COMBAT OUTPOST SHIR GHAZAY, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
COMBAT OUTPOST SHIR GHAZAY, Helmand province, Afghanistan - Waves of rounds fly back and forth between the two forces. Marines move in pairs and continue to suppress the enemy while insurgents answer back with harassing fire. Clouds of dust suddenly emerge hundreds of meters behind the Marines’ position and enemy rounds stop hissing by. The echoing sounds and muzzle flashes of AK-47 assault rifles cease. It’s as if the insurgent forces knew big trouble was headed their way.
Alpha Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, known as Masters of the Iron Horse, brings the “intimidation factor” to the battlefield and provides the protection to allow fellow infantrymen to focus on improving the way of life for the citizens of Helmand province.
“We pretty much have 70 tons of firepower, and the minute we show up, the insurgents pretty much know they really don’t stand a chance,” said 25-year-old 1st Lt. Tom Figgatt, the executive officer for Alpha Company.
The Ridgefield, Conn., native doubles as a tank commander for one of the only American tanks in Afghanistan and explained what he and most of his Marine’s experience daily when they encounter an enemy. The military opponent seems to know there’s not much you can do to stop the intense power of an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, according to Figgatt.
The massive beast packs a combat power punch with two M-240B medium machine guns: one is mounted beside the M-256 120 mm smoothbore cannon, or main gun, and the other is a .50-caliber machine gun. Figgatt also explained how this tremendous compact firepower and an armor-protected turret naturally breed confidence in Marines on the battlefield.
“There’s no other unit in Afghanistan that for 105 Marines -- for that small number of Marines -- brings this kind of firepower to the battlefield,” said the 2008 graduate of Duke University. “The bang for the buck you get there is amazing and is something that definitely breeds confidence in the Marines.”
Brooklyn, N.Y., native Staff Sgt. Georlis Rodriguez said the intimidation factor alone helps save lives in the combat zone. The tank commander and platoon sergeant with the unit explained it’s what makes the hardships worthwhile.
“Obviously the insurgents out here don’t have the capabilities to stop a tank, so as soon as they see tanks, they (leave),” said the 31-year-old Rodriguez. “Sure, being a tanker is hard, it’s a hot place, and it’s dirty, but knowing that I might have saved another Marine’s life on the front lines is why I love it. If not, I wouldn’t have been a tanker for 12 years.”
Most days in Afghanistan for tankers like Rodriguez and Olympia, Wash., native Sgt. Jason Slye are spent out in the sands of Helmand providing overwatch for hundreds of Marines and sailors. Slye, another tank commander with the unit, said those missions help put the minds of his fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms at ease as they work with the Afghan people to develop their country.
The tank plays a key role in overwatch missions, which consist of providing security for coalition forces improving roads, schools, and other Afghan government-led projects, because its capabilities include being able to sight in on a target more than two-and-a-half miles away.
Slye, a 2005 graduate of Yelm High School, has been a part of more than 30 overwatch and quick reaction force missions since arriving in Afghanistan less than two months ago. He and Rodriguez have logged more than 700 hours combined on missions and want nothing more than to provide a safer working area for their fellow Marines and the local residents.
“Just the sheer fact of having tanks on station sends a shiver down the enemy’s back,” explained Rodriguez. “We’ve been called on numerous quick reaction forces and our guys are taking heavy contact; as soon as the enemy sees the smoke trails from the tanks coming up, they drop their weapons and roll out.”
Editor’s note: The battalion is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward). The division heads Task Force Leatherneck, which 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.
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This work, Iron Horses stampede insurgency, by Sgt Marco Mancha, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.