KAJAKI SOFLA DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
The Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, are engaged in Operation Tofan Sharq (Eastern Storm), a major offensive operation to root out the Taliban-led insurgency in the Upper Sangin Valley region of Kajaki.
The battalion is accomplishing its mission to secure Route 611 from Sangin to Kajaki by moving companies into designated areas across the district and relying on individual platoons and squads to operate independently in heavily vegetated and rough terrain.
The men of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, inserted by helicopter recently under the cover of darkness and, at first light, began a five day march prior to establishing Patrol Base Pennsylvania.
“Things have been going pretty slow, but good,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Kennedy, an M240 machine gunner from Prattville, Ala. “We don’t want to go fast. It’s been pretty successful where we’re at right now, nobody’s been hurt. We expected it to be way more kinetic, but luckily it hasn’t been too bad so far.”
Carrying all the ammunition, weaponry, food, water and other assorted equipment they could fit into their packs, they travelled roughly three miles amidst infrequent and abrupt ambushes and, at times, rounding corners that put them face-to-face with enemy fighters armed with rocket propelled grenades.
“Everyone’s feeling the pain, everyone’s sore,” said Kennedy, a 2007 graduate of Prattville High School. “It’s hard to pick up your feet as is, and going through the canal systems and corn fields (with all our gear), it’s bad on your knees and feet. Your knees are taking a sheer beating the whole time, not to include your back.”
Kennedy, who hovers around six feet tall and weighs approximately 180 pounds, carries on his body approximately 120 additional pounds of equipment, including rounds for his M240B Medium Machine Gun, the weapon itself, a slew of other munitions, and a few personal comforts, such as a sleeping bag and hygiene supplies.
Seeing a column of Marine Corps infantrymen move through a maze of cornfields, more laden with gear than the most unloved pack animal, one would expect a ceaseless chorus of complaints and sighs, but the few moans they make are drowned out by an endless stream of banter and surprisingly upbeat humor.
“We pick up morale by joking around,” explained Kennedy, who proudly fulfills the role of stand-up comic for his squad. “We all joke around and act like we’re having a good time – laugh at our misery. If you ain’t gonna laugh, you gonna cry.”
As trivial as humor may seem to the overall success of the mission, it serves as an indicator of the unit’s moral, which, with all they have been through, remains high, explained Altoona, Penn., native 1st Lt. Danny Graziosi, the 2nd Platoon commander and a graduate of Indiana University.
“The moral is never a question; they can accomplish whatever I ask them to do,” said Graziosi. “They just look to the left and right, and that’s all the motivation they need.”
“Kajaki Sofla is now buzzing with citizens who have never seen the Afghan National Security Forces and have known only murder and intimidation for the last several years,” said Brig. Gen, Lewis Craparotta, commanding general, 2nd Marine Division (Forward)/Task Force Leatherneck. “Villagers are now approaching our coalition forces and returning to their homes.”
For more information concerning Task Force Leatherneck operations, contact Major Bradley Gordon, Task Force Leatherneck public affairs officer at bradley.gordon@ afg.usmc.mil.
Editor’s Note: First Battalion, 6th Marines is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward)/Task Force Leatherneck. Task force Leatherneck serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.