News Icon

News: Repetitive yet reliable, vehicle checkpoints protect Afghans and Marines

Story by Cpl. Reece LodderSmall RSS IconSubscriptions Icon

SAR BANADAR, Helmand province, Afghanistan — A short distance off a dusty Afghan road, two U.S. Marines brave the chill of an early winter morning as they await a flood of local traffic.

Lance Cpls. Jesus Oliver and Andrew Penwitt are unusually chipper for this early in the morning, with an increased level of alertness from a four-hour shift of standing watch in a guard post. A motorcycle exhaust mutters in the distance and interrupts their quiet chatter.

They’re in business. Oliver perches atop a mound of dirt and waves a red flag, signaling for the driver to stop. Simultaneously, Penwitt walks onto the road to greet the Afghan man with his best attempt at Pashto. His vocabulary is limited, but Penwitt pairs simple phrases with hand signals to ask the man to dismount his motorcycle for a search.

After countless hours of observing and searching, these Marines have become masters at conducting vehicle checkpoints. Their efforts are matched by the remainder of the 81mm mortar platoon from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

During their seven-month deployment in Garmsir district, these VCPs are a regular part of the unit’s duty rotation, which also includes security patrols and standing post. Though they spend hours stopping vehicles and searching passersby, their presence isn’t a mere formality. The Marines are constantly on alert for anything out of the ordinary, especially information that can be used to locate and disrupt insurgent activity.

“When we’re searching, we don’t necessarily have to find an IED,” said Oliver, the 20-year-old Sacramento native. “It can be photos, intelligence or a high value individual.”

These types of finds are the fruits of otherwise monotonous labor, a recurring cycle that tests each Marine assigned to VCP duty.

“Sometimes it’s hard not to get lost in the repetition,” Oliver said. “We see a lot of the same people. We don’t always feel like searching them again, but we’d rather be safe than sorry.”

This repetition is a battle for each Marine, but it’s a welcome change to the grind of standing post, said Penwitt, a 22-year-old native of Manhattan, Ill.

“At a VCP, we’re outside the wire and interacting with the local people,” Penwitt said. “This helps get our face into the community and shows them we’re trying to catch the bad guys.”

Despite the Marines’ best intentions, some local travelers feel the weight of frequent VCPs.

SAR BANADAR, Helmand province, Afghanistan — A short distance off a dusty Afghan road, two U.S. Marines brave the chill of an early winter morning as they await a flood of local traffic.

“Most people are friendly but some get a bit annoyed,” Oliver said. “We’re stopping them in the middle of their day when they’re busy, so they’re probably going to get kind of irritated. But they’ve had Marines here a long time… They know we’re working to make it safer here.”

The mortarmen’s task of manning these checkpoints is often tedious. But when the cost is measured against the results these checkpoints yield, each repetitive moment is worth it, Oliver said.

“There’s a big difference between taking the post seriously and gaffing it off,” Oliver said. “It’s finding something that could be sitting in the road three hours later and taking out some of our boys.”

Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division
(Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.

Web Views

Podcast Hits

Public Domain Mark
This work, Repetitive yet reliable, vehicle checkpoints protect Afghans and Marines, by Sgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:12.01.2000

Date Posted:12.10.2011 11:29


More Like This

  • Shielded behind the walls of an enemy compound, a heavily armed squad of Marines huddled together and impatiently waited for the command to enter.

Toiling through obnoxious heat in Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s new military operations in urban terrain training facility, these infantrymen with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, assaulted the maze of buildings with vigilant eyes and ready weapons, Aug. 15, 2011.
  • On his deployment to Afghanistan last year, Cpl. Raymond P. Weeks found little sleep but plenty of purpose. 

As an intelligence cell team leader with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Weeks worked tirelessly to train his Marines, gather information from patrols and produce company-level intelligence products in Helmand province’s Nawa District.

In recognition of his work during the deployment, the 21-year-old intelligence specialist from Miami was selected as the National Military Intelligence Association’s Col. Donald G. Cook Award recipient, April 20, 2011. He will be presented the award at an awards banquet next month.
  • Golden rays of sunlight painted the boisterous sea of anxious competitors as they lined up for 3rd Marine Regiment’s 8th annual “The Beast” 10K run outside Pop Warner Field on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 12.
  • Carefully wielding the controls to an unmanned aircraft system pricier than his annual salary, Lance Cpl. Michael Cuneo stands static, his neck craned skyward and eyes fixed on the tiny speck as it buzzes 300 feet above him.

Though Cuneo specializes as a rifleman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, his grip has temporarily transferred from his rifle to the controls of an RQ-11B Raven UAS.


  • Army
  • Marines
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard
  • National Guard




  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Flickr