PATROL BASE FIRES, SANGIN DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE,, AFGHANISTAN
SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan - If you had asked 1st Lt. Charles Poulton at the beginning of his deployment ‘Okay Lt. Poulton, you are going to lose your platoon sergeant, a total of five squad leaders and a lot of good men. Do you think your platoon would be stronger than you started with?’
His answer at the beginning of the deployment would have been very different than his answer today.
“Do you think your platoon would be stronger than you started with?” The San Clemente, Calif., native asked himself. “I would think we would be struggling just to maintain.” The reality of the question is one that all leaders who take their Marines and sailors into combat have to ask and that very question became a reality for 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The platoon leads the Sangin-based battalion in casualties with more than 25 Marines wounded in action and two Marines killed in action.
While some of those wounded in action rejoined the platoon after receiving medical aid, the more seriously injured were sent home to begin the road to recovery. The ultimate sacrifice from two Marines would resonate with every member of the platoon. Despite losing so many leaders, the platoon evolved as the junior Marines took on more responsibilities and new leadership roles.
“I have an awesome group of Marines. Every one of them has stepped up in the most dangerous place on earth,” said Poulton. “These guys have totally stepped up to the bat and we have gotten stronger as a platoon.”
The memory of fallen friends and thoughts of wounded comrades can decrease a unit’s effectiveness and cause distractions at critical moments, the Marines of 1st Platoon adapted and emerged a more cohesive unit.
“We keep doing it because it’s our job,” said Waialua, Hawaii, native Lance Cpl. David Richvalsky. Richvalsky, who was wounded in action, graduated from Waialua High School in 2010.
“Being able to push on and stay focused is important because if you just sit there and dwell over what happened it’s going to ruin the platoon’s morale,” said Lancing, Mich., native Lance Cpl. David Makara, who stepped up as a team leader when his was wounded in action. “Nobody’s going to want to do anything and they are just going to sit there and feel sorry for themselves.”
The strength to continue the mission does not come easy, but the Marines know they have a commitment to one another. They uphold it daily, whether out patrolling looking for assailants or standing guard to defend against foes who would attack the patrol base. It doesn’t stop there, when not actively conducting combat operations they support each other with small acts of kindness such as sharing food with a Marine about to stand guard. .
“What keeps us going is what has kept Marines going since the Marine Corps started – being there for each other,” said Lemoore, Calif., native Sgt. Michael Hodge. “When you are out here you fight for each other and have to have each other’s backs. That is ultimately what keeps us going.”
Hodge, a squad leader for the platoon, knows this better than most. The 2005 graduate of Lemoore High School was medically evacuated for injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device blast. He later returned to the unit to lead by example as the only squad leader who was physically able return to the platoon.
“Going through everything we have been through together,” said Hodge, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. “Seeing the things we’ve all seen and having all the same experiences just makes that brotherhood that much stronger.”
One of threads that binds the platoon and keeps them running like a fine-tuned engine is their ability to cope, which draws off their ability to make light of the situations they face every day.
“It’s good to make the best of bad situations because it keeps the morale up,” said Makara, 21, a 2008 graduate of Lakewood Michigan High School. “There are two options: you are either pissed off all the time or you can joke and laugh about the situation.”
Richalsky is one of the Marines who chooses the latter on a regular basis. Whether it be trying to perform Marine Corps drill manual with an M-240 machine gun, instead of the slightly more manageable M-16 Service Rifle, or by lifting Marines spirits with his constant jokes on patrol, when his squad was doing patrols twice a day.
“Great! Patrolling all day isn’t bad enough,” said Richalsky, about an hour into the day’s second patrol when the squad entered a corn field. “Let’s slop around in muddy corn fields for a few hours. Oh my gosh! The mud is eating my boots.”
For members of 1st Plt., humor is more than just a coping mechanism.
“With how tight this platoon is and its attachments, we laugh about things. It becomes easy to keep a light heart about being miserable and push through things,” explained Makara, who was wounded in action himself. “At the end of the day, you know that it’s not going to last forever. It might suck right now, but what are you going to do about it. Later on down the road you know you are going to look back and laugh about these times.
“If you don’t keep the brotherhood and morale together then you lose that glue that holds it all together,” said Makara. “When that glue goes away you lose your drive and that’s the last thing we need right now.
“Right now our number one focus is to survive and get the job done,” said Makara.
The platoon commander, Poulton, has not lost sight of the platoon’s origins and the destination he wants them to reach.
“However, we had a goal when we started this whole deployment and that was to be the best platoon in the battalion,” said Poulton. “Even though we have suffered the most casualties I honestly believe that we still have an opportunity to finish the best platoon and it will just be that much more special.”
“I told them ‘We have two months left gents, we can do this,’” said Poulton.
Editors Note: RCT-8 is 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.
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This work, Casualties of war bolster Sangin brotherhood, resolve, by Sgt Benjamin Crilly, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.