CAMP RIPPER, Iraq --
Marines have always been known for heroics; overcoming adversity through fierce will, determination and a strong spiritual core that separates them from other services. The Marine Corps Engineer Association awards leaders within their military occupation specialty for being the best of the best.
Capt. Colter Bahlau, the company commander for Company C, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, was recently awarded the Combat Engineer Officer of the Year award for 2009 by the Marine Corps Engineer Association. Bahlau received this honor for successfully performing numerous mission-essential tasks during Operation Azada Wosa in Afghanistan in 2008 with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd CEB, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The CEB Marines on the 24th MEU had trained for a traditional, Mediterranean float. Orders changed.
“We were told that our MEU float had changed to a seven-month tour in Afghanistan,” Bahlau said.
Instead of traditional MEU training such as infantry and primary MOS tactics and humanitarian aid preparedness, Bahlau and his Marines needed to prepare to clear mine fields, construct bridges and provide life sustainment for Marines where water was limited and normal luxuries were unheard of.
“My platoon’s normal role was demolition experts,” said Bahlau. “My platoon was then tasked with conducting missions outside of their mission-essential tasks.”
Marines are known to be jacks-of-all-trades and are best when busy. Bahlau’s men were busy.
“From the time we stepped on deck, to the time we were flying home, it was nonstop mission tasks,” Bahlau said.
“We would move from a kinetic fighting mentality to a focus on building up force protection of the [BLT 1/6] area of operations,” Bahlau said.
His men were attached to the BLT’s companies to ensure their men could breach buildings and structures to root out the enemy within. While with the platoon, they would lay out medium girder bridges, ensuring Marines could traverse riverbeds and clear routes for mobile movement.
“To clear the routes, we would take two Marines with mine detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs while the vehicles traveled behind,” said Gunnery Sgt. Wendell Hall, currently the company first sergeant for Company C and the platoon sergeant with Bahlau in Afghanistan.
At the time, Bahlau was in command of a platoon and he needed to make sure his men knew their additional jobs.
“I had good training and was real comfortable with what I was doing,” said Cpl. Juan Velez, a team leader with Route Clearance Platoon, Company C, and a vehicle dismount in Afghanistan.
Bahlau’s men successfully laid out bridges, brought showers to Marines at distant outposts and breached hardstand buildings, but one of their daunting tasks had a slight hang-up: mine clearing.
The BLT needed a path cleared so Marines could conduct an offensive maneuver on a Taliban stronghold within their area of operations. So Bahlau conducted the first massive mine-clearing operation since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“This was one of our biggest accomplishments during the deployment,” Bahlau said.
The mine-clearing linear charges and rocket system were towed in trailers behind a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, better known as a 7-Ton. Normally, the rockets would shoot out and the cables attached would create a stream, laying a pathway of 1,750 pounds of C-4 explosives, erupting along the ground in a planned linear route to remove any hazardous mines for safe vehicle movement. In one instance, the C-4 charges didn’t explode when they hit the ground. Bahlau and his men had a problem.
One Marine, Staff Sgt. Hector Lazo, the platoon guide, completed what is known throughout CEBs as the “Medal of Honor run.” His extremely dangerous task was to run out to the cables and manually prime the C-4 charges attached to each cable while within enemy range. All alone and unsure if the charges would go off in front of him before getting to a safe distance, and without any physical cover from possible attack, Bahlau’s platoon guide carefully detonated the charges. The BLT was able to move onto their objective because of Bahlau’s platoon. Because of his heroism and unselfish act, Bahlau recommended Lazo be awarded a Bronze Star with a Combat “V” for valor.
“I thought it was pretty intense,” Velez said. “It took a lot of initiative. [Lazo] had a job to do and got it done.”
Although Bahlau is receiving this Engineer Officer of the Year award, he wants to make one thing clear.
“This was everything my Marines did,” Bahlau said humbly. “They made me look like an all-star.”
Just as he did in his previous deployment, during this deployment he also made sure mission tasks were completed, and he looked out for his Marines.
“I have a lot of respect for [Bahlau],” said Cpl. Roberto Morales, the motor transport maintenance chief with Company C. “We were tasked to fill 500 sandbags and he went out to supervise.”
Morales watched as his commander then did something peculiar in his eyes. Bahlau dropped his blouse and started filling sandbags with them.
“You don’t see a lot of officers doing that,” Morales said.
Looking back on his previous deployment, Bahlau said, “It goes back to Marines overcoming and adapting to anything. In a dynamic battlefield, you have to be prepared for all missions.”
Bahlau is ecstatic but humbled about receiving an award that the actions of his Marines led him to receive while under his leadership.
“Granted, there’s a conductor in an orchestra, but who makes the sound? The junior Marines who get in harm’s way to get the job done.”