News: Alpha Battery has eyes on with overwatch
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
FIREBASE SAENZ, Helmand province, Afghanistan—The Marines with Alpha Battery are keeping a watchful eye out for their brothers-in-arms in a more literal sense than one would expect from an artillery battery. The Marines in the battery’s Fire Direction Center monitor electronic chat systems and radios for any unit that needs support from the big guns, but they are not the only Marines in the Hawaii-based battery looking out for their fellow Marines.
The battery’s Quick Reaction Force keeps its eyes open from hilltops overlooking convoys passing through their area of operations. Marines with the QRF, comprised of select personnel from each section of the battery, are more than happy to dawn the personal protective gear, mount up their vehicles and support any passer-by making up the many coalition forces within the area.
The overwatch missions are not part of the normal battery activities, considering their limited amount of personnel. They are only tasked to provide artillery support, but 1st Lt. Dane Sagerholm, a Lebanon, Tn., native, holds a different opinion.
“It is our (area of operations), so whatever happens in it is our responsibility,” said the graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. “We are going to do what we can. If we see someone doing something (wrong), we are going to do anything we can to stop them if we can.”
The barren, rolling hills of northern Helmand, adjoined with a river of a kindred name, is home to a healthy-percentage the province’s population. This stretch of land, fostering very little vegetation away from the river, is also scattered with patrol bases and combat outposts. These posts house a large number of coalition forces sworn to protect, defend and help develop the Afghan infrastructure.
The troops at these locations contributing to the forward movement of Afghan development often need support of their own. The Marines of Alpha Battery do their part to look after their fellow Marines in the surrounding posts by providing timely and accurate artillery fire for any unit requesting support within range of their M777-A2 Howitzers.
Other units within 2nd Marine Division (Forward) and 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) often travel through the battery’s area of operations, according to Sgt. Manuel Corella, a Covina, Calif., native and a platoon sergeant with the battery. Convoys to clear roads of improvised explosive devices or deliver ammunition or food are constantly moving to ensure the Marines and their coalition partners get the supplies necessary to accomplish there given mission.
The battery supports anyone passing through not only by providing artillery fire, but by adding an extra set of eyes looking over those same rolling hills to spot any suspicious activity and ward off insurgents.
Corella said though the battery has limited assets, they use what they have to help Marines with units like 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion reach their final destination safely.
Route Clearance Platoon with Mobility Assault Company, 2nd CEB, was passing through at night recently when they encountered multiple IED strikes and small arms fire. The Marines knew they had a friend close by and called for fire requesting illumination rounds to light the night sky. Second CEB might not have expected Marines of the QRF sitting on the eastern sector of their area of operations the next morning to ensure they made it all the way through their area safely.
“I know they are pretty grateful — 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion was pretty grateful to have us come out and provide overwatch for them,” said Sagerholm. “It gives the feeling, that extra reassurance that ‘I’ve got brothers here.’”
Anyone who has to take a route in close proximity of Firebase Saenz to push out supplies or support to the coalition forces occupying the northern portion of the province can rest assured they’re being watched … and they’ll be thankful Alpha Battery is on the job.
Editor’s note: Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to 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 ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.