COMBAT OUTPOST TURBETT, Marjah district, Afghanistan with 4th Squad, 2nd Platoon, Fox Company -
“Should I kick it down?” one of the Marines asks when they reach the first compound.
The highly fortified metal doors often require a heavy hand when the Marines are on patrol.
“Go ahead,” says SSgt. Joe Zamora, the Platoon Sergeant.
The Marine busts open the door, and the three men push forward into the field within the mud building. They immediately receive fire from behind and jump down into the ravines.
“One shot came over the wall and almost hit me in the head,” one of the Marines says later.
No one is surprised when rounds fly through the air. This day's mission is to locate and engage the enemy in a firefight.
“We always get contact when we get up there,” says Zamora, who heads outside the wire every other day. “I can’t stay back here knowing that my guys are out there. And the days I don’t go on patrol and I‘m here and I hear they’re in contact, it just drives me crazy.”
As expected, Zamora and his men receive contact a few hours into the patrol, although those hours pass by like minutes.
“The enemy, they love to hit the Marines, or they like to engage the Marines when we’re in the open,” says Zamora.
After the initial burst of at least seven or eight shots in the first building they enter, Zamora and his Marines must sprint across a field for cover behind the tree line. Most people would run the other way when under fire, but the Marines push forward through open spaces, deep mud or wadis (a kind ofirrigation ditch) of stinking, dark water that reaches their knees.
The Marines make their way to a street with housing structures on both sides.
“We search as we go through, we clear it as we go. This way, we don’t miss anything,” says LCpl Daniel Brennan, team leader for the squad.
The Marines clear four buildings, finding an old man sleeping under sheets, a vicious dog, goats, chickens, more elderly people and children.
“We said hello, proper greetings and everything,” says Brennan.
In one of the buildings the locals inform a Marine that the Taliban was shooting from that location.
“We saw some bullet casings a little farther down and we took that as we were getting close to them, they’re on the run,” says Brennan.
At the end of the road, the Marines head left to a known hotspot. There is a mosque, a small room and a tree, which the men call the Taliban tree.
Inside the room, the Marines search the owner and his belongings. Several documents, reviewed by their Afghan National Army (ANA) counterpart,
have suspicious words like RPG and M16.
The Marines decide to detain the man and head for the COC, their base headquarters. They only have to travel a few minutes before they hear the ominous sounds of helicopter rotor blades disappearing into the distance. The UH-60 Blackhawk MEDEVAC birds and their security escorts are transporting a patient to higher levels of treatment. According to the Marines, the Taliban wounded a young boy in a firefight in another area.
“We’re gonna be receiving fire soon,” says one of the Marines, knowing the Taliban often strikes when air support departs.
“One thing about here in Afghanistan is that you’re not done until you come back to the COC,” says Zamora. “As soon as we start moving south we
got contact again so we responded.”
The Marines take cover in the wadi nearby as the shots crack in the air. One of the men suspects the shooters are in the building to the left. The men line up against the high, mud wall and move back into the housing area.
“The Taliban here, they’re fast, they’ll engage from a good distance,” says Zamora. “We’ll engage, they’ll see us moving towards their position,
they will egress. They don’t have as much gear as we do so they’re pretty fast.”
The Marines knock in doors and search every room. One door won’t budge and shots are fired at the lock stirring up clouds of grey dust. The
Marines find nothing, some rooms reveal barren floors without any signs of civilian inhabitants. The men move out back to the streets, with a
detainee they must hurry back to headquarters.
“All you gotta do is harass the enemy,” says Brennan. “We’re doing something right if they’re trying to shoot at you and you walk away.”
The men return to the base with their detainee, who is later released.
It’s barely mid-day and the men have spent hours on patrol, searching empty compounds and chasing after enemies they refer to as ghosts.
“All we can do is hope for the best, do what you can,” says Brennan. “In my eyes it was a successful mission because everybody made it back.”