AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
Within Regimental Combat Team 8 is a family. It’s a mish-mash of brothers from five different battalions fused together through leadership, camaraderie and most importantly; mission success. This platoon is Shepherd Mobile.
This Marine Security Detachment’s main mission is to protect the regimental commanding officer when traveling from base to base throughout the regiment’s area of operations. Their secondary and tertiary missions consist of providing security for other key personnel and providing fixed-site security for the regiment’s command post at Camp Ripper, Iraq.
“It was tough because most of the platoon came from five different battalions with five different SOPs [standard operating procedures] and TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures,” said Staff Sgt. Sid Gonzalez, the RCT-8 MSD platoon sergeant. “I had to figure out some way to mesh it all together.”
Gonzalez started with the basics. Back at Camp Lejeune, he spoke with the unit’s senior sergeant at the time, Sgt. Jeff McCarty, and told him they needed to start fresh. Every morning, Gonzalez ran with his platoon, inspected their rooms and their uniforms. He wanted pride and uniformity
“It started with PT at 0600. It was funny because the first day we ran, it took forever for everyone to catch up. At the end they were smiling but they were broke off,” Gonzalez said.
During their downtime, when they aren’t training or cleaning their weapons, they come together for a baseball game or a cook-out. This form of constant interaction allowed MSD to get to know each other on a more personal level.
“Playing sports allows the corporals and below to relate to the sergeants and above,” said Cpl. Nicholas Stevens, a machine gunner with MSD. “We are able to relate and this helps us trust each other more on missions.”
The platoon has become far more personal since their formation and now they know each other’s families and consider one another friends.
“We have a lot of fun,” Gonzalez said. “We’re like a big group of friends.”
Friendship aside, they are absolute professionals. They all know how to shoot, move and communicate, and can also adapt to an environment where traditional infantry tactics in an urban environment are no longer needed.
“We know what work is and what play is,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Story, a section leader with the MSD. “When it’s all business, we’re in the highest level of professionalism.”
These infantry Marines understand the business of escorting and security. They know that currently, the main effort is to make Iraq a sustainable government and unified country. They know this because it is enforced by their leadership.
“The downtime during this deployment has allowed the small unit leaders to perform guided discussions and hip pocket classes,” Story said.
The hip pocket classes teach weapons and infantry knowledge to the younger Marines who are prepared, but haven’t been in combat.
“It’s not always about how many rounds you put down range, but being prepared to put them down range,” Story explained.
While the operational the tempo in Iraq has slowed, classes, weapons maintenance, platoon functions and missions, keep the MSD busy. Each day holds something new for these Marines. Classes need to be taught, Marines need to know about their upcoming mission, and vehicles need constant maintenance.
“This makes them more than just good grunts, but also good Marines,” Story said.
These men came from line platoons. Before they came to the regiment, the highest ranking Marine they had interacted with was their platoon commander. Now their own regimental commander knows each of their names, where they were raised, and what their future plans are after deployment. They understand that by protecting their commander, they are helping Iraq’s successful progression.
“We’re lucky as a regimental personal security detachment to see our regimental commander interact with the high ranking Iraqi officials,” Story said. “What we’re doing now will be in the history books and the Marines understand that.”
Not even halfway into their deployment, the Marines of the MSD already knows the roads in their sector of the Al Anbar province like they know their hometown streets. As they stand security outside a town hospital or government building, they are familiar with the faces in the crowd. It is their job to know this and they know it well.
“I don’t think there’s anything they can’t do,” Gonzalez said. “Any mission we are ever to get; providing security, killing the enemy or building a new gym. Why? Because we do it so well together.”
The MSD is more than just a platoon, they are a team. They are jovial in their off-time and stone-faced during their missions. They are the epitome of what is a Marine.
“I’m really proud of the platoon,” Gonzalez said. “I’d take a bullet for anyone of them. I wouldn’t normally tell them that because it’s tough love for grunts.”
For some of these Marines within this platoon, this will be their last deployment as they finish up their enlistment. For others, their future in the Corps is unknown but albeit they will remember their time in MSD as a brotherhood of protectors.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.