CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- During America’s longest war, many newly-minted Marines’ have wished for an opportunity to dirty their boots in Afghanistan. In the past year, however, deployments to Helmand have slowed and the remaining forces are focused on the redeployment and retrograde effort, while others continue to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces. Regional Command (Southwest) is set to close its doors by the end of 2014, which will mark the end of a significant chapter in the Marine Corps’ role in the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign.
First Lt. Michael Wish, a native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, deployed twice to Helmand during 2012 and 2014. Currently he serves as the executive officer for Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, and oversees the training and administrative operations for the artillery unit.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, who is dual-hatted as the commander of RC(SW) and Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, deployed Tango Battery during March 2014 to bring extra firepower to provide security for International Security Assistance Forces operating aboard the coalition bases during the drawdown. Tango Battery deployed “Zeus,” “Steve Bolton,” and “Death Wish,” three M777 Howitzers to Helmand for the final drawdown.
Yoo said the battery’s weapons of war are vital to the mission. “As we start getting smaller, I want to have that flexibility,” said Yoo. “I can use it up to the very last moment and retrograde it in an orderly and timely fashion.”
Wish enlisted in the Marine Corps following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He said his family’s long line of military service encouraged him to serve as well. Wish’s grandfathers served during Vietnam as Navy and Air Force pilots. His father served in the Air Force and flew F-16s during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He served as an avionics technician in Hawaii during his first enlistment, including a deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Okinawa, Japan. Wish said near the end of his first tour he was interested in pursuing his college degree. He applied to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and was accepted during 2005. Wish attended the academy from 2006 to 2010 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and was commissioned as a Marine second lieutenant. Wish then attended the Marine Corps’ six-month basic officer course in Quantico, Virginia. There he was selected to become an artillery officer and later attended artillery training aboard Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Two deployments to Afghanistan have required a significant sacrifice, for both him and his wife Meredith. She is a native of Dallas, Texas, and the couple met while Wish was attending artillery school in Oklahoma. The couple dated for less than a year before receiving orders to Camp Pendleton, California. The two exchanged vows on June 29, 2012, during a ceremony in Colorado Springs. He deployed to Afghanistan 17 days later for his first tour.
Wish deployed to Now Zad, Helmand province, for seven months as a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System platoon commander with Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, during 2012. He said the deployment was much more kinetic then, and he saw a lot of heroism by his Marines who were tested by enemy forces. His first deployment took place during a turbulent transition from coalition-led counterinsurgency to security force assistance operations. The beginning of a large reduction effort of forward operating bases was underway as well. Wish’s base in Now Zad was closed during the drawdown and joined more than 230 others that were closed or transferred to Afghan National Security Forces.
When he received the call to deploy to Helmand for a second time during 2014, his family was not too surprised.
“Since I am the third generation in the military, it was expected,” he said. Wish said when he arrived for his current deployment he was surprised how much was different from his previous tour. “This deployment was different in two ways,” said Wish. “First, I was on a small patrol base last deployment with little amenities. I was also surprised by how many international forces were aboard Camp Leatherneck."
Since the regional command’s inception during 2010, coalition partners including Bosnia, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Jordan, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates have served with U.S. forces here.
As 2014 continues, ISAF’s footprint in the region has dramatically decreased in scope. Major reductions in personnel and landscape have minimized the once metropolis-like base.
“Parts of the base look like a ghost town compared to last year,” he said.
Since April, six coalition partners have concluded their missions or ended operations including Bosnia, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Jordan and Tonga. More forces are slated to redeploy as the drawdown continues.
Wish is a passionate leader and student of his profession. He said he finds being around his Marines the most gratifying aspect. “I like shooting artillery, it never gets old,” said Wish. “But the most rewarding aspect of serving with Marines in Afghanistan is watching them take charge and accomplish a mission. Their hard work and dedication is unmatched,” he said.
Wish said he is looking forward to a different rhythm in the U.S. when he returns later this summer. He said he plans on competing in a triathlon, going skydiving and traveling to Hawaii for a scuba diving trip with his wife. While he’s been away, Meredith earned a scuba diving certification in La Jolla, California.
Later this summer, the couple will pack up their belongings in San Diego and head east to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Wish is scheduled to be promoted to captain during August 2014 and will attend an advanced artillery training course there. The training will be much deserved dwell time; especially for his wife. Due to his deployments to Afghanistan, the couple has spent a total of 18 out of 24 months away from one another since tying the knot.
Wish said the tyranny of distance has been challenging for both of them.
“Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” said Wish. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. The way I see it, we get to start dating all over again.”