Hard-bitten Battalion Heading Home.
[Story and photo by Corporal James Clark, 20 January 2012.]
1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment was split across three distinctly different areas of operation. Charlie Company was in Marjah, reinforcing Marine and Afghan forces operating in the city’s remaining troubled regions. Alpha Company was in Sangin District, where they supported the 3rd and later, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. During Operation Eastern Storm, Headquarters, Bravo and Weapons companies secured route 611, which runs through Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking.
KAJAKI SOFLA, Afghanistan - With three deployments in three years, the men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment were called upon to serve as the tip of the spear for large scale offensive operations across Afghanistan’s contentions Helmand Province.
During months of heavy fighting in Garmsir, Afghanistan in 2008, the men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment put their moniker ‘1/6 HARD,’ to the test and came through the other side, battered, but unbroken.
In 2009, during the helicopter-borne insertion into the Taliban-held city of Marjah, the Marines of 1/6, disembarked tilt-rotor aircraft as vibrant-red tracer rounds zigzagged across the skyline. For weeks they fought their way across muddy fields, amidst accurate small arms and indirect fire, and for several months, waged a deliberate counterinsurgency campaign in order to garner local support for Afghan National Security and Coalition forces.
On their current deployment, the battalion was split across three distinctly different areas of operation, explained Capt. Brandon Turner, operation’s officer, 1/6. Charlie Company returned to Marjah, reinforcing Marine and Afghan forces operating in the city’s remaining troubled regions. Alpha Company moved to the Sangin District, where they supported the 3rd and later, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. During Operation Eastern Storm, Headquarters, Bravo and Weapons companies secured route 611, which runs through Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking.
“Within this [area of operations] itself, just length-wise along route 611, we’re spread out,” Turner said. “Each platoon within a company has a large portion of the [area] and not a lot of interaction with battalion, and even the company itself.
“The platoon commanders, platoon sergeant and squad leaders are left to carry out the battalion commander’s intent, without ever hearing it from his mouth. We really have to trust what we’re hearing over the radio and go back to the basics,” said Turner, adding that each member of the unit, from the top down has been required to follow through with their assigned task, with minimal direction.
Over the course of their last three deployments to Afghanistan, junior personnel within the battalion have taken on more and more responsibilities as their experience with both heavy combat and counterinsurgency doctrine deepens.
“There is an enormous amount of experience our Marines have to offer in this type of environment,” said Sgt. Maj. Larry Harrington, battalion sergeant major, 1/6. “Small units thrive on the wisdom and knowledge of the experienced Marines within their unit. It is amazing the amount of trust we put into our young Marines. One second they’re fighting a four man team of insurgents and then within the next five minutes they’re shaking hands with a town elder. They get it. Although times are not always easy, they get what is going on and what is required of them. I’m so very impressed with what they have accomplished over the last seven months.”
After the heavy fighting of Operation Eastern Storm, the Marines of 1/6 set about building rapport with the civilian populace, supporting Afghan National Security forces, and establishing security across the area. This required the men on the ground to very quickly change their perspective and approach – forcing them to toe that line between peacekeeper and warrior.
“They understand a negative action could result in a negative reaction,” said Harrington. “They have worked extremely hard to mitigate any chance of negative impacts. We have made mistakes, but in the process we have learned from them and we continue to do the right thing to make a positive impact for our Marines and the local populace.”
With the end of their deployment nearing, the Marines look down from their patrol bases built into the dusty brown mountainside, into the valley of Kajaki Sofla, and see an area in a time of renewal. Just a few months ago, an area riddled with improvised explosive devices and pockmarked with insurgent fighting positions now has schools being constructed, roads and irrigation canals being repaired, and a steady stream of traffic running along route 611.