PATROL BASE DETROIT, Afghanistan – It’s a moment of truth for many Marines: the first time they are in combat and their training is put to the test.
When his squad took enemy contact during a recent patrol through Trek Nawa, Marine Corps Pfc. Timothy Workman found his moment.
“I could hear rounds cracking over my head,” said Workman, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6. “The adrenaline started pumping right away.”
This was Workman’s first firefight. A year ago, he was standing on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., to start basic training, a tradition every Marine recruit goes through. Now, with the mid-morning sun beating down, he was crouched in a ditch, his M16 assault rifle ready.
Workman and his fellow Marines were engaged in fighting six to eight enemies. The insurgents fired from several different positions, shooting through small holes in walls several hundred meters away. Marines took cover in mud compounds and behind mounds of debris.
Workman’s squad split into two units during the firefight. Workman, from Peebles, Ohio, went with Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Simons, his platoon sergeant, as they moved forward to return fire.
“At one point, I witnessed Workman moving up into position to engage the enemy,” recalled Simons, from Sidney, Mont. “He fired on the enemy, and when the enemy returned fire, it allowed us to open up with our machine gun.”
The morning sounds of birds and farmers were replaced with the sudden burst of rifles and the “rat-ta-tat-tat” of machinegun fire. An hour later the fight was over, and the Marines returned to their patrol base.
“Since we’ve been out here, it’s pretty common for [the other Marines] to engage in firefights,” Workman explained. “These [insurgents] will stick around and [fight] for awhile.”
Workman’s company patrols the volatile Trek Nawa area of Afghanistan, located between the Marjah and Nawa districts in Helmand province.
The Marines engaged enemies in firefights ranging from isolated pot shots to three–day battles. For Workman, the fighting hit home six months before he left for boot camp. In December, his friend’s older brother, Luke, was killed while serving near this same area of Afghanistan.
“I had gone to school with Luke’s brother since the 6th grade,” Workman said. “At the time [of Luke’s death], I had already decided to join, but this motivated me to continue the work that Luke gave his life for.”
In addition to Luke, Workman said, he’s lost a couple other friends to the war. But despite those losses, Workman said, he remembered his training and focused on his job during the fight.
“I was trying to get positive identification on the enemy, trying to find where they were firing from, looking for spotters and just covering my brothers,” said Workman.
Now that his first firefight is over, Workman’s platoon will monitor his behavior.
“The main thing we look for is a Marine’s mindset after their first time in combat,” Simons said. “We are a family, so we can tell when one of our brother’s is acting differently. We watch for it and take care of each other.”
Simons said Workman seemed mentally strong before and after the firefight. He is proud of Workman and the discipline he showed on the battlefield.
The Marines have more operations planned through Trek Nawa and expect more firefights before they return to the United States.
“I can say there’s nothing else like the Marine Corps,” Workman said. “I’ll continue picking my sergeants’ and seniors’ brains, trying to be better prepared for the next fight.”