News: Combat engineers clear routes while building a close bond
AL ASAD, Iraq - The Red Horse Compound aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, is quiet with the exception of the low grumble of an idling 7-ton truck and the conversations of the few mechanics working on it. Most of the Marines of Company B, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, are sound asleep after last night's route clearance mission. Gunnery Sgt. Deon Farmer, the company maintenance officer-in-charge, walks the lot as he supervises his Marines' daily efforts to make sure the numerous vehicles in the company's motor pool are combat ready.
In the Combat Operations Center, Sgt. Shamel Edrees, the day watch officer, monitors the Blue Force Tracker, which displays the location of the 2nd Platoon.
Second Platoon, led by Platoon Commander 1st Lt. Sean Knapp and Platoon Sergeant Staff Sgt. Thomas Esquivel, is still on the road to Camp Korean Village, clearing hundreds of miles of highway for the large convoy behind them. The hard-packed sand of Western Iraq rolls by slowly as the Marines scan the roadway for anything that looks out of place. In the daylight, they can see for tens of miles in all directions, but their focus is always on the narrow sections of road that each has been assigned to watch. To pass the time and maintain alertness, the Marines tell stories of past experiences with the platoon.
Cpl. Jacob Flick, who operates the hydraulic arm in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles used in route clearance missions, recalls one particular story that has shaped the personality of the unit.
"We were at Bridgeport, Calif., [Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center], attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and we were on this really long march in the snow. We walked for what seemed like forever, and one of the guys [got hypothermia]. It felt like such a disaster, like it would never be over, but the whole time we just kept laughing and telling each other 'one more [kilometer]; just one more [kilometer].'"
"Humor through hardship" has since become the motto of 2nd Platoon, and it has served them well.
At nearly the same time but aboard Camp Ramadi, 3rd Platoon finished their post-combat checks and debriefs, and their platoon commander, 1st Lt. Cooper Carter, sat down to write his after action report and talk over upcoming missions with his platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Daniel Belec. The platoon picked up and moved from Al Asad to Al Taqaddum at the beginning of the deployment, and later moved again to Camp Ramadi, always operating away from the rest of the company. Now that these challenges and many others have been overcome, Carter looks back in amazement at the way his Marines have performed.
"I was always impressed to see that the Marines of 3rd Platoon never failed to carry out their mission with excellence," he said. "They proved they could carry out their job seamlessly, no matter what situation they were presented. Not only did the Marines know their jobs to the fullest and operate as a well-oiled machine tactically on the road, but the Marines also grew into a tight well-oiled machine as a family."
While the platoon was busy with missions most nights and preparation and maintenance on the few other nights, the Marines made use of every free minute to make sure they had a good time.
"It was a remarkable sight for me to see a platoon of 35 Marines from all different walks of life mesh into an unbreakable group of brothers," Carter concluded.
Back on Al Asad, as the afternoon sun heats up the cans in the Tarawa billeting area, 1st Platoon's Marines will be swarming about the motor pool, conducting their pre-combat vehicle inspections, loading weapons and ammunition, and looking each other over to ensure they have all their gear properly situated.
As the Marines go about their various tasks 1st Lt. Rob Caldwell, 1st Platoon commander, and his platoon sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Zellard Lemon, will be doing their own mission preparation, checking up on recent enemy activity, weather reports and friendly units moving along their route. They'll confirm the times and locations for link-up with the aircraft that will be supporting them, go over their mission roster and deliver the mission brief to the platoon.
Shortly thereafter, the Marines will complete their final pre-combat checks and ground-guide their vehicles out of the motor pool.
Lance Cpl. Jason Sappington, a gunner with 1st Platoon, looks back on one memorable mission.
"I can recall Christmas Eve when we were prepping for a mission," he began. "There was not a single sad face, not a single Marine thinking about anything but the task at hand. That is what is special about 1st Platoon to me; that is what sets us apart. Whether it be winning a flag football game or finding an [improvised explosive device] before it finds us, we are always focused on the task at hand, always focused on mission accomplishment."
Company B, also known as "Bravo Nation," has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Twentynine Palms, Calif., in 2008. The Marines have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge of their military occupational specialties, operations in Iraq, and how to employ the new tools at their disposal. They have learned fast, and they have learned well.
Now as the Marines push toward the successful completion of the Company's first deployment, new challenges in future areas of operation await these ready and willing young warriors.