By Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
2ND MARINE LOGISTICS GROUP (FWD)
FIREBASE SAENZ, Afghanistan Firebase Saenz has been destroyed. Its defenses have been torn down, and its walls have been completely leveled. This destruction was not caused by insurgents – it was the handiwork of Marines with 9th Engineer Support Battalion.
With the recent reduction and reorganization of troops, Saenz is the first of several forward operating bases being demilitarized in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The firebase, which covered a little over 11 acres of Afghan desert, was built more than a year ago and named after Sgt. Jose Saenz III who was killed in action Aug. 9, 2010. During its existence, Saenz housed Marine artillery units that provided indirect fire support for coalition ground forces operating in the northern half of Helmand province.
After convoying north from Camp Leatherneck, the Marines of 9th ESB, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, currently attached to 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), worked diligently Dec. 13-15 to properly dismantle the base and ensure there was little, if any, footprint left by the Marines.
“The Marines have been doing a good job taking everything down and making sure to keep it neat so it fits on the trucks,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Fassett, commander of 1st Platoon, Company A, 9th ESB. “We did the right job in terms of cleaning up after ourselves in Afghanistan.”
Doing the right job included emptying sandbags, pushing down berms and coiling up hundreds of yards of razor-sharp concertina wire surrounding Saenz.
One of the more challenging tasks was dismantling the numerous dirt-filled barriers that made up the guard posts at each corner of the base. Dirt-filled barriers, also known as HESCO barriers, are military fortifications that have seen extensive use in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A typical dirt-filled barrier is 4-feet tall and 3-feet wide and is made of a collapsible wire-mesh container with a heavy-duty fabric liner usually filled with sand.
The Marines used tractors, forklifts, electric saws, shovels, pick axes, bolt cutters, knives and their bare hands to rip apart the barriers that once protected the Marines at Saenz from explosive blasts and small-arms fire.
“It’s pretty tedious work for myself and the other Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Zachary Couch, a combat engineer with Company A.
The Marines who were equipped with the electric saws were able to cut through the wire-mesh with relative ease compared to those with bolt cutters. As the Marines labored, sparks lit up the evening sky and resembled fireworks that could be seen on the Fourth of July.
When darkness fell, the Marines used the headlights from the front end loaders to aid them in their disassembly of the barriers. As they continued working deep into the night, the temperature dropped below 20 degrees, forcing them to put on several layers to keep warm.
A little before midnight, the Marines called it a day. There were no tents to house them, so they slept inside of the armored vehicles that brought them up to the secluded base. Several Marines crammed into one vehicle and slept in some very awkward and uncomfortable positions on top of their packs and body armor. The more Marines that crammed into a vehicle, the warmer it became inside.
The Marines woke up the next morning, the sun shone on their weather-beaten faces that were still covered with sand from the day before. They grabbed their tools and slowly made their way back to where they had left off.
During the night, the bulldozers had pushed over and flattened the berms that made up the walls of the base, thereby reducing protection from any possible insurgent fire.
Cpl. James Hernandez, a fire team leader in Company A, was still sore from the day before and recovering from small burns inflicted by the sparks created by the electric saw. With fatigue wearing on the Marines in his charge, he frequently gathered them and offered some words of encouragement and motivation.
“I hate the cold,” said Hernandez. “It just gets to you after a while. That’s when all the morale starts going down.”
Lance Cpl. Tameka Demps, a combat engineer in Company A, finds her motivation in the work that she does.
“I just like to work, I like to be busy,” she said. “If I stop, I just, I don’t know – I feel like I’m not doing anything. I like doing this. It’s exhausting, but it’s fun.”
Standing at barely 5-feet tall, Demps constantly worked, picking up pieces of the barriers that probably weighed as much as she did. Once all the work was completed, she grabbed a trash bag and began picking up small pieces of trash off the ground.
“It’s just helping out with the main mission,” said Demps. “We finish this base, we go on to the next one – we can get this deployment over with and go home.”
For related stories, photos and videos check us out at:
|Date Posted:||01.12.2012 20:11|
|Location:||FIREBASE SAENZ, AF|
This work, 9th ESB combat engineers demilitarize Afghanistan firebase, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.