HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
These Marines are trained to lead patrols as point men and sweep for any improvised explosive devices, the enemy’s favored weapon. They are also trained in construction and demolitions, making them a versatile force multiplier on the battlefield.
Their skills as combat engineers make them vital to any team of Marines, but when they work together, these Marines bring a unique element to the units they support. One fire team of combat engineers with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion came together to support the Marines and sailors of Border Advisor Team 1 during Operation Eagle Hunt.
The Afghan-led operation was a small shaping operation to clear the Taghaz area of southern Helmand in preparation for future counterinsurgency operations to expand Afghan-led security. United States Marines are providing support to the Afghans throughout these operations in order to assist Afghan efforts to expand security, stability and development in the province.
It was a day before the operation when Apple Valley, Calif., native Sgt. Joshua Malok arrived with his fire team of combat engineers to Combat Outpost Castle. The squad leader with 3rd CEB knew little about the operation, but knew what his team was sent there to do.
“As combat engineers we were there to ensure that the Border Advisor Team was able to maneuver wherever they needed to in a safe manner,” explained the 2003 Apple Valley High School graduate. “As a squad leader I was there to ensure my Marines did that properly.”
The operation, led completely by Afghan National Security Forces, was a small shaping operation to clear the Taghaz area of southern Helmand in preparation for future counterinsurgency operations to expand Afghan-led security. Malok and his Marines focused their efforts in leading the many security patrols the Marines conducted.
Corporal Andrew Eisen of Seattle is another combat engineer with the team and took point on almost every patrol the Marines conducted. The duties placed on a pointman to scan the path for dangers can mean the difference between life and death.
The 21-year-old Eisen was always on the lookout for suspicious activity or signs of possible IEDs. He applied his training and remained vigilant with every step he took.
“You get used to the feeling of always being in front and accept the fact that it’s a part of the job,” said Eisen. “But you always have to be on the lookout for stuff no matter what the situation is or where you’re patrolling.”
Both Malok and Eisen were able to observe their two younger Marines throughout the operation and mentor them as they worked. Malok said it was a good opportunity for his untried Marines to get a little experience under their belts.
The four-man team aided the BAT-1 Marines in clearing compounds and inspecting them before they entered. One Marine said it wasn’t at all what he expected out of the operation, but it was a learning experience nonetheless.
“It was a very good learning experience. This is my first deployment, so a lot of this is new to me,” said Lance Cpl. Stanton Cromer of Fort Myers, Fla. “It was great to be a part of this successful operation, and it gives me something to pass on to my junior Marines when I pick up rank.”
The 25-year-old combat engineer aided in inspecting any suspicious wires or other objects hidden in the ground. He also helped sweep inside compounds using a compact metal detector to check for improvised explosive devices.
Some of the things they were able to point out on patrols were terrain models and small caches of batteries and wires, which are typically used in making IEDs. Malok said he was proud of the job his Marines did during the operation.
“I have full confidence in my Marines; they performed well,” said Malok. “I can confidently say they did what was expected of them and more.”
Editor’s Note: Border Advisor Team 1 is currently assigned in support of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 in 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force 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.