News: Combat engineer gains experience, rank while deployed
Story by Sgt. John Jackson
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – During high school, Cpl. Benjamin Leo knew he wanted something more. He wanted to feel a “sense of accomplishment.”
Upon graduation from The Charter School of Wilmington, in Wilmington, Del., Leo sought that sense of accomplishment by enlisting in the Marine Corps.
“I joined right out of high school,” said Leo, 20. “I wanted to make sure I got out there and did something.”
After completing Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and completing his military occupational specialty school, Leo headed to his first duty station – Iwakuni, Japan – as a Marine combat engineer.
“When I found out I was going to mainland Japan, I was excited,” he said. “The majority of the Marines who go overseas go to Okinawa [Japan], but I got to go to the heart of Japan.”
Leo was attached to Marine Wing Support Squadron 171. Becoming a Marine and being stationed overseas were significant accomplishments, but he still was seeking more – he wanted to deploy.
“It came down the line that they needed combat engineers to deploy with 9th [Engineer Support Battalion],” he said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.”
In June 2011, Leo was augmented to 9th ESB and was assigned to 1st Platoon, Alpha Company. During the battalion’s predeployment training, he was able to work with the Marines and sailors in his new unit.
“At [Enhanced Mojave Viper] I was able to bond with the platoon,” Leo said. “We have a great group of Marines.”
Following predeployment training, the battalion headed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Since arriving in November 2011, 9th ESB, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), has completed various engineering operations throughout southern Afghanistan. The engineers have built patrol bases to fortify the coalition force presence in the area. The Marines have also demilitarized other patrol bases that are no longer needed.
“Our battalion has definitely tackled a lot of engineer work. We have handled a lot of projects in the [area of operations],” Leo said. “We really support the infantry units exceptionally well.”
In addition to building and demilitarizing bases throughout the province, Leo and his platoon have also removed an old bridge after a new one was installed, built indirect fire bunkers to help protect service members, and much more.
“We have been going nonstop, and I love that about our unit,” Leo said. “We have done virtually everything that a combat engineer is supposed to do. I have been able to learn a great deal about my job here.”
In addition to becoming a more proficient combat engineer, Leo also had the opportunity to experience other tasks in a deployed environment. During convoys from one location to the next, Leo has been a driver, a gunner and most recently a vehicle commander.
Because of Leo’s strong work ethic and his desire to continue to learn, his superiors selected him to compete for a meritorious promotion to corporal. On Jan. 2, Leo was meritoriously promoted to his current rank.
“It’s nice to have the confidence of my leaders,” Leo said. “I was able to win the [meritorious promotion] board and get promoted.”
With the battalion wrapping up their deployment and preparing to redeploy, Leo looks forward to returning to Delaware to see his family and friends.
“It’s going to be nice to take some leave and get back home and catch up with my family,” he said. “I really look forward to seeing them all.”
While deployed, Leo was able to gain more combat engineering experience; he was meritoriously promoted, but most importantly he found the sense of accomplishment he was looking for since high school.
“Last Christmas I was at home spending time with some friends and family. This Christmas I was on a ridge in Helmand Province standing post protecting my ‘brothers.’ It was a great feeling.”