MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The Marines huddled around a terrain model of the small town adjacent to their combat outpost. They listened carefully and took notes as Sgt. Michael P. Hodge, a squad leader with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, gave a pre-mission brief. Then they lined up at the gate and stepped out, knowing once they departed friendly lines their lives were in Hodge’s hands.
“It’s a pretty awesome trust placed in me,” said Hodge, from Lemoore, Calif.
As part of 1/5’s pre-deployment training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the Marines of 2nd Squad were tasked with conducting a cordon-and-search and setting up security for a planned key leader engagement in a Military Operations in Urban Terrain town, near the Las Pulgas training area, Dec. 11.
The patrol entered a busy market where the lead team spotted an improvised explosive device in a nearby ditch. The point man notified his team leader of the threat, so the Marines can move out of the killzone and get the civilians in the bazaar to safety. Marines controled the scene to prevent an insurgent from detonating the device on them as they called back to the combat operations center for explosive ordinance disposal teams. An EOD team reached their position and dismantled the device.
The enemy attacked the patrol with small arms fire from multiple insurgents. Hodge split up the teams as they took cover and began maneuvering against the enemy.
With his squad operating in multiple elements, maneuvering around the town, communication was paramount to the safety of the Marines and success of the mission.
“The mission went really well today we had a lot of communication,” said Cpl. Nicholas D. Pelusio, one of the team leaders for 1st Platoon. “Everyone was moving together and communicating while maintaining their sector of fire.
“The communication within small-unit leadership is important because the fire-team leaders can maneuver their four guys and the squad leader doesn’t have 16 guys he has to put in place,” said Pelusio, from Las Vegas.
Hodge, a 2005 graduate of Lemoore High School, called in air medical evacuations for the wounded in action and then pushed the rest of the fire teams back through the village to finish the mission. Once the Marines cleared the buildings used by the enemy, Hodge set up 360-degree security for the key leader engagement.
The squad was delayed by the small-arms fire, so they missed the original time set up for the meeting with the village elder. U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Charles A. Poulton, the platoon commander of 1st Platoon, tasked Hodge with conducting the KLE with the village elder.
“I wasn’t expecting to talk to the elder personally, but I felt fine,” said Hodge, who has had to engage village leaders during his two combat deployments to Iraq with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “It feels comfortable for me to talk to key leaders.”
In the KLE, Hodge learned that the village needed clean water and for the power to be restored. The elder also told him about the need for a medical clinic and a school. The chief of police also emphasized the need for more police, weapons, training and pay for his one other officer. Hodge concluded the short meeting by setting up another KLE for the commanders of Bravo Company to meet with the village leaders later that day.
“Their needs and concerns seemed pretty genuine,” said Hodge. “By showing the elder that respect by not interrupting him and respecting the Middle Eastern culture, I was able to set Bravo Company, and ultimately the Marine Corps, up for success.”
With the mission accomplished, the Marines of 2nd Squad maneuvered south swiftly along the west side of the town remaining vigilant for IEDs. Three hours later, Hodge’s squad found themselves once again within friendly lines huddled around the terrain model conducting their debrief.
“It will be the initiative and leadership our non-commissioned officers in carrying out the commander’s intent, like they did today, that will make Bravo Company successful in Afghanistan,” Poulton said.