt good for them.â€
â€œWe had been very aggressive in patrolling,â€ Oâ€™Donnell explained. â€œWe had done cordon and search operations, and we knew we had pushed the enemy out of his operating area prior to this. But, we just hadnâ€™t been able to bring them to bear in battle; we hadnâ€™t been able to say we killed six guys today. That may sound trivial, but that means a lot to the infantrymen on the ground — to know at the end of the day that there are a few of those guys who are never going to fight us again.â€
Echo Company started finding that they were fighting a commuter insurgency. The enemy fighters were not remaining in the same place. They were keeping out of range of coalition forces. Oâ€™Donnell said the enemy was driving into â€œwork,â€ shooting at coalition forces, blowing up IEDs, and then driving back out to their safe havens.
As Ramadan came into play, enemy kinetic activity started to die-off a little bit. Even after Ramadan, there was very sporadic activity, even to the point where EOD didnâ€™t respond to an IED for nearly a week.
Oâ€™Donnell said Sangin is a difficult place to measure whether success has been made or not. The typical success Marines look for in a fight are the number of insurgents killed, weapons caches found and the number of detainees taken. But, if the patterns of enemy activity are taken into account, the enemyâ€™s ability to attack the Marines consistently with effect has been greatly diminished.
However, the enduring metrics of success in a counterinsurgency fight and measured in more intangible ways, like the willingness of a population to accept rule of law and governance, and begin to take charge of their own future.
â€œSangin is probably the most frustrating district as far as progress, yet the Marines have found ways to make invaluable contributions to the overall security situation,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œEven though the overall picture may not look as good as we want or those who are responsible for security here want it to look, it would look far worse if the Marines hadnâ€™t done what theyâ€™ve done.â€
Echo Company is not unique among the Marines who came to Afghanistan, as all Marine forces serving here are looking for contact with the enemy.
â€œWhen in contact, itâ€™s very much a case of having to hold the dogs back. They want to go! These guys are aggressive; theyâ€™re controlled, but itâ€™s what they train for and itâ€™s what they want to do,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œIâ€™ve been pretty impressed with them. This is far more challenging terrain to fire and maneuver in and to keep up deliberate attacks in than anything at Twentynine Palms (Calif.) Because of vegetation, your ability to command and control, see adjacent units and positively identify enemy positions is extremely difficult. So, the work that these squads and fire team leaders are doing is absolutely amazing.â€
Staff Sgt. Kyle W. Lockhart, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon and Tabernacle, N.J., native said all of the Marines were performing flawlessly. â€œThe Marinesâ€™ reaction when IEDs were struck or found was flawless,â€ Lockhart said. â€œThe experienced squad leaders and fire team leaders who really knew what they were getting into took care of the Marines the right way. There is a lot of natural leadership and ability in the platoon that we didnâ€™t see before coming over here that we definitely see going home.â€
â€œI canâ€™t speak highly enough of everybody in the platoon,â€ Lockhart added. â€œIâ€™ve never had a sense of pride like I do with this group of Marines. Having deployed before with other units, this is by far the most professional and toughest group of guys Iâ€™ve ever worked with.â€
Lance Cpl. Joshua D. Mayor, a squad automatic weapon gunner assigned to Company E, TF 2/7 and Sand Springs, Okla., native, posts rear security while his fire team was stopped during a patrol near the Sangin District Center, Oct. 8. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
Lance Cpl. Charles M. Franklin, a fire team leader assigned to Company E, TF 2/7 and Tulsa, Okla., native, patrols through a cornfield near the Sangin district, Oct. 8. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
First Lt. James C. McKendree, 2nd Platoon commander, Company E, TF 2/7, and Pearland, Texas native, keeps an eye out for threats during a patrol through the Sangin bazaar, Oct. 8. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
1st Lt. James C. McKendree, 2nd Platoon commander, Company E, TF 2/7, and Pearland, Texas native, is surrounded by local children during a patrol through the Sangin bazaar, Oct. 8. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
I have posted many stories about the accomplishments of 2/7 Marines, and have interviewed their Battalion Commander several times and even emailed with him personally. This story in the LA Times does a good job summarizing some of the obstacles and combat hardships they faced.
The Marines of the Two-Seven were not even supposed to deploy to Afghanistan. Their original destination was Iraq, and when they were sent here in April as a stopgap measure to help an overwhelmed NATO force, the plan had been to spend the time mentoring Afghan national police.
It didn’t turn out that way. Instead of training policemen, the lightly equipped 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division found itself engaged in firefights with insurgent units of 100 or more fighters. They faced Taliban snipers and roadside bombs.
Twenty members of the 1,000-member battalion died in combat.
Marinesâ€™ heroic actions at Shewan leave more than 50 insurgents dead, several wounded
FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan â€“ In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it. Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.
The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages.
Shewan had been a thorn in the side of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan throughout the Marinesâ€™ deployment here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, because it controls an important supply route into the Bala Baluk district. Opening the route was key to continuing combat operations in the area.
â€œThe day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,â€ said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. â€œOur vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our â€˜humveesâ€™ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.â€
The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.
â€œThe biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when theyâ€™re given the opportunity to fight,â€ the sniper said. â€œA small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.â€
During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didnâ€™t miss any shots, despite the enemiesâ€™ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.
â€œI was in my own little world,â€ the young corporal said. â€œI wasnâ€™t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.â€
After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemiesâ€™ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.
â€œI didnâ€™t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemiesâ€™ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,â€ the corporal said. â€œIt was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.â€
Smoke billows from a 500-pound bomb dropped during the intense battle for the city of Shewan. During the battle, Marine snipers attached to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.
A Marine sniper attached to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, fires at targets on a range on Camp Barber, Afghanistan. The marksmanship skills of the Marines proved far superior during the Battle of Shewan, enabling the Marines to reduce the enemy force that was more than eight times the size of their own. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
â€˜Two battalions of Marinesâ€™ celebrate Corpsâ€™ 233rd birthday in Afghanistan
Task Force 2/7 commander spends morning delivering birthday cake to Marines serving at forward operating bases; 3/8 commander addresses Marines at headquarters camp
Article by Sgt. Steve Cushman
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan
CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan â€“ When the Continental Congress resolved in 1775 that two battalions of Marines be raised, the U.S. was a fledgling nation at war with Great Britain.
While America has certainly evolved throughout the course of time, so has the Marine Corps. Two battalions of Marines have come together once again â€“ this time to celebrate the Marine Corpsâ€™ 233rd birthday while Marines and sailors are serving in harmâ€™s way on the front lines of combat.
Marines and sailors of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan joined in celebrating the illustrious history of the Marine Corps with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, the ground combat element replacing them in support of the NATO-ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
Serving in Afghanistan since April, the Marines at each forward operating base (FOB) of TF 2/7â€™s area of operations were all able to enjoy a cake-cutting ceremony. For many of the young Marines, particularly those deployed for the first time, celebrating the Corpsâ€™ birthday on the forward edge of battle was quite motivating.
â€œSpending a Marine Corps birthday in a combat zone and still recognizing it means a lot to all Marines, especially those forward deployed,â€ said 1st Sgt. Eric W. Rummel, Company F, TF 2/7. â€œIt shows that no matter where you are, the Marine Corps Birthday is a very special day and rings true with the Marinesâ€™ Hymn â€“ â€˜in every clime and place.â€™â€
â€œI think it shows the young Marines that the Marine Corps Birthday is a special day to all Marines, even when it’s celebrated in a combat zone,â€ 1st Sgt. Rummel continued. â€œMany of these young Marines have never experienced a true Marine Corps birthday ball ceremony. Iâ€™m sure this story will be told many times of how they were in Now Zad, Afghanistan, and they were still able to find a way to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday.â€
The celebrations were two-fold for TF 2/7 during the morning hours. As the Marines and sailors were preparing to celebrate here at the headquarters camp, Task Force Commander Lt. Col. Richard D. Hall was busy traveling around his battle space so that he could personally wish each Marine a â€œHappy Birthday.â€ At FOB Now Zad, he greeted Fox Company Marines who secured the landing zone. Cake and ice cream were unloaded, as the helicopterâ€™s rotors swirled in the background.
Fox Marines arranged a modest ceremony, honoring the Marine Corps birthday tradition by reading aloud the birthday messages of Gen. John A. Lejeune, the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps, and Gen. James T. Conway, the current commandant of the Marine Corps. During the ceremony, the first piece of cake was presented to the oldest and youngest Marines present. After the ceremony, all the Marines were served cake and ice cream.
Marines and sailors of Company G also celebrated the Corpsâ€™ birthday with time-honored traditions. They shared the event with Italian forces and members of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army with whom they work closely. They also got a special treat from one of their own, Lance Cpl. Maximillian Mollersimpson, a former member of the Silent Drill Platoon, when he performed drill movements for his fellow Marines.
â€œIt was really unique that we could celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday in a combat zone,â€ said Cpl. Brandon G. Bardos, a mortarman and Maui, Hawaii native.
Golf Companyâ€™s 1st Sgt. Jimmy S. Sanchez echoed Cpl. Bardosâ€™ sentiments.
â€œThereâ€™s no better way to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday than out here in the fight with your Marines,â€ the San Antonio, Texas native said. â€œItâ€™s more memorable for me being able to celebrate with the Marines after all theyâ€™ve been through. I think this is a birthday celebration the Marines will remember for a long time because they celebrated with their coalition partners in a combat zone.â€
The Marines and sailors of Weapons Company and Headquarters and Support Company kicked off their celebration at about the same time, joining their fellow comrades of the incoming battalion.
Lieutenant Col. David L. Odom, commanding officer, 3/8, and Sgt. Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire, TF 2/7, presided over the ceremony. After cutting the traditional birthday cake and giving the first piece to the oldest and youngest Marines present, Lt. Col. Odom addressed the formations and wished the Marines a â€œHappy Birthday.â€
â€œToday is a day that should make you proud, because Marines and sailors all over the globe want to be where you are right now, at the edge of the saber, at the point of entry, in the crucible of combat where you have stood and continue to stand; ready for all and yielding to none, that will only continue,â€ said Lt. Col. Odom. â€œKnow that every day your commitment across all the MOSs here has contributed to the legacy of our Corps.â€
As the 3/8 commander continued, he spoke about the sacrifice made by each of the Marines. He also talked about those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
â€œKnow that your sacrifices are making a difference to the people of Afghanistan. Your time here away from your families is well spent,â€ he said. â€œHonor the sacrifices of your brothers by taking care of each other and by accomplishing our mission every day. Today is a day of celebration. Today is the day that you are on the line; today you take your place alongside the legions of Marines who have gone before you. Fortune favors the strong, and strong you are indeed. Be proud of yourselves, stand tall and know that Lt. Col. Hall, your sergeant major and I are proud of what you have done and what you will do. Stand tall, Marines, â€˜Happy Birthday and Semper Fi.â€™â€
After the formation, the Marines were treated to a birthday meal of steak, chicken and crab legs. As they were served by a few of their commanders, the Marines were given a chance not only to celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps, but also to step away, if only for a few minutes, from the daily routine of life on deployment.
For many of the Marines, like Cpl. Ruben A. Prado, a TF 2/7 administration clerk and Show Low, Ariz., native, the birthday celebration while deployed was a motivating experience.
â€œCelebrating the Marine Corps Birthday while deployed to Afghanistan really shows the commitment and tradition that defines Marines,â€ Cpl. Prado said. â€œNo matter what the situation is weâ€™re put in, we fall back on our traditions, including celebrating the birth of the Corps.â€
The two battalions celebrated together as TF 2/7 prepares to be replaced by 3/8. While operating throughout the Helmand and Farah provinces, TF 2/7 has carried out the mission of conducting counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on training the Afghan National Police.
In keeping with tradition, the oldest and youngest Marines present are given the first piece of the Marine Corps birthday cake. Here, 1st Sgt. Eric W. Rummel (right) of Company F, TF 2/7, hands the first piece of cake to one of his riflemen, Lance Cpl. Luis Rocha. Fox Company Marines celebrated the Marine Corps birthday at Forward Operating Base Now Zad, Nov. 10. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Freddy G. Cantu, Combat Camera, TF 2/7)
Steak, chicken and crab legs are served to during a special meal commemorating the Marine Corpsâ€™ 233rd birthday, Nov. 10. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
Marines and sailors line up to receive a slice of the birthday cake commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the birth of the Marine Corps, Nov. 10. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
Lieutenant Col. David L. Odom, 3/8 commanding officer, addresses Marines and sailors of TF 2/7 and 3/8 during a formation to celebrate the Marine Corpsâ€™ 233rd birthday, Nov. 10. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)
TF 2/7 Marines unload a box filled with birthday cakes and ice cream air delivered to them at Forward Operating Base Now Zad, Nov. 10. (Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jason T. Guiliano, Combat Camera, TF 2/7)
Article and photos by Sgt. Ray Lewis
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force — Afghanistan
BALA BALUK, Farah Province, Afghanistan â€“ Bala Baluk, a place where insurgents frequently terrorized Afghan residents, is now much safer due to the cooperative efforts of U.S. Marines and the Afghan National Police (ANP).
After months of training and fighting alongside each other, the Marines and local police have forged a common bond in their efforts to drive out insurgents who have carried out malicious attacks against coalition forces.
Through counterinsurgency and continuous security operations, the ANP and â€œGunfightersâ€ of Company G, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, have brought calm to a once volatile region. Decreased enemy activity here is evidence that the Marines and ANP have struck fear into the hearts of enemy forces that now seem reluctant to carry out more vicious attacks.
â€œTheir will has been broken,â€ said 1st Lt. Peter R. Dixon, an infantry officer assigned to Golf Companyâ€™s 2nd Platoon. â€œThey wonâ€™t fight us because they have learned some hard lessons.â€
Dixon said he has received several reports from informants who say the insurgents are terrified of the Marines and that they donâ€™t want them here in Afghanistan. Efforts to rattle residents and disrupt peace in this part of Afghanistan have proven futile, as the Marines and ANP continue to dominate all opposing forces.
Because the insurgents know they cannot match the superior firepower of the Marines, they seek to harm them by placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in their path of travel. Other tactics used by the insurgents include firing mortars and launching rocket attacks against the Marines and local police.
â€œWe know how great our Marines are, so we know theyâ€™re going to perform courageously under fire. But, the enemy was quite surprised,â€ said Dixon, an Atherton, Calif., native. â€œThey were shocked when they first started fighting us.â€
Fighting has been fierce throughout Golf Companyâ€™s area of operations. While the Gunfighters are confident in their ability to overpower the insurgents and drive them away to help Afghan residents, the price of success has not come cheap. Both sides have suffered combat losses.
â€œEngaging the enemy together has created a unique and distinct bond between us and the ANP,â€ said Staff Sgt. Carlos J. Hernandez, a platoon sergeant for Golfâ€™s 2nd Platoon and Los Angeles native. â€œWe fought right beside them. We lost people; they lost people. Yet, we kept pushing forward.â€
In reflecting on the intense fighting against insurgents during the beginning phase of this deployment, Hernandez said several Marines and ANP officers were wounded following an ambush against his platoon. After caring for those injured, the Marines returned to the village with the ANP to seek out the insurgents.
â€œWe made sure not to shoot where there were buildings or non-enemy personnel,â€ Hernandez said. â€œWe were meticulous with our fire discipline; we took the Afghan people and the village into consideration.â€
Later, the Marines held a â€œshura,â€ or meeting, with local villagers. There, the people thanked the Marines for keeping them safe as they conducted combat operations.
The Marines and ANP have made headway within the community by suppressing the enemy and restoring security. Still, many locals remain hesitant to trust the Marines. Because Afghan residents have been threatened by insurgents for decades, many have lost hope that their quality of life will improve.
â€œAt first the people were timid. So, we talked to the village elders, held shuras with them, and sought out ways to help improve their situation. Once they saw that we were here to help them, they began opening up and coming around us more,â€ said Cpl. Oscar L. Garza, a squad leader and Corpus Christi, Texas native.
With increased protection from the ANP, coupled with support from Golf Company Marines serving throughout this region, many residents are denying the insurgents occupancy and telling them to leave their community. As the people witness the joint effort between the Marines and ANP to keep weapons and fighters away from their doorsteps, Garza said they are now beginning to show signs of trust.
Since the Marines arrived in April and began training with the ANP in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, they have seen significant improvements within ANP operations. Police officers here have consistently demonstrated courage under fire by displaying strong leadership skills and a sense of honor. Serving with the Marines has caused many to develop a team concept, as many feel they cannot lose with the Marines on their side.
Running to the sounds of the guns has become a commonality between the Marines and ANP. Whenever gunfire is heard, Dixon said the policemen immediately run towards it and show the Marines they are ready to take action against the enemy.
â€œLast time we got rocketed, within two minutes the ANP had mounted up. Minutes later, their trucks were across the desert, and they had hunted down the insurgent rocket team and arrested them,â€ Dixon explained.
The ANP play a key role in the effectiveness of combating insurgents. The policemen conduct searches, make arrests, search for weapons, and patrol constantly. The policeman can differentiate the insurgents from the rest of the civilian populace — something the Marines could not detect easily without ANP assistance.
â€œThey pick up on things that weâ€™d never pick up on,â€ said Dixon, explaining how the ANP help Marines identify insurgents. â€œWeâ€™ll be driving down the street, and the ANP would stop and get out after recognizing a person was an insurgent due to his turban and hair. Because theyâ€™re local, they would know the guy is an insurgent. Weâ€™ll search him and find an insurgent ID on him signed by Mullah Omar himself.â€
The ANP has chased out various criminals, many of whom were hiding under the banner of the insurgents. The local police have provided a rule of law, and have also settled land and civil disputes.
â€œStore owners can park their trucks where they want because the ANP are now seen as protectors,â€ Dixon said. â€œThey know that nobody is going to steal their merchandise. Thatâ€™s what people want, to be treated fairly.â€
With the newfound confidence that the ANP has instilled in their people, they are closer to providing the safe environment the people say they want and need. The Marines said the atmospherics of the surrounding areas is a tell-tale sign that people are ready to stand up to insurgents.
Garza said the progress has come at an ideal time, as the battalion is preparing to return to their families in the United States. The policemen are thankful for what Marines have done for them, but they are also sad to part with the men with whom theyâ€™ve forged a unique bond.
â€œAnytime we go to visit the ANP commanders, theyâ€™re happy to see us,â€ Garza said. â€œThey know its time for us to leave, but theyâ€™re still sad.â€
Although the ANP has much work to do as a unit, the Gunfighters feel they have laid the foundation for continued success. Yet, they hope the ANP remains a strong force here so all their efforts to train them wonâ€™t be in vain.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a hard deployment,â€ Garza said. â€œBecause weâ€™ve lost so much with the casualties, this means so much to me and my men serving here.â€
The Marines of TF 2/7 deployed to Afghanistan in April to conduct counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police mentoring. After seeing how far the ANP have come in such a short span of time, the Marines have reason to be proud of their efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the Afghan people.
â€œWe took the area from insurgents and gave it back to the Afghan people with the help of the ANP, and we were capable of that in just 8 months,â€ Hernandez said. â€œSo, our mission here was a complete success. Every Marine in this company needs to be proud of that.â€
Afghan National Police trained by the Police Mentoring Teams of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, load into their police truck in Delaram, Afghanistan. The police are serving with the Marines of TF 2/7 who deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year to conduct counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police mentoring in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Marines assigned to Company G, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, convoy through Bala Baluk, Afghanistan. The Marines were deployed earlier this year to conduct counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police training in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Marine photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Brodehl (left) and Cpl. Jason T. Guiliano of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, patrol through an Afghan bazaar in Bala Baluk. Brodehl is an infantryman from Vancouver, Wash., and Guiliano is a combat cameraman from San Diego, Calif. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
An Afghan National Policeman and a Marine assigned to Company G, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, monitors traffic during a patrol in Bala Baluk. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
By Sgt. Ray Lewis
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan
FARAH PROVINCE, Delaram, Afghanistan â€“ Until just recently, local residents here in Delaram have been deprived of clean drinking water.
The inability to produce fresh water has caused some residents to resort to drawing filthy water from streams and rivers that run through their villages.
Conditions within this community have gradually begun to change, thanks to the assistance of the civil affairs Marines assigned to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force â€“ Afghanistan.
These Marines, which are assigned to the task forceâ€™s 3rd Civil Affairs Group, have spearheaded numerous well water projects to give Afghan residents a reason to rejoice.
â€œThese people are poor,â€ said Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, Team 2 chief, 3rd CAG and Moreno Valley, Calif., native. â€œItâ€™s not like they can just turn on a faucet. They donâ€™t have a faucet.â€
This initiative to provide residents with fresh water is merely one of many civil military operations projects carried out by the Marines who deployed here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Other civil affairs projects include school renovation, road improvement, well restoration and the construction of nine new wells throughout the district and outlying villages.
Upon visiting the newest well site, Palaciosreal said he was very pleased with the amount of progress one well worker had made. The worker had hired additional help and was even working overtime during the religious observance of Ramadan.
â€œI thought this was quite significant because all the other contractors were fasting because of Ramadan, which prevented them from working a full schedule,â€ Palaciosreal said. â€œBut, the guy was working nonstop on the well. Despite his fasting, he was still dedicated enough to keep working on the project.â€
This well, in particular, is important to local Afghans because it is being constructed in a central area that is located within walking distance of the new Afghan National Police station. By placing the well here, the Marines feel it would benefit all residents and eliminate any stipulation that the well is owned by one person.
â€œI think the location is perfect, because everybody can come and get the water,â€ said Cpl. Ericka L. Garcia, a civil affairs Marine and Santa Ana, Calif., native. â€œItâ€™s outside where everybody can use it at any time, so everybody is going to get their share. No oneâ€™s going to take it over.â€
On previous patrols to the bazaar â€“ a local shopping area, the Marines received reports of people stealing pumps and keeping them for their own personal use. Based on these reports, the CAG team sought to resolve this issue by selecting a location that was in close proximity to the police station. In doing so, the Marines hoped to provide a deterrent of future theft.
The new water wells are expected to aid in eliminating the health risks local residents faced by continuing to use contaminated river water. Before the wells were restored, residents were fetching their drinking, cooking and cleaning water in the same areas where animals roam.
â€œI think the new well will make conditions here better. I see where they get water, and itâ€™s nasty,â€ Garcia said. â€œAnimals walk through there, and itâ€™s not clean. A well here is definitely going to lead to improved health within the community.â€
The Marines say they arenâ€™t only providing the Afghan people access to clean water, but also helping to create jobs. Because the contractors used by the Marines employ local laborers to help complete various civil affairs projects, local Afghans are able to put their money back into their own community.
â€œWeâ€™re infusing their economy by creating jobs,â€ Palaciosreal said. â€œItâ€™s no different than being back in the U.S. We donâ€™t just put money into the economy, we create jobs. People donâ€™t want handouts; they want to earn what they get.â€
Palaciosreal said when you employ the local people they are less likely to work with insurgents. He believes the Afghan people want to make an honest living and not be forced to make improvised explosive devices for local insurgents who oppose governance.
â€œThey donâ€™t want to make bombs,â€ Palaciosreal said. â€œThey know itâ€™s hurting their people, and they donâ€™t want to do that. Theyâ€™d rather build wells than create problems for their people, so it has great strategic effects. Plus, weâ€™re doing a good thing.â€
While the well projects remain under construction, Marines have handed out bottled water to help local Afghans. Once the wells are complete, the Marines expect the Afghans will increasingly gain better health and a boosted economy from the jobs that were created.
â€œEverybody benefits. We do our job by providing security; they get wells and access to clean water,â€ Palaciosreal said. â€œThe Taliban doesnâ€™t give them anything. Of course, weâ€™re going to assist them. The Taliban operates through acts of fear and intimidation; we operate with acts of kindness.â€
Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal (right) speaks to a well worker through an interpreter while assessing the construction of a well project in Delaram, Afghanistan. Palaciosreal is a team leader for 3rd CAG, TF 2/7. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Marines assigned to 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Task Force 2/7, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, assess the construction of a well project in Delaram, Afghanistan. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Marines assigned to 3rd CAG, TF 2/7, watch a well worker weld metal in Delaram, Afghanistan. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
An Afghan girl hugs bottles of water given to her by U.S. Marines in Delaram, Afghanistan. Marines assigned to 3rd CAG, TF 2/7, passed out bottled water to Afghan residents who have relied upon drinking filthy water from streams and rivers that flow through their villages. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose
HELMAND PROVINCE, Sangin, Afghanistan â€“ When the Marines here are not busy fighting against insurgents, they are spending countless hours patrolling with the Afghan National Police (ANP) to make it better at effecting change within its own community.
The latter has turned out to be a full-time job for the Marines of Company E, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, as they find themselves constantly engaged in firefights against a relentless enemy.
Echo Marines are indeed in a serious fight â€“ one they are committed to winning.
â€œEverytime the Taliban engages in direct contact with Echo Company Marines, we make sure they pay a heavy price,â€ said 1st Lt. Brandon J. Schroder, executive officer and Sunnyvale, Calif., native. â€œWe take the fight to them instead of waiting for it to come to us.â€
Throughout its deployment, Echo Company has been responsible for conducting full spectrum operations in a vast area of the Helmand Province. Daily operations include counterinsurgency operations with a focus on police mentoring of the Afghan National Police. Although the focus of effort remains centered on helping the Afghan people and strengthening the ANP, increased attacks have resulted in more security patrols as the Marines remain vigilant against a dangerous foe.
â€œTask Force 2/7 has a lot of challenges, but the one that is tied most to the others is the enormous size of our area of operationsâ€¦ more than 28,000 square kilometers, or about the size of Vermont,â€ said Lt. Col. Rick Hall, TF 2/7 commanding officer and Mankato, Minn., native. â€œHow do we overcome this challenge? My answer is simple, Marines. We have delegated a tremendous amount of responsibility down to the squad leader level, and these very young Marines and sailors have proven themselves time and time again. I am continually amazed and always impressed by what they are doing.â€
As the Marines carry out their duties, they find themselves combating enemy forces in an unfamiliar territory. Located in one of Afghanistanâ€™s most remote and austere areas, the company must conduct patrols in a vast, dry and desolate area where the enemy doesnâ€™t play by the rules. In fact, the combat losses suffered have mostly resulted from Marines being killed or wounded by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) the enemy uses to harm Marines working with the countryâ€™s police.
While Echo Company has surely left its mark here in Afghanistan with its combat prowess, the Marines are equally proud of the significant strides they have made in training the ANP. As more policemen are trained and serving within their own communities, Echo Marines are confident they will overcome the Taliban threat.
â€œWhen we first got here the fighting was really bad, but itâ€™s starting to level off,â€ 1st Lt. Schroder explained. â€œThe Afghan National Army and the ANP are really coming into their own, both in combat and with day-to-day operations. The training programs we have in place are producing quality policemen. The ANP may be in its infancy, but it is continually moving in the right direction.â€
Since it deployed to Afghanistan in early April, Task Force 2/7 has achieved a significant milestone in bringing peace and prosperity to the Afghan people through various civil military operations projects and by laying down the groundwork necessary for follow-on U.S. forces to expand on the progress made throughout the Helmand and Farah provinces.
â€œBottom line, we want to give the Afghan people liberty,â€ LtCol. Hall said. â€œWe want to create a safe and prosperous environment where the people willingly accept the newly-trained and respectable Afghan National Police as a legitimate form of local governance, and to create the conditions where the people take responsibility for providing their own future.â€
Sent to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom, TF 2/7 has conducted full spectrum operations, including counterinsurgency with a focus on police training and mentoring, in order to set the conditions for the successful integration and future assumption of authority by the ANP and to extend the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan authority and influence over security, stability and regional development.
*Photos and captions below*
U.S. Navy Corpsman Hospitalman 1 Miguel Meza , attached to U.S. Marines Echo company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, on September 20th, 2008, trudges through water as he and the Marines return to base after providing security for another unit in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, based out of Marine Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, is a reinforced light infantry Battalion deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Chad J. Pulliam)
U.S. Marine Private First Class Steven Behnen of Echo company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, on September 20th, 2008, clears a route during return to base after providing security for another unit in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, based out of Marine Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, is a reinforced light infantry Battalion deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Chad J. Pulliam)
Lance Cpl. Bryce J. Romatoski, a designated marksman assigned to Echo Company, TF 2/7, SPMAGTF Afghanistan, provides security from the rubble of the Governor's Mansion while patrolling the streets of the Sangin District Center in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, Sept. 16. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam)
U.S. Marine Corporal Clarence Smith of Echo company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, on September 20th, 2008, kneels during a security halt during return to base after providing security for another unit in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, based out of Marine Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, is a reinforced light infantry Battalion deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Chad J. Pulliam)
CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan â€“ U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command â€“Afghanistan, visited the Marines and sailors of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force â€“ Afghanistan, Oct. 25. During his address to the troops, the two-star general emphatically stated that â€œno other battalion-sized unit had made as big a contribution to the security of Afghanistan as the Marines of TF 2/7.â€ Upon rendering his thanks, he noted the significant accomplishments of the Marines who were operating in the toughest regions of Afghanistan. Serving in Afghanistan since April in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, TF 2/7 has been conducting counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police mentoring of the Afghan National Police. The Marine unit has been conducting full spectrum operations throughout Afghanistanâ€™s Helmand and Farah provinces.
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force
CAMP BARBER, Helmand Province, Afghanistan â€“ There was blood in the water. It was a grim addition to the Iraqi sewage canal usually littered with dead sheep and festering fish.
Thatâ€™s where the Marines of Company E, 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division found their comrade after the attack.
Just seconds before, Cpl. Garrett S. Jones was patrolling the streets of Iraq with his team when he was suddenly hurled 15 feet into the air by an enemy booby trap.
â€œIt was just a big dust cloud,â€ said Cpl. Robert C. Pofahl, who stood 10 feet in front of Jones when the bomb detonated. â€œI ran toward him, and I fell in the canal. The mud was almost up to my knees. It was probably the worst smell you could smell. Thatâ€™s when I saw the blood in the water.â€
When Pofahl saw Jones lying there, he feared his friendâ€™s life was cut short. Barely alive, Jonesâ€™ life was about to be changed forever.
Pofahl remembers an explosion, tumbling forward, turning back around and hearing Jones yell at the top of his lungs. He then raced to put a tourniquet on Jonesâ€™ mangled bloody left leg.
â€œIt sounded like I was whispering and because of the explosion, I couldnâ€™t catch my breath,â€ Jones said.
When Pofahl arrived at Jonesâ€™ position, he realized he couldnâ€™t lift him out of the canal. The muddy water almost made it impossible for Pofahl to grab a hold of Jones. So, he called two other Marines to help pull Jones out.
â€œWe got him up on the side of the road,â€ Pofahl said. â€œThatâ€™s when Navy Hospitalman Matthew Beceda took over. He cranked the tourniquet one more time, but it snapped. So he had to put another tourniquet on Jones.â€
Jones was stable, but the Marines couldnâ€™t call for help because the radio that Jones was wearing was ruined from the blast. They sent three other Marines from the squad to run 1,200 meters back to their combat outpost for help. A group of Marines stayed with Jones and his squad leader who was also injured by the blast.
The next thing Jones knew, he was on board a helicopter flight headed for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. He was strapped into a gurney with a military chaplain hovering over him.
â€œThe chaplain asked me if I wanted to pray,â€ said Jones, a 23-year-old Newberg, Ore., native. â€œWe prayed. Then the doctor told me my left leg would be amputated above the knee.â€
Shortly after, Jones was in surgery. He awoke a couple days later, but said he doesnâ€™t recall much after the operation but a phone conversation with his relatives.
â€œI just remember talking to my family,â€ he said. â€œI remember saying, â€˜I hear they make really good prosthetics.â€™â€
Upon leaving the hospital in Germany, Jones was once again strapped into a gurney and flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where his wounds were cleansed and torn flesh was removed from his body.
â€œIt seemed like forever,â€ Jones said. â€œI had a bunch of tubes stuck in me. I was so drugged up I didnâ€™t feel much of anything. I donâ€™t remember much, but I do remember that one of my buddies who was shot by a sniper was also on the same flight. I didnâ€™t know what happened to him, I just saw that he had a bunch of tubes stuck in his chest.â€
Military medical officials then transferred Jones to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) for further treatment. As a result of being restricted to a hospital bed, Jones wound up losing a lot of weight.
â€œI went from about 160 to 120 lbs.,â€ Jones said. â€œI was in the bed almost all the time. The only time I got up was to do stretching and go to the bathroom. If I wasnâ€™t in my bed, I was in a wheelchair.â€
During his recovery, Jones had a total of 17 surgeries to clean the infected area in his left leg. He was treated for third-degree burns and shrapnel that peppered his left shoulder and both legs.
On Aug. 20, 2007, Jones was released from NMCSD — just in time to see his fellow Marines of Echo Company return home from Iraq.
â€œI was at their homecoming in a wheelchair completely drugged up,â€ Jones said. â€œSeeing my guys was emotional for me because we were all so close, and I knew I wouldnâ€™t be here if it wasnâ€™t for them. When we all get together, itâ€™s like a family reunion. Weâ€™re a tight-knit group. We had difficulties at times, but what family doesnâ€™t.â€
Jones yearned to be back with his Marine family. Although he didnâ€™t say it, he kept in mind that he one day wanted to serve with the Marines who saved his life.
â€œWe all wanted him back,â€ Pofahl said. â€œHeâ€™s a good guy to have your back. Heâ€™d take the shirt off of his back if you need it. At the same time, we were like, â€˜How would he be able to do that because of rehab and all.â€™â€
In the meantime, Jones continued his appointments. In November, he finally linked up with a prosthetist who would help him become familiar with the functions of prosthetics. The prosthetist fit Jones for a total of six walking prosthetics and one snowboarding prosthetic.
An avid fan of snowboarding, Jones realized his potential during a snowboarding trip to Breckenridge, Colo., with fellow wounded warriors from NMCSD and his sister, Sara, in early December 2007. Although Jones had only been on his new prosthetic for two weeks, he was eager to go snowboarding — a passion of his for more than 15 years.
â€œThe first day, I was able to make it down the mountain,â€ Jones said. â€œAs the days progressed, I got stronger and more confident on my snowboard.â€
Surprisingly, all of the snowboarding helped him deaden some of the nerve endings in his left leg. It also helped him become more accustomed to walking on his prosthetic leg.
â€œOnce I knew I could snowboard again, I realized I was going to be able to do a lot more than just snowboard,â€ Jones said. â€œI was like, â€˜If I could snowboard, who knows what else I can do?â€™ It kind of opened my mind up to all the other possibilities.â€
Meanwhile, Jones continued his daily physical therapy, stretching, and prosthetic appointments at NMCSD.
â€œI just kept thinking about my next snowboard trip and getting back to 2/7 ASAP,â€ Jones said.
Later, in February 2008, Jones was visited by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway. Seizing the moment of this rare opportunity, he asked the Marine commander for orders to return to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., so he could once again serve with 2/7.
â€œI asked to come back to 2/7, and his assistant took my info,â€ Jones explained. â€œAnd, a couple of days later, I had orders back to 2/7. I was so excited I almost didnâ€™t believe it.â€
When Jones checked back into his battalion, many of the Marines were awestruck. They couldnâ€™t believe how much progress he had made on a prosthetic leg in less than a year.
â€œNone of us knew how advanced prosthetics were,â€ Pofahl said. â€œHeâ€™s been called a walking legend, literally. Weâ€™re all glad to have him around. Heâ€™s a really positive and hard worker; one of those guys who donâ€™t let anything get to him, obviously,â€ Pofahl said.
Although Jones couldnâ€™t return to the infantry, he was able to serve in other sections within the battalion and was subsequently assigned to the intelligence section where he is relied upon to provide his fellow infantrymen with vital information that can aid in keeping them away from harmful situations.
â€œAt first I didnâ€™t know what I was able to do,â€ Jones said. â€œItâ€™s good to be able to do something that will keep Marines safe. Although I canâ€™t be out there with them, I get to directly help them.â€
Jones wanted to deploy with his unit when it was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan in April 2008. But, he wasnâ€™t yet ready to undergo the intense Mojave Viper pre-deployment training. Regardless, he would get no handouts despite being a new amputee. Realizing he is still a Marine, he knew he would have to prove himself all over again.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t just a hookup,â€ Jones said. â€œI had to do all the training all other Marines do.â€
Jones participated in â€œhumveeâ€ scenarios, close quarters combat drills, survival training, machine gun packages, combat life saver courses, and several other pre-deployment courses. Although he had gone through this training before, this was his first time enduring it as an amputee.
â€œMy leg popped off a couple of times in the humvee scenario and once when I was leaving a range,â€ Jones said. â€œI thought it was funny because â€˜How many guys walk around with combat loads and have a leg fall off?â€™ I still did it to prove that I could deploy as an amputee.â€
Once all physical and administrative requirements were complete, Jones was ready to deploy and help the Marines who once helped him.
â€œI love being with the guys, the same people. I really do,â€ Jones said. â€œIf it wasnâ€™t for the guys in this unit, I wouldnâ€™t be here. Itâ€™s an honor to serve with them and be in a place where many Marines donâ€™t get a chance to go.â€
Recovering in just nine months, Jones has become the fastest recuperating amputee to deploy to a combat zone. Still, many people have doubted his ability to survive a seven-month deployment on a prosthetic limb.
â€œA lot a people were skeptical of me because Iâ€™m a new amputee,â€ Jones said. â€œItâ€™s been a little bit of a challenge for me, mentally at first. People were saying, â€˜Its going to be hard and I canâ€™t do it.â€™ So, being out here was a confidence builder.â€
Jones still struggles with walking. He said it takes a lot of energy to walk in combat boots for 14 hours a day with all the sweating, straining and refitting inside of his prosthetic leg.
He said he will always feel slight discomfort on his left leg because of nerve and bone growth along the skin line of his amputated leg. But, he considers it a small price to pay when comparing it to losing a life.
â€œWeâ€™re talking about a guy who almost died in battle and came back to a similar fight,â€ said Sgt. Paul E. Savage, an intelligence specialist and Boston, Mass., native. â€œThe fact that it didnâ€™t scare him to come back to his buddies truly speaks volumes of Cpl. Jonesâ€™ character.â€
Jones said he wants to stay in the Marine Corps because he enjoys serving in such a loyal organization. The career retention specialist (CRS) has even submitted a permanent limited duty (PLD) package so he can continue his military career.
â€œEveryone here has been supportive in helping me get this reenlistment package started. The CRS submitted a PLD package for me back in March 2008. We are still waiting on that to be finished,â€ said a hopeful Jones, expressing how he felt about returning to serve with 2/7. â€œA lot of people are like family here. I guess thatâ€™s partly why Iâ€™m so happy to be here.â€
Despite his abrupt loss of limb, Jones remains upbeat and always keeps his peers in high spirits.
â€œHeâ€™s always motivated,â€ said Gunnery Sgt. Michael J. Ortiz, battalion intelligence chief and Miami, Fla., native. â€œHis morale is always high. The only time I see him upset is when he sees someone hurt or killed because he takes it personal. But, he always bounces back and visits whoever it is in the hospital to see how they are.â€
Jones said he personally meets with new amputees to show them there is â€œlight at the end of the â€˜canal.â€™â€ He wants them to know just because they are an amputee, it doesnâ€™t mean that they canâ€™t reach their goals.
â€œIâ€™ve told them to keep their head up,â€ Jones said. â€œI want to show them that if I can do it, they can do it. I want to set the example for other amputees. I want to show them that a bad thing might happen, but you can still make good of bad circumstances.â€
Jonesâ€™ co-workers all feel that his commitment shows he has authentic concern for his Marines. He also has kept in contact with many wounded warriors when they returned home to the U.S.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t know a lot of these Marines, but he doesnâ€™t care. I know heâ€™s made multiple calls to amputeesâ€™ doctors to check on how theyâ€™re doing. I think itâ€™s awesome that he does that. It shows that he genuinely cares about his Marines,â€ Ortiz said.
Jones is the first Marine with an above-the-knee amputation to deploy to Afghanistan. There have not been many of these amputees to redeploy to a combat zone to date.
â€œNinety percent of the guys in his situation would have likely walked away with their disability and called it a day,â€ Savage said. â€œBut, heâ€™s still striving to make a point and itâ€™s remarkable.â€
Jones continues to push his personal, mental and physical limits. When he returns to the U.S., he wants to train in Utah in early December and represent the Marine Corps in adaptive snowboarding. Competitions will be held in Colorado, Canada, and possibly Italy. He said the competitions will help him prepare to compete in the 2010 Paralympics for snowboarding in Vancouver, Canada.
Corporal Jones wants to continue serving with the 1st Marine Division as an intelligence specialist. He also wants to keep helping fellow amputees continue their service in the Marine Corps. He said he is sending a letter to the commandant entitled, â€œBack on their Feet and Back in the Fleet.â€ The letter entails getting PLD packages completed for more wounded Marines in a timelier manner for those who desire to stay in the Marine Corps.
â€œJust because you have an injury, it doesnâ€™t mean you have to leave the Marine Corps,â€ Jones said. â€œYou just have to work hard. I want to let those guys know back in the States that there is a place for you. I plan on being one of those examples.â€
Corporal Garrett S. Jones, an amputee who was injured in 2007 by an insurgentâ€™s bomb during his unitâ€™s deployment to Iraq, is proud to be back serving with the Marines of 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which are currently serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Jones is the first Marine with an above-the-knee amputation to deploy to Afghanistan. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Corporal Garrett S. Jones, an amputee who was injured in 2007 by an insurgentâ€™s bomb during his unitâ€™s deployment to Iraq, shows his prosthetic leg. Jones is a 23-year-old Newberg, Ore., native. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Corporal Garrett S. Jones displays one of the seven prosthetic legs he now wears after being injured in 2007 by an insurgentâ€™s bomb during his unitâ€™s deployment to Iraq. Six of his legs are used for walking, and one is for snowboarding. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
Corporal Garrett S. Jones, an amputee who was injured in 2007 by an insurgentâ€™s bomb during his unitâ€™s deployment to Iraq, stands by protective barriers before heading off to travel to a forward operating base. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)
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