FORWARD OPERATING BASE MARJAH, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
"Marines to be promoted, Center! March!" commanded Sgt. Maj. Octaviano Gallegos with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.
In unison, two Marines marched toward their promoting officer while a platoon of Marines stood at attention in the background, about to witness history.
Sgt. Garrett Cheatum, a native of Niceville, Fla., was meritoriously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant and earned the first combat meritorious promotion in the history of the Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal career field.
The EOD mission is to neutralize and dispose of hazardous or explosive material that may pose a potential threat to the Marines operating throughout Afghanistan. To earn a combat meritorious promotion, a Marine must be able to perform at a level above his current rank and demonstrate outstanding leadership. He must also distinguish himself from his peers.
Cheatum is an EOD technician with 1st EOD Company, supporting 3/9, and said he's simply been doing his job.
"I've just been doing my job as best I can," Cheatum said humbly. "I'm not just sitting on my butt being lazy, but actually going out there and doing my best to support the Marines on the battlefield."
The accomplishments of Cheatum and his fellow EOD Marines speak for themselves. Since October 2010, they have aided the "Striking 3/9” Marines by neutralizing and disposing of more than 170 improvised explosive devices, one vehicle-born IED, nearly 200 weapons and explosives caches, and more than 6,800 TNT-equivalent deadly explosives. Cheatum and his partner neutralized nearly 33 percent of the IEDs themselves.
"Staff Sgt. Cheatum has done an excellent job out here," said Gunnery Sgt. Quentin Black, the EOD section leader with 3/9. "He's been assigned to one of the busiest teams, performed exceptionally well, and has had a very good attitude about it."
Black, a native of Springfield, Miss., said this is a huge accomplishment for the entire EOD career field.
"[Cheatum's] promotion is a big deal because it represents how far EOD has come and how we are viewed within the Marine Corps," Black said.
Gunnery Sgt. Donavin G. Bender, a team leader with the company and Cheatum's teammate, said Cheatum has definitely earned it. "He's done quite a bit out here so far," explained the Bismarck, N.D., native. "In some of the most chaotic times, he's stayed calm, collected, and pressed forward to complete the mission. All of his efforts ultimately saved lives."
Editor’s Note: 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward). The division 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’s goal is to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.