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    Photo By Staff Sgt. Ryan Smith | Corporal Matthew Chen (left) and Lance Cpl. Joshua Smejkal (right), reconnaissance...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Ryan Smith 

    Regimental Combat Team 8

    COMBAT OUTPOST ALCATRAZ, Helmand province, Afghanistan - The Upper Sangin Valley has been a hot bed of insurgent activity in the Sangin District with constant threats of improvised explosive devices and fire fights against Afghan National Army members and coalition forces. For the past five months, the Marines of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion have been working hard to secure the tiny villages north of Sangin as well as secure their portion of Route 611, a north-south highway running parallel to the Helmand River, and a major transportation route used for commerce in the area.

    The battles have been dangerous and intense fighting has followed the Marines as they worked to get to know the villagers and offer support for their needs in the area. For two Marines, the battles fought and sometimes “close calls” have united them to take care of each other and their Marines no matter what happens when the shooting begins.

    Corporal Matthew Chen and Lance Cpl. Joshua Smejkal, reconnaissance Marines with 3rd Platoon, Company C, 3rd Recon Bn., have seen the challenges of battle firsthand and use lessons learned through their fight to prepare for what’s next.

    Together they recall one of their first engagements of this deployment.

    On July 10, their squad was patrolling through the Potay area of the Upper Sangin Valley.

    “We were patrolling through this creek bed that opens up to a courtyard,” said Smejkal, a Villa Park, Ill. native. “I am running point at this time and about to turn down an alleyway when we hear this huge explosion. My heart stopped immediately and I turned around because I thought one of my guys had stepped on a bomb that I missed. All of a sudden I hear everybody’s up, then someone says ‘it was a frag.’

    “I then hear my team leader yell ‘frag out’ and we hear another boom. Me and Cpl. Chen just looked at each other and it’s like we knew what the other one was thinking. So we started pushing down the alley way,” said the 2009 graduate of Villa Park High School.

    The two Marines began moving up the alley way with Chen on the right side and Smejkal on the left. Their movements mirrored each other as they cleared the alley. The end of the alley branched into an intersecting path and opened up to a small courtyard with a three-foot wall in the center. The two Marines post security as they wait for the rest of the team to join them.

    “Smejkal was turned around to check to see if our guys were coming up on our six,” said Chen, who hails from Elk Grove, Ill. “I told him to turn around and make sure we secure the area in front of us. As soon as I turned back around, I just see these seven guys walking up about 30 meters from us on the other side of the wall.

    “Out of instinct…I don’t know what it was…maybe the adrenaline pumping, I yelled for the men to stop,” said Chen, a 2003 graduate of Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Champaign, Ill. “They looked at me like ‘what is he saying,’ then all of a sudden one of them pulls up and AK-47 on the other side of the wall.

    “As soon as he drew up his AK, I drew up my (Semi-Automatic Sniper System) and I just saw a flash,” said Chen.

    The insurgents began firing at the two Marines. With enemy bullets whizzing by, rounds began hitting the walls around them, spewing chunks of mud into the faces of the Marines.

    “The AK fire was kicking up so much dust from the wall, I couldn’t even see (the insurgents) so I aimed in on where I could see the muzzle flash and I began shooting,” said Chen.

    According to Chen, the sniper rifle he was firing sounds like a cannon when it fires and after one shot, the muzzle break was so horrible the Marines were both blinded in a cloud of dust.

    Finally the dust settles. The squad automatic weapon gunner was next and began firing to suppress the enemy while Chen began to reload his magazine. Soon after, the Marines pulled back out of the alley way as the firing ceased. The Marines found an empty compound and began to hold security in the immediate area. Chen climbed to the rooftop and sighted in on the short wall he had encountered the insurgents at.

    “We just saw some brass casings laying there along with a pair of sandals on the ground; they must have ran out,” said Chen. “It was just the moment as they stopped and looked at us and I looked at them, the moment of shock that we ran into them in this alley way. That was the closest engagement probably anyone’s been in; it was only about 25 meters or so.”

    The boom of one grenade led the Marines into this day and as it was soon learned, the insurgents didn’t know where the Marines were at when they fired it.

    “We found out after this the insurgents had a 30mm grenade launcher attached to their AK,” said Chen. “They were just going to shoot to find out where the Marines were at. They were just shooting to see if we would begin engaging back.”

    Following this engagement, Chen and Smejkal reevaluated some of their techniques and are learning from what happened that day.

    “We definitely take (alley ways) a lot slower and a lot more serious now. We never thought we would run into them that close,” said Chen.

    “The way I look at alley ways and every patrol now is I just keep in mind that we could get closely engaged so I’m ready to drop and start sprinting to movement and ready to fire. I was not ready for that one at all.”



    Date Taken: 11.26.2011
    Date Posted: 11.26.2011 01:25
    Story ID: 80566

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