Story and photos by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
PATROL BASE BOLDAK, Afghanistan – The sound of diesel engines fills the morning air at Patrol Base Boldak. Several Marines rush into a large metal storage container used to store food. They grab a handful of packaged muffins, Pop Tarts, energy drinks and bottles of Gatorade and stuff them into backpacks. They then throw on their body armor and climb into armored vehicles. In a few moments they will drive several miles to a nearby village. There, a long day of foot patrols through irrigated fields and dusty farmland awaits them, but for now – breakfast.
Since arriving in Afghanistan in September, Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit based out of New England, have been patrolling throughout the southern portion of the Washir district, Helmand province. This area represents the southern border of Task Force Belleau Wood’s area of operations, which is the battle-space surrounding Camp Leatherneck, the largest coalition base in Helmand province.
The Marines’ mission is to deny insurgents freedom of movement and to provide security for the people living in the surrounding villages. This neighborhood is their beat and they are the cops who walk it, who own it.
The Marines of Weapons Co. are divided into five mobile assault platoons, or “MAPs”. The MAPs consist of roughly 20 Marines each and rotate between quick reaction force duty on Camp Leatherneck and patrolling out of PB Boldak, approximately 7 kilometers to the south.
Today, the patrol consists of several armored vehicles with mine rollers attached to the front designed to detonate any improvised explosive devices without causing major damage to the vehicles or the Marines inside. Near the rear of the column is a 7-ton truck with an open bed. About eight Marines from MAP 4 sit shoulder to shoulder and are able to enjoy a wide open view of the countryside.
They drive on dusty paths cutting through fields scattered with volcanic rocks. During the noisy and bumpy ride, the Marines are showered by sand kicked up by the truck’s tires. The Marines eat their breakfast while discussing the latest rumors spreading through the company.
The most commonly spread rumor is about MAP 1 supposedly taking small arms fire from insurgents on a recent patrol. As the column of vehicles passes by Afghan farmers herding sheep and camels, one Marine rehashes a recent incident where an Afghan farmer hit an IED with his tractor.
When the convoy reaches its destination, the Marines jump down from their vehicles and gather together to coordinate who will be going where. They are joined by the Afghan soldiers partnered with them for the operation.
Once the plan is drawn up, the Marines and their Afghan counterparts are on the move.
Lance Cpl. Cody Hogdahl, a mortarman with MAP 4 and native of Edgecomb, Maine, uses a mine detector to find a safe path for his fellow Marines to follow. John, an explosives detection dog, trots in front of the platoon to find any other IED’s. The Marines become slightly concerned when the dog stops and sniffs around an area in their path. A feeling of relief washes over them as the dog then lifts his hind leg to mark the area, but not for IED’s.
They march through irrigated fields and dusty backroads. It is quiet. The silence is occasionally broken by a farmer using a tractor to till his field or helicopters flying overhead.
The farmers are mostly indifferent to the Marines. Most of them work at a feverish pace, plowing their fields, getting ready to plant crops, which will mainly consist of corn and poppy. Some of them raise their heads, only to acknowledge the Marines’ presence and then return to work. The children are more curious; some of them run out of their compounds to get a better look at the strangers walking through their front lawn.
The leaders of MAP 4, 1st Lt. Ryan Tahbo and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Greenfield, walk up to many of the farmers while they are working to ask them a few friendly questions. With the help of their interpreter, they find out general information as to the comings and goings of the area and what needs the people might have.
“We’ve been trying to familiarize ourselves with that section before we move further,” said Greenfield, the platoon sergeant for MAP 4 and native of Spokane, Wash. “We’re pushing into areas where there has been no coalition presence for a while…at least 20 days.”
At one compound, Greenfield looks through a shed used to house grain and fertilizer for any bomb making material such as ammonium nitrate. Several children stand at the doorway of the compound and quietly watch. Before leaving the compound, 1st Lt. Tahbo, a native of Parker, Ariz., talks with the owner of the compound and gives a handful of candy to the children.
As dusk settles over the rolling farmland, the Marines of MAP 4 return to their vehicles. Nothing substantial or exciting has occurred today, which has been the pattern since Weapons Co. began patrolling through the area. However, they have been using this time to become more and more familiar with the area.
As the New England Marines climb back into the 7-ton truck to return to base, someone inside the cab yells out to Lance Cpl. Michael Mitry, who is sitting in the back.
“Hey Mitry, I think we’re winning the war!”
More photos here.