MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
They might not wear the fancy black suits and matching ties like the secret service, but their mission to protect and serve remains the same.
The Personal Security Detachment Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, provide support and coordinate travel for the battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Hudspeth, while escorting him throughout the unit’s area of operations.
Most of the time, they don’t know their mission until the day it takes place. The detachment can provide security for the battalion commander one day and distribute candy to afghan children or escort VIPs the next, such as Representative Nancy Pelosi, who visited the Marjah District Center last month.
“Our missions are very specific, and [there are] times when we need to adapt to the changes in our schedule,” said Staff Sgt. Maximo Veliz, the 3/9 PSD commander.
The Marines’ presence in the area also helps reinforce visible signs of security throughout southern Marjah and builds rapport with local citizens, a very different atmosphere from the insurgent stronghold of Marjah a year ago.
As progress continues to overcome insurgent activity in the area, the Marines remain always on high alert as they conduct escort missions along the small bridges and dirt roads. The gunners on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are the “eagle eyes” for the team, scanning the terrain from turrets atop the armored behemoths. The vehicle operators maneuver along narrow, cratered roads, and the dismount team Marines provide a safe perimeter that bristles with M4 assault rifles whenever Marines exit the MRAPs.
“We always have our heads on a swivel,” said Cpl. Jarrod Knorr, a vehicle commander with the team. “We know the importance of each of our assigned tasks and take it seriously.”
The PSD Marines have successfully executed more than 160 missions and combat patrols since deploying to Marjah in December 2010. They make their way from patrol base to combat outpost in convoys and foot patrols.
“We just love our job and going out on the missions every day,” Veliz said.
The Hialeah, Fla., native is responsible for 17 Marines in the PSD and making sure the battalion commander makes his way safely throughout the battle space that the “Striking 3/9” Marines cover. The battalion maintains the second largest area of operations within RCT-1, patrolling 250 square miles of central Marjah.
Although most of the PSD Marines come from an infantry background, the team also includes a few radio operators, Motor Transportation operators, and a Navy corpsman. Some have even gone through specialty schools to hone their marksmanship skills.
Like Marjah, the PSD Marines, along with the rest of 3/9, know they’ve come a long way since December and hope to maintain the safe place it has become. One Marine believes accomplishing that task never leaves a boring day for the PSD.
“I actually love the PSD,” said Knorr, the 22-year-old Adrian, Mich., native. “I’m a Motor Transportation operator by trade, so going on these missions every day is great. There is no better feeling.”