Posts Tagged ‘Camp Leatherneck’

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Story by Sgt. James Mercure

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WHITEHOUSE, Afghanistan – If a Marine gets injured in  combat, the response by those he serves with is immediate.  If a Marine has  problems handling operational stress, they are there for him just as quickly.
To help Marines identify the stages of operational stress, the  Operational Stress Control and Readiness program is taught to all infantry  battalions across the Marine Corps. Keeping with a long-standing tradition of  small unit leadership, the OSCAR program teaches leaders at all levels how to  get their Marines the help they may need.
“The OSCAR program is an  effective tool we use to help our own,” said 1st Sgt. James Robertson, OSCAR  instructor and Weapons Company 1st sergeant, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment,  and Nicholasville, Ky., native. “It teaches all Marines not to just stand by and  watch a Marine struggle. You may be a lance corporal and he may be a sergeant,  but you should still step up and talk to him if you see a change.”
The  OSCAR program has a four-tier color system that helps quickly identify Marines  who need a hand.
“If a Marine is in the green zone, he is good to go. If  he is in the yellow, something is bothering him and someone should talk to him,” Robertson said. “If the Marine is in the orange or red zone he needs assistance.  The goal is to not let that Marine have a chance to slip into the orange or red  zones. The goal is to let him know you’re there for him when a problem surfaces  and get him the help he needs.”
The ultimate goal of the OSCAR program is  to keep Marines and sailors healthy and in the fight through prevention, early  identification and intervention with stress-related problems, outlined in Marine  Administrative Messages 667/09 and 597/11.
“’No Marine left behind’ doesn’t just apply to the battlefield,” said Navy Lt. Keith Russell, Command  Chaplain for 1st Bn., 8th Marines, and Kansas City, Mo., native. “Sometimes you  have to help pull a Marine off his own battlefield and get him the medical or  spiritual help or a combination thereof. But, sometimes it’s just about noticing  a change in the Marine’s behavior and asking what’s going on.”
To  complement the OSCAR program, the Marines and sailors of 1st Bn., 8th Marines,   have refresher courses throughout their deployment and long after to keep  operational stress control identification and response as an important part of  the warrior culture.
“We have warrior transition briefs at the end of the  deployment and every 30 days after the battalion returns home to keep  reiterating to be personally aware for your family and friends you serve with  and get help for you or them if it’s needed,” Russell said.


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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 and photos by Sgt. Laura Bonano

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Nineteen Afghan soldiers and police graduated from the basic generator operator and maintenance course taught at the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, Feb. 20.

The eight-day course teaches the skills necessary to run and maintain generators used to power military and security operations. Marine instructors as well as Afghan instructors lead the class in a joint effort.

Lance Cpl. Elbridge Barnard, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., is an instructor at Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest and said even though the class is short, it is jam packed with information. The students are taught how to do preliminary checks on the generators as well as how to fix problems caused from pulled wires or other defects in the systems.

Part of Barnard’s job is to purposely disable the generator and question the students on how to fix it.

“Most of these guys are mechanically inclined and they have a desire to learn,” said Barnard. “I like sharing the knowledge that I have and I’m proud of the students.”

Mohammad Ismail, with the 444 Special Forces unit of the Afghan National Army, was the first student to receive his graduation certificate. He was also the class honor graduate.

A native of Kabul, Afghanistan, Ismail said his father and brother were mechanics and he credits that to his success in the course. He said if the students study hard and learn, they can contribute their newfound abilities to Afghanistan as a country.

“The class is very important to the students and especially to the ANA,” said Ismail. “It will be extremely important not only for now, but for the future as well.”

Ismail plans to return home to teach his fellow Afghans the skills he has learned. He said the responsibility on his shoulders is large but in order for Afghans to play a bigger role in the future of Afghanistan, he must bear the load.

Ismail will return to Kabul with a graduation gift containing an extensive set of mechanic’s tools. The gift was given to Ismail during the ceremony. It will help him accomplish the goal of passing on his experiences from the class with other Afghans when he returns home.

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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.”

Story and photos by Cpl. Meredith Brown

Camp Leatherneck is considered a “home away from home” for the more than 19,000 U.S., coalition and civilian workforce on base. Deliveries are constantly made to support the personnel living on Camp Leatherneck.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Over the last two years, Camp Leatherneck, located in Helmand province, has dramatically evolved. When Marines and their Navy counterparts first started building the base it was a mere 400 acres. Now, at more than 1,600 acres, the base serves as the main hub for all units operating within Regional Command Southwest’s Helmand and Nimroz provinces.

Departing and arriving units complete their turnovers and sustainment training at Camp Leatherneck before heading out to the different forward operating and patrol bases, as well as combat outposts within RC(SW).

Camp Leatherneck is one of the largest Marine forward operating bases in history. The camp regularly services more than 19,000 U.S., coalition troops and civilian personnel, said Gunnery Sgt. Peter McCollough, the base operations chief and a native of Miami. The base began being built up under the command of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan in early 2009, and has continued evolving, he explained.

Constructionman Jason Thomas Grob, a builder with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, and native of Omaha, Neb., hammers together forms in preparation for additional concrete to be poured and added to the K Span. The Seabees from NMCB-4 have been hard at work building a facility to house their heavy machinery, helping to improve the overall function of Camp Leatherneck.

The camp serves as the headquarters for Task Forces Belleau Wood, Helmand and Leatherneck, and has a robust command and control aspect, he added.

Additionally, U.S. and coalition forces operate on neighboring base, Camp Bastion. The joint forces work together to run the airfield and hospital, which are both located on Camp Bastion.
With more than 3,000 facilities on base, Camp Leatherneck can now easily be described as a self-sustained city, with the closest comparison being to Al Asad, Iraq. They both have served as regional headquarters with large airfields and command and control centers located on them. It is the constant moving parts of Camp Leatherneck that make operating smoothly a continuous task.

Marines at the Camp Commandant’s office work to ensure the necessary duties are completed each day.

McCollough and his team of 21 Marines are responsible for the dozens of tasks involved in keeping the base functioning. Everything from laundry and waste water removal to the delivery of non-potable water is completed each day.

With them making sure everything on base is running smoothly, Camp Leatherneck continues to evolve to meet the war fighter’s needs.

“We can still expand another four to six hundred acres, but we want to grow systematically,” said Philip Russo, the Camp Leatherneck architect master planner. “We don’t want to grow just because we have the space, we want to grow because there is a reason. Having the foresight and ability to assign units where they go and grow properly, was a big keystone for Leatherneck.”

Russo, a Pittston, Pa., native who now calls Chicago home, arrived at Camp Leatherneck in June 2009 and has since played a lead role in the development and expansion of the base.

“It has been continually changing,” Russo said. “We don’t just operate from a functional perspective, but we account for troops outside the wire. When they come back, they are able to recuperate and get their heads together and live properly.”
Even with the responsibility of building what some may say is similar to a small city in a combat zone, Russo credits most of Camp Leatherneck’s successes to the continuity between the servicemembers and contractors on the base.

“It’s not just one person deciding what happens,” Russo continued. “It’s thousands of people making a difference, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. That is why Leatherneck is the way it is. It’s a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of the right thing.”