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Story by Sgt. Michele Watson

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines with Support Company, 9th Engineer  Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) worked tirelessly toward  the completion of a 12 kilometer stretch of road.
A road was already in  place, but during several severe rainstorms the route was damaged and in  desperate need of repair.
“After receiving approval to reconstruct the  road, we had to figure out the amount of fuel, equipment and manpower needed to  accomplish the mission,” said Gunnery Sergeant Joel Williams, heavy equipment  chief, Heavy Equipment Platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd).
To  construct a road that can withstand heavy rains, heavy equipment operators used  heavy equipment for a multi-step system. The process created a smooth path  similar to roads in America.
First, the Marines used a front loader to  load up the dump trucks with gravel. The dump trucks then dropped the gravel  onto the road. A road grader, which is used to shape the road, leveled out the  surface and also made the V-ditches on the side. After the road was shaped, a  water truck wet the rock and soil. Once that dried, heavy equipment operators  used a compactor to pack the building materials together. This process results  in a fast, convenient route of travel.
“While I am in the compactor, my  job is to make sure the road is heavily compressed,” said Lance Cpl. Yanet  Sierra Trejo, a heavy equipment operator with Heavy Equipment platoon, Support  Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd). “When I am in the [front loader], I have to make  sure I put enough gravel in the dump to lay out on the road.”
Although  asphalt is not used to create a black top surface like highways in America, when  using the adapted road, the difference is hard to notice.
“You can feel  how smooth it is when you’re driving on the road,” said Williams. “It’s just  like driving on a road back home.”
To counter the effects of water  damage, the Marines built V-ditches on both sides of the road for rain to drain  into. The road was also built with a small crown.
“Instead of having a  flat road, we leave a three to five percent grade crown in the road, so the  water goes into the V-ditches during rainfall,” said Cpl. Joshua Reynolds, a  heavy equipment operator, Heavy Equipment Platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG  (Fwd).
Road construction always requires the skill of heavy equipment  operators, but more was required to accomplish this mission due to the threat of  insurgent activity.
“Being in Afghanistan we also have to determine how  much security is needed,” said Williams.
During the project, a security  team was established to protect the Marines working on the road.
“Before  the heavy equipment operators begin their work, we clear the area using  mine-rollers to proof the area for [improvised explosive devices],” said Cpl.  Jared Hilton, security team leader, 2nd squad, Security Platoon, Support Co.,  9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd). “Once it’s cleared, the operators can move freely.”
Multiple irrigation trenches and canals create opportunities for enemy  fighters to maneuver and place improvised explosive devices, but added security  diminishes the threat.
“Insurgents use the areas we can’t see, like  wadis, to move around,” said Hilton. “We post security and keep eyes on all  avenues of approach, so the heavy equipment operators can work through the day  and focus on their task.”
With the completion of the road, military  vehicles as well as local civilians have a faster and safer method of  travel.
“The road will allow freedom of movement without worrying about  damaging mine-roller wheels or the vehicle itself,” said Williams.
Hilton  also discussed the benefit of lessened IED threats.
“Because we add so  many rocks, the road is harder, and it’s more difficult to dig holes to plant  IEDs in,” said Hilton.
The Marines of Support Company worked well  together, and their dedication to the mission brought safety to both military  and civilian vehicles and garnered the appreciation of the locals.
“I  think these Marines are some of the best I have ever worked with,” said  Williams. “They have the ability to deliver and make it happen. They are all  positive, so it makes for good end results.”
Hilton also said the efforts  of both security and construction go hand in hand.
“We definitely work as  one team,” said Hilton.”We all know each other’s jobs and responsibilities, and  it helps to make the mission run smooth.”

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Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class  Monique LaRouche

FORWARDING OPERATING BASE EDINBURGH, Afghanistan – The Shock Trauma Platoon and  Forward Resuscitative Surgical Systems from Bravo Company, 1st Medical  Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) on Forwarding Operating Base  Edinburgh, Afghanistan, are more than just in the fight, they save the lives of  the combat wounded any time of the day.
The STP is the smallest mobile  medical support element of a medical battalion. They provide assistance to  Regional Command Southwest including collecting, clearing and evacuating  casualties. They provide resuscitative treatment care and temporary holding of  casualties.
The 38 member team works around the clock and is equipped  for medical evacuation emergencies. The team consists of enlisted and officer,  doctors, nurses, surgeons, corpsmen, anesthesiologists and Marine security.
The basic medical center consists of an emergency room, two operating rooms,  a lab and X-ray capability. The patients arrive via helicopter with a medical  evacuation team from the battlefield.
The combat casualties consist of  anything from gunshot wounds, scorpion bites, electrocutions and fragmentation  from improvised explosive devices to anything else, said Lt. Cmdr. John Moore,  officer in charge of the STP/FRSS.
Their mission is to provide medical  care to troops in northern Helmand province, said Moore, a native of Memphis,  Tenn.
In the remote location of FOB Edinburgh, the team provides  surgical level care, damage control and care to trauma casualties including  amputations if necessary. Since the STP is mobile, they are completely  operational anywhere in the world, added Moore.
“Everyone has their  responsibilities,” said Moore about their role on the team.
After  lifesaving combat skills are given on the ground, Dedicated Unhesitating Service  To Our Fighting Forces, or DUSTOFF, gives medical care in the air, and  transports the rescued wounded to the STP/FRSS.
“The care given consists  of cleaning all wounds, stopping massive bleeding, splinting all types of  fractures, securing the airways and managing and controlling massive trauma to  include blast injury and multiple amputees, gunshot wounds and basic head  trauma,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Wright, a field medical corpsman at  FOB Edinburgh, and a native of Loomis, Calif.
After the patient is  stabilized, the patient is then moved via airlift to resuscitative care. If the  patient is stable enough, the medical helicopters will fly the patient directly  to a Role III hospital, said Wright.
The blood bank, a vital part of the  STP, receives blood from the United States for blood transfusions. They have a  walk-in blood bank which is open to anyone interested in donating blood, said  medical lab technician, Petty Officer 2nd Class Melisa McCannell.
“We  have not gotten so low in our inventory that we have had to take whole blood,” said McCannell, a native of Hallowell, Maine. McCannell is deployed to  Afghanistan for her third time and is enjoying FOB Edinburgh.
“We have  to have a step between the battlefield and the hospital,” said McCannell. “There  are patients who come through here, and if they were to go straight to (Camp)  Leatherneck, there may not have been enough time.”
“We have donors, like  the Army and the Marines, who work here. We have them all come in and get  prescreened. We draw blood from them, take samples and the results take about a  month,” said McCannell. “In case of an emergency, like a mass causality, we can  take blood from those patients and we know it is safe.”
Most patients who  are seen at the STP are lower extremity amputations, said Petty Officer 1st  Class Richard McFarland, surgical technician and the leading petty officer.
The vast majority of what they see are IED blasts and 95 percent are  Afghans, said McFarland, a native of Monterey, Calif., on his second tour to  Afghanistan.
The STP/FRSS treats everyone from Marines, Afghan National  Army, Afghan Police, local nationals, children and even on some occasions,  insurgents.
“All patients are treated equally,” said Moore.
Because the STP staff members experience trauma firsthand, taking care of  themselves is detrimental to their well being. Their first day on the job, the  new team treated nine patients who came through the door and two were dead on  arrival, said McFarland.
Most of the members are gaining experience with  new types of injuries they have never witnessed previously including amputees  and IED blasts to small children, said McFarland.
Although their training  is specific, nothing can really prepare them for what they will see in a war  zone. Most of the crew is not used to experiencing traumas such as gunshot  wounds or amputees in the United States, but it is common out here, said  McFarland.
Doing physical exercise in this environment is vital to  maintaining balance, said McFarland.
“It is a good outlet to blow off  steam. Some of them are seeing things they have never seen before,” he said.
Along with physical exercise, the combat stress team is used for extra  support to help the teams with any questions or concerns they may have  concerning their own mental health.
The combat stress team from RC (SW)  located at Camp Leatherneck visits FOB Edinburgh and takes care of anyone who  needs help with combat stress, said Seaman Connor Rezac, a patient care  provider.
“Observing and keeping an eye out for any warning signs,” said  Rezac, a native of Gilbert, Ariz. “Combat stress affects anyone, no matter where  you are.”
Post traumatic stress disorder is a natural reaction to an  unnatural event.
“There are people who see a lot of horrible things,” said Rezac. “We want to make our presence known, that we are there for them. If  we need to come out and visit, wherever you are, we have someone on call 24  hours a day, every day. In any case of emergency, there is always someone there.  We want to spread out support as far as we can go because not everyone can make  it to the clinic.”
Keeping members in the fight and at full speed is one  of the main objectives of the combat stress team, said Lt. Brian Foley, a  psychiatrist for the team.
Foley explained that his job is rewarding,  seeing guys get better and getting back into the fight. Some of the ways the  combat stress team helps is by doing simple interventions like relaxation  techniques, deep breathing and some simple medications.
“The bulk of the  service members out here seem motivated to get back into the fight, so it is  encouraging to see them a couple times and help them through their problems and  they move forward,” Foley said.
The combat stress team at Camp  Leatherneck has a 98 percent return rate.
A huge piece of mental health  is the environment and command structure, explained Foley, a native of Mentor,  Ohio. Some branches of services are seen more than others, and the Marines have  a high success with morale.
He said he sees success in units that have  good unit cohesion and good leadership. Units that have high morale and work  together as a team are seen less at the combat stress clinics.
Most of  the issues Foley and his team face will be back in the rear, when the troops are  home. His experience of knowing what the environment is like will be helpful to  those who were here, he said. “Having been here makes you more credible,” said Foley.
Polishing his skills and using different types of therapies  will be beneficial to those he will help stateside.
Although the STP/FRSS  and DUSTOFF appreciate their time to reset, when the call for help comes in on  the radio and the bell rings, both crews come together seamlessly.
The  staff at the STP are grateful to DUSTOFF, they would not be able to do their job  without them, said McFarland.
DUSTOFF would not be able to do their job  without the STP either. They work hand in hand and neither crew will take credit  for the other, for they know they would be lost in the fight without the  teamwork.
“We cannot do our mission without the STP,” said Sgt. Troy  Hayes, a flight medic with the Army National Guard.
There is a paradox in  his job, explained Hayes, a flight paramedic for the Arizona State Police. “When  we go do our job, somebody is having a bad day,” said Hayes, a native of Tucson,  Ariz.
Their jobs are emotional, but all members of the crew must be  onboard.
Since DUSTOFF is a major part of getting the wounded out of the  battlespace, off the ground and into the air during the golden hour, they must  be on their game 100 percent of the time.
The crew of 22, which consists  of pilots, medics, nurses and helicopter maintainers, who are all from the Army  National Guard from New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota, is spot on and have  become family.
DUSTOFF faces many challenges in the air and on the  ground. They live up to their name and carry the proud tradition of ‘Until I  have your wounded.’
“The risk is worth the reward,” said Sgt. Zachary  Menzie, a flight medic for DUSTOFF and a native of Albuquerque, N.M.
Sometimes they cannot save all of their casualties and combat death is the  hardest part, explained Hayes.
“It is really painful,” said Hayes. “Getting them some place to be taken care of.”
Although the job can be  tough, STP and DUSTOFF members know this is their job and take the challenge of  the mission. They know the Marines are out there fighting for freedom and will  be there for them no matter what.

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Story and photos by Master Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mehringer

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Everybody likes payday.

Walking around with bundles of cash is a dream for many but for two Marines working in the Afghan National Security Force Development Team for Regional Command Southwest — it’s just another day on the frontlines of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for Capt. Chad Lowry and Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, the cash they are carrying today is not from their personal bank accounts but will be used to pay new members of the Afghan Local Police.

The Afghan Local Police are a part-time police force made up of civilians from local villages much like reserve law enforcement officials in the United States. They receive uniforms and on-the-job training while waiting for their formal training to begin. It takes approximately 60 days for the Afghan government to start the automated pay process under the Ministry of Interior. Lowry and Stephens travel throughout Helmand province ensuring the new policemen are paid during the transitionary period.

Near the Landing Zone at Forward Operating Base Rahim, in the Nahr-e-Saraj District, 28 local policemen anxiously await the arrival of the pay masters who have already visited and paid local policemen at several coalition bases. This is the third stop of the trip.

“We expect to be able to bring Forward Operating Base Rahim and Patrol Base Two ALP units up to one-hundred percent pay,” said Stephens, pay agent for the ALP, earlier in the day.

There are no celebrities on this visit to FOB Rahim, but clearly to the local policemen who are patiently waiting, these two Marines maintain a “rock star” status and were treated like distinguished visitors.

Lowry, from Ormond Beach, Fla. and Stephens, from Dallas, have been visiting bases in Helmand province for several months now and know the systematic process for paying the new ALP extremely well. In return, ALP members know them and are delighted every time Stephens and Lowry appear because it means they will soon have money in their pockets and the ability to provide for their families.

“Team Rahim” as the local police unit is known, is lead by a veteran of the Afghan National Army who returned to his village to be closer to his family. “Rhamatooli,” as he is referred to by Stephens and Lowry, is a dedicated leader who has experienced the horrors of front-line fighting.

While a member of the ALP Rhamatooli was blown up several months ago after stepping on a roadside bomb (improvised explosive device) and lost the lower part of his left leg, said Stephens who has developed a special relationship with the leader who is now on crutches.

The lack of mobility has not slowed Rhamatooli from training and directing his cadre of local policemen.

There were “lots of problems at one time from the Taliban” but now “locals start to believe in us and we have safety,” said Rhamatooli. “This is my job, my country, my village.”

Afghan Local Police forces continue to grow, gain maturity in Helmand province and have become an added part of security for population centers.

Previously in the day, Lowry and Stephens stopped at Patrol Base Two in the heart of Helmand province, when they were escorted to the Pan Kalay Police Station to meet and pay two additional local police teams. Coordinating this event was British Army Capt. Giles Walsh who is an infantry officer with the 1st Battalion Princess of Wale’s Royal Regiment. Walsh, part of the police mentoring advisory group who trains local police units, is on his second tour in Afghanistan and said there has been a huge difference between the tours in 2008 and 2012.

“I was in Musa ‘Qala during the winter of 2008 — entire villages were abandoned due to the fighting,” he said. “Now, the security bubble has expanded and all of the security forces support each other, they are intrinsically tied,” he said.

Travelling around and paying the ALP has been a rewarding experience for Lowry and Stephens.

“We have developed trust over time,” said Stephens. “If you want them to be your ally you have to be their ally.”

“We have a positive rapport,” added Lowry, Afghan Local Police Coordinator for Regional Command Southwest.

Pay rosters are checked, validated and rechecked to ensure the right person is getting paid but there is always room for something to go wrong. Today is no exception

Shortly after arriving at FOB Rahim, Lowry, an aviation supply officer by trade nearing the end of his eight-month tour in Afghanistan, spends nearly 45 minutes explaining the pay process to Rhamatooli and the majority of his policemen who are currently not on duty.

Lowry does his best to explain the importance of the rosters which were submitted several weeks ago. The discrepancy is the rosters do not include several new policemen who will have to wait and get paid at a later date, according to Lowry, when they will be properly identified and validated. Lowry remains calm during the process, showing a true concern while practicing his statesmanship and eventually the concern subsides and all parties understand there are additional steps to take in order to pay the new policemen which will occur in the near future.

Controlling emotions during these semi-tense situations is something Lowry has grown accustomed to.

“The secret to success here is to remain comfortable even when the situation is uncomfortable,” said Lowry.

Once the pay process starts it is seamless and takes just a few minutes to pay the entire team. Stephens is in control of distributing the money while Lowry provides an extra set of eyes to ensure each transaction is accurate and finalized with a signature or a finger print for proof of payout.

“This was smoother than normal,” said Stephens.

Smiles and laughter are evident minutes after the process finished. While some recount their money, others light a cigarette and discuss how they will spend it.

“They’re just trying to survive like everyone else,” said Lowry. “They just want to live peacefully.”

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Helmand Provincial Governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal presented graduation certificates to about 100 governmental staff and 120 young people who finished a week-long journalism workshop March 3.

Held in Lashkar Gah, the workshop was a collaborative effort between the Helmand Governor Media Office and the Gorbat Radio TV Network, based in Kabul.

Participants were trained in journalism theory and engaged with news writing and producing video on current issues in order to give them taste of real-world experience.

“Even though learning an entire profession is not possible during a six-day workshop, a new way studying the news and looking at the world was opened to the participants of the workshop,” said Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, director of the Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Liwal urged workshop attendees to continue to pursue their interests in journalistic fields and get as much experience as possible in those fields.

“The Journalism Training Workshop was first of its kind during the last ten years,” said Mangal, adding that including journalists in the workshop strengthened students’ knowledge building in the public affairs arena.

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Story and photos by Cpl. Meredith Brown

CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – Some days it is better to be lucky than good.

For Sgt. Jacob P., a Danish tank commander with Jutland Dragoon Regiment, luck was definitely on his side on two separate occasions in January.

On Jan. 5, Jacob was manning the turret in his Leopard 2 tank while providing overwatch during Operation Shamali Kamarband when he came under enemy fire. Jacob was shot in his right shoulder and fell down inside his tank. He immediately came back up after looking through his optics and located the enemy, engaged him and killed him by returning fire with his machine gun.

Following the firefight, the Holstebro, Denmark native had to be medically evacuated to Bastion Role 3 Hospital, adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, for treatment.

During his stay, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general Regional Command (Southwest), was making his routine visits through the hospital when he came across the soldier. He came back to his office and told Sgt. Maj. Michael F. Jones, sergeant major RC (SW), he needed to go visit him. During his visit, Jacob clearly recalled his story to Jones.

Then on Jan. 22 during a battle circulation tour, Toolan and Jones visited a Danish task force, operating out of Forward Operating Base Price, to say farewell, congratulate them on their many achievements and the accomplishments in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.

“At that time, the commander pointed out Jacob to the [commanding general] and we had him come up and do a photo session,” said Jones. The (commanding general) got inside the tank and Jacob showed him several technical aspects of the tank.”

It was just 10 days later that Toolan and Jones once again found themselves in the Bastion Role 3 Hospital visiting Jacob.

While talking with Toolan, Jacob recalled the events surrounding his second medical evacuation in a month.

Jacob and his crew were out on a patrol showing the incoming officer-in-charge the lay of the land.

They were South of Route 611, the main road between Sangin and Kajaki districts, when Jacob noticed something was wrong with one of the tracks on his tank. He stopped the convoy and got out to inspect the track. He noticed that a portion of the track was offset, so he got a hammer and started hitting the track to put it back into place, making the tank more mobile so they could continue their mission.

It was then Jacob had a feeling that someone was watching him. He looked back over his shoulder and saw somebody approximately 500 meters away. The man proceeded to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the tank. The RPG fell short as Jacob dived for protection as far from the tank as possible. He came up unscathed and began inspecting the tank for damage.

After inspecting the tank and deeming it okay, he made an attempt to return to the tank when he was shot in the right shoulder by a sniper. He immediately began yelling to his crew with instructions on the location of the enemy so that they could engage the insurgent.

With sniper fire hitting the ground all around him Jacob made another attempt to return to his tank. It was then he was shot in his left thigh. Once again he was forced to seek cover.

When he thought he could make it to the tank, he tried again. As he was crawling into the tank another round from the sniper shot him in his left leg.

Despite the fact that he had just been shot three times, Jacob instructed his crew from inside the tank on the location of the insurgent. They fired a 120mm round that fell short. However, the second round was a direct hit in the insurgent’s abdomen.

Jacob contributes his success and health to his crew of 12 years.

As they headed back to the nearest patrol base, the gunner and loader began to render medical care to Jacob. They cut off his clothes, assessed the wounds and began to bandage them.

The loader plugged the wound in his shoulder with his finger to stop the bleeding.

After the convoy arrived at PB Clifton, Jacob was waiting for the medical evacuation, when the Taliban released the name of the sniper they had lost.

A British commander came up to Jacob and thanked him for killing the sniper. The sniper had killed five of his men.

“I’m so happy I took the guy out, it really meant a lot to me,” said Jacob.

“It meant a lot to you last time too,” Toolan chuckled in response. “You’re not only going to go down in Danish lore, but you’re going to go down in USMC lore.”

“He was humble,” recalled Jones. “Like we read about when people have done great deeds on the battlefield. Even to the point of almost ducking his head and lowering his eyes to say ‘I did what anyone else would have done in those circumstances.’”

“I thought that was so profound for me to see this man had been injured twice, on two separate occasions on the battlefield, pretty extensively, conducted himself the way he did, it was pretty humbling,” said Jones.

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Story by Spc. Chelsea Russell

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan –- Behind the desk of British Royal Navy Capt. Stuart Borland, deputy chief of stability operations for Regional Command (Southwest), is an oversized portrait of George Washington. As a native of Portsmouth, England, Borland said his passion for American history and its founding father is sometimes viewed as an oddity by his fellow countrymen.

Ever since he volunteered to participate in the Navy’s Personnel Exchange Program 19 years ago, Borland’s military career has been closely interwoven with America and its history. As part of the exchange program, a U.S. Navy officer is sent to work with the Royal navy in the United Kingdom while an officer from the Royal navy is sent to work with the U.S. Navy. Borland also served with U.S. forces during a tour in Iraq.

Between 1993 and 1996 Borland was based in Dahlgren, Va.

Soon after he arrived in Virginia, Borland discovered the local scout troop at Dahlgren Naval Base was in need of a troop leader. Since he had been a Boy Scout in his youth, Borland volunteered for the job. It was during this time he met Andrew Ericson, who was seven or eight years old at the time.

He paused, his lips curving into a smile, as he recalled one of his favorite memories of Ericson as a boy.

Growing up, the Ericson family had a black labrador who wouldn’t stop barking. In order to prevent the dog from annoying their neighbors they purchased an anti-bark collar. Naturally, the young Boy Scout was curious as to how well the shock collar worked.

“Andy decided to try it out,” said Borland. “He put the collar on and shouted.”

Marines are known for their dauntless courage and willingness to try anything no matter how reckless it may seem to others. It was at that exact moment Borland knew Ericson was meant to be a Marine.

“I heard him screaming, which of course made the collar go off even more and he ended up with burns on his neck,” Borland explained, laughing. “If that doesn’t make a U.S. Marine, I don’t know what is.”

Years passed.

Borland lost touch with Ericson when he returned to England. Then, on Jan. 8, 2012, Borland received an e-mail from an unknown address. It was Ericson.

It was the military e-mail database that offered the connection the two long-lost friends needed to reunite.

“He spotted my name and I spotted his name,” said Borland. “So, he sent me an email saying, I think I’m your next-door neighbor. I swapped an e-mail with him and the 8-year-old scout, American scout, is now a 2nd Lieutenant [in the] Marine [Corps].”

Ericson, a Power Plants officer with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 in Yuma, Ariz., is now a U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant. He said his experiences as a Boy Scout gave him the groundwork for enjoying time outdoors and being accountable for his actions.

“Scouting gives you a sense of responsibility,” said Ericson. “You go through different leadership roles while you’re in, which in turn could help you prepare for some of the military stuff.”

Ericson said he was excited when he received an answering e-mail from Borland.

“I knew my parents had kept in touch with him a little bit, but I hadn’t talked to him in years,” he said.

As he reminisced about the past, Borland said he learned a lot from his experiences as a troop leader during his time in Virginia.

One of the trips Borland vividly remembers from his time as a troop leader in the U.S. was when he took his scouts to Mount Vernon. They had decided to honor George Washington’s birthday by taking a wreath to his Tomb. Borland called ahead and managed to do even better. He initially thought they would just have to leave their wreath at the gate, but a lady came with a guard and opened the gate.

The troops filed inside and formed a big circle. After a moment of solemn silence they took the wreath and laid it atop Washington’s tomb. The lady who had let them in then suggested they lead off with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Borland paused a moment before admitting he didn’t know the words.

“I told her that was going to be a bit difficult for me because I really don’t know the national anthem,” he explained. “She said, what do you mean? I replied, I’m British.”

As Borland prepares to leave Afghanistan this upcoming month after a yearlong deployment, he said he has enjoyed the opportunity to once again work with Americans because he feels everyone gains something valuable from the experience.

“Brits look at things slightly differently from Americans and I think the Americans like the British look on things,” he explained. “It broadens out the analysis.”

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Story and photos by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

GARMSIR, Afghanistan – During the late afternoon hours of Jan. 30, Marines with Bridge Platoon, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), were working hard to take apart a medium girder bridge in the rural district of Garmsir, Helmand province. During the disassembly, part of the bridge inadvertently gave way and landed on a Marine’s leg, sending him to the ground, writhing in pain.

“Doc! Doc! Doc! Doc, get up here now!”

Sprinting on to the scene with his medical bag on his back was the corpsman for Bridge Platoon, Petty Officer Third Class Michael Soto. Though he didn’t know exactly what was going on, he ran to where Marines were gathering around a body lying on the ground. Soto knelt down next to the injured Marine and began to determine the extent to which his leg was damaged. His hands trembled slightly as he used his scissors to cut the Marine’s pants so the injury could be exposed.

“I told myself just to relax a little bit,” said Soto. “I was shaking a little. Not because I was scared. I was just kind of hyped up like, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Like this is my time. I get to finally do something. It was exciting in a way.”

Once he determined the Marine had suffered a closed fracture, Soto grabbed some splints out of his medical bag. After setting the Marine’s leg, giving him some medicine to dull the pain and taking his vitals, Soto began joking with his patient.

“Oh man, now you’re going to be on light duty for the rest of the deployment,” chuckled Soto. “You’re going to be our new clerk.”

During this time, the commander of Bridge Platoon had coordinated a medical evacuation. Less than 30 minutes later, a Black Hawk helicopter landed in a field next to the bridge site. The injured Marine was placed on a litter and carried by his fellow Marines toward the air ambulance with Soto out in front leading the way.

“That was almost a textbook medevac,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Glory, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of Bridge Platoon and a veteran of two deployments to Iraq. “The way Doc Soto took care of everything and really controlled the site. He handled his business. He did his job extremely well.”

The 21-year-old Soto has come a long way in his three years since joining the Navy. Growing up in Lake Villa, Ill., (a mere 17 miles away from Naval Station Great Lakes) the self-admitted partier never took anything too seriously. Now he is entrusted with rendering emergency medical treatment to Marines on the frontlines of Afghanistan.

After graduating from Grayslake North High School in 2008, where he played defensive back for the football team, Soto was looking to get out of Lake Villa. He had received acceptance letters from several different colleges including Northern Illinois University, but he had no desire to go back to school. Soto wanted to get a job and get out of the house as soon as possible.

Soto decided to join the military. Much of Soto’s family has served in the armed forces. His father, Antonio, had spent 22 years in the Navy as a sonar technician. For much of Soto’s childhood, his father was aboard a ship at some remote location around the world.

“I saw what the Navy did for my dad,” said Soto. “The stories he’d tell me and the pictures he’d show me … I definitely wanted to do something like that too.”

At first, Soto wanted to join the Marine Corps, but his father, being a career sailor, was not going to allow that. Antonio suggested to his son that he become a Navy Corpsman, who functions as the primary medical caregiver to Marines on the battlefield.

“You’re kind of like a Marine in a way,” Soto was told by his father. “You’ll be treated differently because you’re a sailor, but you’re going to learn a bunch of medical stuff.”

Soto was sold on the idea. After graduating from boot camp and going through hospital corpsman school, he got his first taste of what life is like in a Marine unit when he went through Field Medical Training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“A lot of guys are like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad,’ but it was pretty hard for me,” said Soto. “The [hikes] and stuff…I did it all. I never want to go back again.

“I learned a lot though. It definitely opened up another side of the corpsman rating. I was thinking it was all in the hospital and then I was exposed to actual tactical care in the field on the ground. You go on field [operations] for like 5 to 7 days. You eat [Meals Ready to Eat], you sleep outside and they teach you how to take care of your feet.”

Once that pillar of training was completed, Soto received orders to Camp Hansen in Okinawa, Japan. After working in a clinic at a different command, he was transferred to 9th Engineer Support Battalion.

In the months leading up to their current deployment to Afghanistan, Soto was busy training alongside the Marines and getting them medically ready. During this time, he found out that the Marines like to poke fun at each other and especially any sailors that are within their ranks.

“He’s too soft so I try to harden him up,” jokes Lance Cpl. Jesus Penagraves, a combat engineer in 9th ESB and a native of Houston. “I try to make him feel like a Marine. Thick skin – he needs it.”

In order to fit in, Soto, who is naturally cheerful and outgoing, had to embrace the unique culture he was placed in.

“Everyone talks trash to each other,” said Soto. “You just kind of take it. I just got used to it. It’s kind of a bond. I started talking trash back. I became one of them.”

Now, three months into the deployment, “Doc” Soto is just one of the guys. He has made many friends throughout the platoon, who he says help him get through every day. In addition to prescribing aspirin, patching up small cuts and pulling splinters from the fingers of Marines, Soto frequently tries to help out with the labor-intensive work his friends are engaged in when they are building bridges.

Glory often chases Soto off of the building site out of fear of him possibly getting injured.

“There are a lot of times he tries to get involved and help the Marines out because he’s created that camaraderie,” said Glory, a native of Tulsa, Okla. “That’s just Doc Soto. But I hold him back because if he gets hurt we’re kind of done.”

At the time of the accident, Soto had taken a break from walking around checking on his Marines and decided to sit down to read a few pages of “Starship Troopers.” Not long after sitting down, he heard the call for help. Without hesitation, the 5-foot-7inch, 140-pound sailor sprinted to the bridge site in only a few seconds.

First Lt. Matt Paluta, the commander of Bridge Platoon, 9th ESB, believes that Soto’s actions have given the Marines peace of mind for the rest of the deployment.

“It wasn’t a major injury, but [Soto] definitely proved his worth,” said Paluta, a native of Cincinnati. “It’s one of those things when Marines see that, they see their doc performing that well under pressure, it breeds confidence. Hey, doc’s got our back – he knows his stuff. Their minds won’t be distracted as much now. Every bridge build, every convoy, hey Doc Soto’s around. We know he can do it.”

Not only do the Marines now have confidence in Soto, but he also has more confidence in himself and his fellow Marines.

“I’m happy it happened while we weren’t being shot at,” said Soto. “It helped me out a lot today because I actually got to see the picture. I got to see how everything worked. The [radio operator] already knew what to do, Lieutenant [Paluta] was already talking to the command. It was just awesome how everything worked. It was so smooth. Now I know all I really have to do is just focus on my job.”