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    Nebraska Marine discovers Afghan experience

    Nebraska Marine discovers Afghan experience

    Photo By Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde | Columbus, Neb., native Cpl. Nicholas Hardesty, the machine-guns squad leader with 3rd...... read more read more



    Story by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde  

    II Marine Expeditionary Force   

    PATROL BASE MEHRAJ, Helmand province, Afghanistan – The culture, landscape and austere conditions of Helmand province can be downright shocking to American troops deployed to the area for the first time. Life in Helmand is completely different than life in the United States, and one can only begin to understand this exotic land after experiencing it first-hand.

    Many Marines from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, are currently serving on their first combat tour as the battalion operates in Musa Qal’eh district, Helmand province, and have learned something new at each twist and turn of their journeys. Corporal Nicholas Hardesty of Columbus, Neb., and Lance Cpl. Trey Woodward, of Fort Worth, Texas, both from 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2/4, are among these Marines discovering the Afghan experience for the first time.

    Hardesty, 22, and Woodward, 21, both machine-gunners in 3rd Platoon, are responsible for laying down automatic fires during engagements with their M240 machine guns. Their skills were tested early in the battalion’s deployment when their squad was involved in several firefights. For Hardesty, this was when the dangers of Musa Qal’eh first became palpable.

    “We’ve been in a couple firefights,” said Hardesty, a graduate of Columbus High School. “That’s when it kicked in: this is real-life, this isn’t a game, there is no reset (button) – it’s go time. We all have the same combat mindset – that doesn’t change – but everyone takes everything differently, like some people don’t mind getting shot at. I personally don’t like (firefights).”

    The Marines have quickly learned that an area’s atmosphere typically takes on an ominous ambiance before insurgents strike, knowledge that has helped the Marines determine whether they are unlikely to receive enemy fire or if danger is imminent.

    “You know certain areas where you’re pretty safe, and you know certain areas where something’s going to happen,” said Hardesty. “If there’s nobody around and nothing’s going on, or there’s everybody around and then they leave, it’s never good.”

    Hardesty and the rest of 2/4 prepared for the deployment through in-depth training and hard work prior to arriving in Afghanistan, as reflected in their performance during enemy engagements. They also received cultural training prior to deploying, but the Marines have nevertheless been surprised at some of the things they have witnessed during their surreal adventure.

    “The kids out here work at such a young age,” said Hardesty. “I knew they worked at a young age, but some of these kids are like three, four years old, and they’re out there bailing hay, farming, tilling. When I was a kid, I never would have thought about doing that at that age.”

    The children, likewise, have responded with surprise at the appearance of the funny-looking Marines in their strange combat gear, according to Woodward, who graduated from Boswell High School in Fort Worth.

    “One patrol we went on, (the) kids, I don’t know, I guess they thought we were cyborgs or something. They look at us like, ‘Are these guys humans or what?’” said Woodward. “They started hitting my (helmet), and they were amazed by how tough it was.”

    The Marines have noticed other obvious differences in Afghan culture, too. Hardesty was shocked by the status of women in Afghanistan when he first arrived in country.

    “On patrol today I saw a woman pop out of a compound, and she saw me,” said Hardesty. “(Immediately) she took off because she’s not supposed to be seen by us, and I know it’s bad for us to look at their women, too. It was an accident.”

    Afghanistan’s undeveloped landscape is also something that can only truly be appreciated through experience. The rocky terrain, endless fields, unpaved roads and numerous canals of Musa Qal’eh district contribute to a picturesque setting for the squad’s patrols, but also provide obstacles the Marines must overcome.

    “(The terrain) affects me, but not to the point where I can’t do my job,” said Woodward. “You just hop over some canals and that’s it; you’re getting muddy and wet. It comes with the job.”

    Perhaps the best experience of a combat tour is the camaraderie achieved through shared hardship between brothers going through a common trial. Many of the Marines in 3rd Platoon have become very close with each other, and Hardesty feels privileged to live and work with the same group of guys every day during a seven-month deployment.

    “It’s an eye-opener being out here with these guys,” said Hardesty. “You don’t realize how close you’ll become to these guys until you’re out here either. I always heard that you’d never have closer friends than the ones you’ve been to combat with. I knew I would rely on these guys a lot, and I know they rely on me too. You’ve got to help each other out; it’s like a family thing.”

    Being deployed to Afghanistan has left the Marines with an appreciation of how good life is for most Americans, something Hardesty took for granted until he started his own Afghan experience with 2/4.

    “They don’t have the technology we do,” said Hardesty. “(Many) people don’t have electricity, running water – they use wells for everything, they go barefoot everywhere. Everything here, it’s different. Unless you’ve been here, you don’t know what to expect – it’s a culture shock.”

    Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8 in 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 Force 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.



    Date Taken: 11.06.2011
    Date Posted: 11.05.2011 19:18
    Story ID: 79621

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