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    Recon Marines survive another close call in Upper Sangin Valley

    Recon Marines survive another close call in Upper Sangin Valley

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



    Story by Staff Sgt. Ryan Smith 

    II Marine Expeditionary Force   

    COMBAT OUTPOST ALCATRAZ, Afghanistan - During the time 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion has been living and patrolling the Upper Sangin Valley, their Marines have taken great strides to seek out and destroy the insurgent activity so the residents can live in peace. Multiple engagements and patrols throughout the months reduced the action seen by the Marines but there continues the ever present threat of an insurgent encounter.

    Since their first engagements, the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company C, have become more cohesive and have gone through the extremes of combat together; from the lull of daily patrols to the instant action of gun fire.

    Corporal Matthew Chen and Lance Cpl. Joshua Smejkal, reconnaissance Marines with 3rd Platoon, Company C, 3rd Recon Bn., recall how another quiet day on patrol was quickly disrupted by insurgents. One event and two separate stories collide for this retelling of the day’s events.

    On Oct. 4, their team stepped out on another patrol from their patrol base in the village of Gora along the Helmand River to talk the local citizens.

    The Marines began to move into the town and immediately noticed something was missing…the kids.

    “We had already been out there for almost two days,” said Chen, who hails from Elk Grove, Ill. “There are kids always coming up to us and people out farming. This time it was like we went into a ghost town. There wasn’t a single soul out there except for us.”

    The squad of Marines begins to move into the village. They begin their trek and come to an alley way. The squad split as the Alpha team began to move left, and Bravo team turned right. Moving cautiously to the end of the alley, Alpha team paused.

    “As soon as the front man of our team came to the end of the alley, a guy poked his head out about 40 meters from a little field we had in front of us,” said Chen, with Alpha team at this time. “He stuck his head out again and began shooting at us with his AK-47. A few quick bursts of gunfire and he ran away.”

    After taking cover from the incoming fire, the Alpha team moved in and cleared the alley used by the man and took cover in a ditch, stopping to observe the area to figure out their next move.

    Not even a minute later and a football field’s distance away, Bravo team began taking machine gun fire.

    “We began shooting at the position we could see all the gun smoke rising from,” said Chen, a 2003 graduate of Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Champaign, Ill. “My team leader decided to move us around the building to try and block (the insurgents) in. Usually it’s just one or two guys who take a few pot shots and run away. We wanted to stop them from running.”

    Alpha began to move down another alley way toward Bravo team’s position. They came to an open cornfield. The Marines began to move through the corn. What the Marines didn’t realize was it was harvest season. Halfway through the field, the corn stalks had been reaped and the team was exposed.

    “The insurgents had set up an ambush there, in a tree line next to the cornfield,” said Chen.

    The Marines drop to the ground and begin to return fire on the enemy forces. Meanwhile, the Bravo team moved carefully to try to flank the insurgent forces.

    “I’m glassing over the area and begin to fire my sniper rifle at the position where I see the flashes from (the insurgent) barrels,” said Chen. “One of my Marines turns to me and says our team leader is hit. I am also the team medic. So, immediately I start running out to the middle to go to his aide.”

    As Chen begins his movement through a maze of enemy fire, the team leader pops up and yells, “Get back! I’m fine! Get back!”

    “I lay down on the ground so I can hold cover fire for him as he runs back to the cover of the alley way,” said Chen. “My team starts running back and I’m firing as Cpl. Tucker drops six rounds of high explosive grenades on their position. We were trying to suppress them and it’s not doing anything to stop their fires.”

    As the Marines are bounding back, shots begin ringing out from the front and left of the Marines. The enemy had set up an L-shaped ambush and bullets began impacting all around them.

    “We heard the ambush begin on Alpha team, so we maneuvered around to help support them,” said Smejkal, a Villa Park, Ill. native. “We came around to an alley with no exits on it. Probably the longest linear danger area we have ever seen.”

    With Smejkal at the point, the team quickly moved down the 150-meter alley. As the lead man, Smejkal led his team toward the gun fire Alpha team was encountering.

    “I get about 50 meters down and I see movement,” said Smejkal, a 2009 graduate of Villa Park High School. “I yelled to the next Marine in my team. I don’t even have my (metal detector) out at this point because we needed to get to the raid fast. As soon as I saw the movement, I began sprinting; and as I got about 50 meters away I could really start seeing what was in the shadows of that tree.”

    An insurgent waiting with his machine gun was looking at the charging Marine. Turning around and firing from the hip, the insurgent began to scream and train his gun fire in Smejkal’s direction.

    “Seeing that guy in the alley way screaming at me and firing at me; my thought was ‘I’m going to die here,’” said Smejkal.

    With a war cry only a true Marine could muster, Smejkal let the lone insurgent know there was no stop to his will power.

    “I don’t know why at this time I’m still screaming “devil dog”… I’m running towards him screaming devil dog and firing on full auto trying to suppress him,” said Smejkal. “I was waiting to turn the corner because I thought he was going to be there…I turned the corner and apparently I scared him.”

    The ambush firing at Cpl. Chen’s team immediately saw a new team coming up from the corner of their L and began engaging them as well.

    “I look over to the wall and there’s rounds hitting the wall all around me and in the dirt,” said Chen. “I’m looking out of the corner of my eye and I can see Cpl. Tucker in my peripherals and his camelback just explodes,” he added referring to the water retention system on his back.

    Before Chen’s eyes returned to aim in on the enemy, he felt like he got punched in the leg.

    “It felt like a fastball came and hit me in the leg,” said Chen. “I didn’t know what it was. I was just like, ‘okay, whatever;’ so I kept firing.”

    As the remainder of his team bounded back toward the relative safety of the alley, Chen continued to provide covering fire.

    “Once we got back to the alley, we checked each other for wounds,” said Chen. “Our team leader was shot through the battery on his radio and the bottom of his SAPI plate. I rolled up my pant leg and a 7.62 bullet fell out. I got hit in the back of the leg and the round stopped for some reason. The actual bullet was caught in the blouse of my boots.”

    The day’s excitement had come to a resounding conclusion as Bravo team began to overtake the enemy positions. The insurgents ran off knowing a choice to stay and fight would end up costing their lives.

    “All of (the firefights) happening to us in the beginning of the deployment helped to keep us on our toes the whole time,” said Chen. “We know anytime you get complacent there may be a guy waiting around the corner for us. You never know when you turn that corner if you are going to get ambushed or if they are going to have IEDs set up for us.”

    “Right after the engagement, I thought about it and was like, ‘Did I really just war cry?’,” said Smejkal candidly. “Marines war cryin’ and charging…kind of like one of those stories you hear at boot camp, but never really believe. I’m a believer now.”



    Date Taken: 12.02.2011
    Date Posted: 12.02.2011 01:54
    Story ID: 80800

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