MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
They can build structures, find improvised explosive devices and bring the heat with their weapons when needed. These Marines are combat engineers and frequently lead foot patrols to clear Afghanistan roads of IEDs.
Charlie Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, has four platoons, but, according to Gunnery Sgt. Richard R. Feliciano, a Charlie Company, 2nd Platoon sergeant, is especially seasoned because of its combat experience. The platoon is once again preparing for another upcoming deployment.
Feliciano's platoon is expecting to support 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, later this year, to assist infantry Marines with their engineering skills.
Feliciano is confident his Marines are ready for deployment, knowing a majority of his Marines have deployment experience. Watching his Marines fire M-4 service rifles and Squad Automatic Weapons at unknown distance targets April 3 was just icing on the cake.
“It’s good to refresh, but they are all ready to go," Feliciano said confidently.
The unknown distance target exercise was part of required pre-deployment training, which included a night fire using night vision goggles and optics.
Feliciano, a New York City native, explained shooting in various conditions is only going to make his Marines more combat efficient.
"Our main mission out there is to provide engineer support and sweeping for mines, but, just like any other Marine, we are riflemen first. Our shooting skills have to be on point," said Feliciano.
The platoon has plans to receive grenade, convoy simulator and crew served weapons training as well in the upcoming weeks.
"There's always room for improvement," said Feliciano.
Five of Feliciano's Marines are new to the platoon, and he knows the experienced Marines will make sure his five juniors are pulled up to speed.
"About 95 percent of these Marines are combat vets and have been to Iraq, Afghanistan or both," said Feliciano. "There are 36 Marines in the platoon and 21 are NCOs. Think about that leadership -- it’s strong. We are awesome as a whole and tight as a platoon."
Corporal Joshua A. Powell helped junior Marines adjust their rifle settings before the exercise and at one point gave a private first class one-on-one time to help him shoot better.
"It’s our job as NCOs to train our junior Marines to the best of our abilities because they are the ones watching our backs and, ultimately, replacing us," said Powell a Biloxi, Miss., native.
Marines lined up with 80 rounds across a firing line to fire at the light green dummy targets downrange. Marines enjoyed the exercise, shooting down targets as quickly as they popped up.
"This is good training because you don’t have a sign telling you how far away the targets are – you don't know how far anyone is in Afghanistan," said Lance Cpl. Andrew Gardocki, a radio operator with the company. "This was actually really cool training."
Gardocki, a St.Louis, Missouri, native, is one of many previously deployed Company C Marines refreshing his skills.
Lance Cpl. Rene A. Herrera, an electrician, deployed with Charlie Company last year and, though he’s near the end of his military enlistment, he extended to see the progress that has been made.
"I'm excited to go again and see how much has been done since we left and see what we have to do," said Herrera, a Hempstead, N.Y., native.
Roads are frequently booby-trapped with IEDs, in Afghanistan. It is one of the Marine combat engineer's primary missions to clear the way for the infantry, one Feliciano is confident his Marines are trained to execute.
"Its comforting to have a group of guys like this; it makes my job easier. I credit the NCOs -- those are the ones who make it happen daily," said Feliciano. "When (infantry Marines) move up a road, it’s the engineers who do route clearance, either by truck or by foot. (Charlie Company) will clear lanes with mine detectors. Engineers are the ones leading the way."