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Marines Protect Bastion, Leatherneck, Shorabak

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - With fighting season well underway and in preparation for Ramadan, the Warlords of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, were in a high operations tempo to counter a possible increase in insurgent activity.

The unit, whose mission is to protect Camps Bastion, Leatherneck and Shorabak (B.L.S.), recently conducted three consecutive operations to disrupt enemy activity in Helmand Province – Operations Kodiak VI, Grizzly II and Dragon’s Teeth.

The ongoing operations entail intelligence-driven missions, clearing missions or a mixture of both. In an intelligence-driven mission, the Marines search to identify or contain specific targets. In clearing missions, they search for caches of weapons or explosive materials.

The Marines traveled on foot for all three operations, thoroughly searching compounds for any signs of weapons caches or possible labs of explosive materials. Although the Marines didn’t find any weapons caches, they did collect residue samples for testing and were able to contact local elders for information about suspicious activity in the area.

Beyond the three operations, the Marines regularly conduct mounted and dismounted patrols throughout the province. Their daily operations involve security and reconnaissance patrols, ambush patrols, counter improvised explosive devices patrols, clearing missions and manning combat outposts.

“We do daily disruption operations here in Helmand to ensure that B.L.S. are protected and (Coalition Forces) are able to conduct their retrograde from the country,” said Capt. Andrew D. Nicholson, company commander.

The unit keeps up a very demanding schedule, patrolling repeatedly for many days. Each day, they carry full combat loads, weighed down by other gear including PRC-117 radios, and metal detectors, and walk up to 10 kilometers on a regular basis.

“The hardest thing (we) probably deal with is the heat,” said Sgt. Douglas Smith, a section leader with the unit. “It just drains all the energy out of you. Regardless of how much water you drink, the heat gets you.”

Although the Marines load their trucks with cold water, by midday the ruthless Afghan heat brings most of the water to above room temperature. With hours still left in their patrols, the Marines do their best to spend time anywhere they can find shade as they search from one compound to another.

“(Patrolling) can be rough at times and sometimes it gets pretty annoying if you end up not finding anything,” said Smith, a Syracuse, N.Y., native. “But that feeling of pride when you come back with some great intelligence is a great feeling. That is what gets you through the days.”

The Marines have faced nearly 75 significant events in their two and a half months operating in Helmand Province. The incidents include direct fire, and small-arms fire engagements to the discovery of improvised explosive devices. The Warlords have encountered nearly 20 IEDs so far.

Smith recalls two occasions when his platoon came under direct fire, forcing the Marines to take immediate action and engage the enemy.

“I’m not generally in charge of a squad, but that day when I was in charge, my first thought is, ‘Oh man, that was close,’ and then, ‘Where is the closest cover?,’” said Smith. “Once (we) are in cover that’s when you start thinking what you want your squad or platoon to do, and how can we (stop) this guy who is shooting at us right now.”

On a separate occasion, Smith and his Marines were caught in a firefight with no cover within 500 meters.

“We had to buddy rush … it sucked but when rounds are impacting near you, it was the best thing (to do) at the time,” said Smith. “As soon as we’d stand up, they’d fire, and (we) just had to get back down.”

“The enemy is definitely willing to take some shots as us,” said Nicholson, a Charleston, S.C., native. “What it demonstrates is that the enemy is pretty active here. We try to be just as active, and try to do our best with the maneuver piece.”

Fox Company has many available assets that assist them in completing their mission, including dog handlers from 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion, and explosive ordnance disposal Marines.

 “The challenge is putting all the assets and enablers that you have available and making it synergized so you can conduct maneuver warfare in today’s fight,” said Nicholson.

As the Warlords continue their mission to protect B.L.S., the unit’s noncommissioned officers take care of their Marines and keep them focused on the fight.

“When we have down time we have platoon time, where we will watch a movie or even go out to eat together,” said Smith. “It’s all about having fun with them but keeping them pushing to their limit. (What we do) makes a difference. You feel it when you find an IED or you engage the enemy.”

Nicholson said his Marines continue to surprise him every day.

“(Even) as the weather gets hotter, and just as you think they are going to break because they see daily contact, they get stronger,” said Nicholson. “Their spirits remain high and they get more focused every day. They are doing a tremendous job.”

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