MUSA QAL’EH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Michael S. Ussery and his older brother dreamed of a life bigger than what they believed the small town of Rochelle, Ga., had to offer. After weighing his options, Ussery found a path which not only allowed him to chase his dreams, but also gave him the opportunity to help others chase theirs.
Corporal Ussery is an infantry rifleman and a team leader with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He is currently serving his second combat tour in Afghanistan and leads his fire team in combat operations throughout the Musa Qal’eh district to assist the Afghan National Security Forces with securing the area, promoting growth, and stabilizing the local government for the Afghan people.
Ussery said he knew he wanted to join a branch of the U.S. armed forces, but he did not put much thought into which one. That was until he had a conversation with his brother about developing a plan to leave their rural hometown, which only covers approximately two square miles in central Georgia.
The brothers made an accord to join the Marine Corps after very short deliberation.
It was the Marines’ historic reliability that attracted Ussery to the Corps. Ussery said he and his brother talked about joining together. His brother, however, would have to wait for Ussery, who is a year his junior, to graduate high school if they wanted to attend training together.
Teenage boys searching for entertainment in Rochelle might look for muddy fields off of County Road 254, commonly called Amaco Road, to the northeast of town to test the four-wheel drive on their pickup trucks. Ussery thought a small town with not much to do only offered trouble, so he urged his brother to join before him.
“We started talking about going to recruit training together and doing it all together. I figured if he stuck around our hometown he’d have nothing to do but get in trouble,” said Ussery, 21. “I told him to go ahead and go to recruit training before me; that is what he did, and, of course, I had to follow.”
Ussery said having his brother earn the title of United States Marine only helped drive him toward his goal of being a Marine. He followed his brother’s footsteps after graduating from Wilcox County High School in 2008, which led Ussery to the yellow footprints outside the receiving building at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in June 2008, where he began his journey.
He took on responsibility early in his career, assuming the role of a squad leader in recruit training. Ussery reported to Echo Company for duty as a rifleman after recruit training and a stint at the School of Infantry. Ussery’s battalion deployed as the Battalion Landing Team for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the fall of 2009, but his company later detached and deployed to Afghanistan in May 2010.
Ussery said he worked in the headquarters office for Echo Company after that deployment, but was anxious to get back to 3rd Platoon, Echo Company. Since Ussery became a Marine, he put a considerable amount of focus on his career development and set goals for himself. He wanted to be a team leader with his old platoon, a billet in which the 19-year-old combat veteran could lead Marines under his charge.
Coincidently, Staff Sgt. Peter S. Ramos, a Patterson, N.J., native and Ussery’s former drill instructor, checked into the company for duty after not seeing his former recruit for two years. Ramos became the platoon sergeant for Ussery’s old platoon, and Ussery said he was determined to get back to his platoon to achieve the goals he set for himself and serve under his previous drill instructor.
Ussery spoke to his chain of command and was re-assigned from the company headquarters to 3rd Platoon and eventually became a team leader.
“Corporal Ussery (is an) outstanding Marine and meritorious corporal. He didn’t let me down,” said Ramos. “(It) makes you feel happy that you saw them from day one and when they became Marines, and makes me proud to see (him) two or three years later.”
The former drill instructor and mentor said he is happy to have Ussery in his platoon. He added Ussery is still motivated and leads his Marines with enthusiasm. Ramos said he is proud to see him still moving forward.
Ramos looked to Ussery, as a non-commissioned officer with combat experience, to help him manage the junior Marines in the platoon and prepare for their deployment to Afghanistan. Ramos’ NCOs, like Ussery, pooled their experience to train the junior Marines for combat operations like Operation Double Check, an ongoing operation to promote legitimate governance and increase security within the Musa Qal’eh district.
Ussery is leading his fire team during the operation and has partnered with the Afghan Uniformed Police to search compounds in the area of the southern Musa Qal’eh wadi, or dry riverbed, to remove the insurgent influence and replace it with the security the AUP provides.
Ussery said his Marines searched for improvised explosive device-making materials, propaganda, and high-valued individuals, among other things.
When his platoon flew in during the dark of night to begin searching areas, a lot of local villagers left the area because they feared an intense battle, according to Ussery, but the villagers began to return to the area after a few days. He added the number of insurgent fighters seemed to be diminishing compared to his 2010 deployment..
“It seems like a lot of people came back because the insurgents fled,” said Ussery. “[The insurgents] didn’t want to stand toe-to-toe with Marines.”
Ussery said he does not patrol around looking for a fight; his job is much more than that. He performs or supervises tasks as directed by his platoon commander, platoon sergeant, or squad leader. He said his team could act as a resupply element for his platoon, as a quick reaction force to back up any of his brother’s-in-arms who find themselves in a tight spot, or just simply patrol the area to show a security presence.
“It’s a wide realm of things. I could go on a simple patrol to talk to village elders to … see how the people feel toward us and to try to make it better,” said Ussery.
He added this small part of his job is important because the support of the Afghan people helps to push out the remnants of the insurgency, making it easier for the Afghan National Security Forces to provide a secure and stable environment for the villagers within the Musa Qal’eh district.
Ussery said he and his Marines understand the differences in the American and Afghan cultures and are not trying to create a mirror image of the western world, but Ussery hopes their efforts in working with the AUP and the Afghan people creates a life that shares a common interest: freedom from insurgent hostilities and the pursuit of happiness.
“It drives the enemy out of Helmand province to give the local populous a safe, secure area to be able to provide schools and hospitals,” said Ussery.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6 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.