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Marine Corps Videos: Scout Snipers Keep Eye On Target

U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines (3/4), Regimental Combat Team 7 battle sight zero their weapons as part of a live fire range aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, March 23, 2013. The Marines with 3/4 are deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Marine Corps motion imagery by Cpl. Kowshon Ye.

Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward) Receives New Commander

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – After a successful deployment as the commanding officer of Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward), Col. Christopher J. Michelsen relinquished command to Lt. Col. Matthew S. Cook, who will now be in charge of the unit’s responsibilities to support International Security Assistance Forces and Marine Corps Forces Central Command with logistical support.

“Marine Corps Logistics Command’s mission is to sustain the ISAF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) with operational logistics support,” said Michelsen, 46, from Louisville, Ky. “In addition to that, we do other missions directed by MarCent, and support the commandant’s reset strategy via the reset, redeployment and retrograde.”

The role of MCLC (Fwd) has expanded throughout the last six months with the drawdown of troops.

In accordance with the commandant’s reset strategy, MCLC (Fwd) is helping decrease the Marine Corps’ presence in Afghanistan and increasing their workload because of drawdowns throughout the country. They keep Marines supplied with items such as vehicles and parts while making sure the units still deployed have what they need, said Michelsen.

The Marines control many moving parts, with several units leaving Afghanistan. Because it is their role to see that their gear leaves as well, MCLC (Fwd) grew about four times in manpower during Michelson’s deployment to help with the dramatic increase of their activity.

“We grew substantially in size,” said Michelsen, “From a small handful of Marines and contractors to an organization of almost 400 personnel in strength. While growing in size, we have refined our processes on how we manage equipment.”

The Marines who make up MCLC (Fwd) are sourced from all parts of the Marine Corps.

“They built a great team and I’m looking forward to the next few months,” said Cook, during his speech at the ceremony. “There’s going to be a lot of changes, but the team Col. Michelsen built will be able to perform more than the task at hand.”

With the increase in work, the personnel have been refining their methods to increase efficiency.

“The Marines, the contractors and the Civilian Marines have performed marvelously,” said Michelsen “In tough environmental conditions,they’ve worked extremely hard, and they have done a great job in maintaining tight procedures.”

Michelsen has enjoyed being a part of MCLC (Fwd) at such a crucial time in their legacy.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to command such an organization, and I’m humbled every day to work with such a strong team of Marines, civilian Marines and contractors,” he said.

Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

Marine in Afghanistan Dedicates Flag To Baby Boy

First Lt. Phillip M. Downey has a unique gift from Afghanistan for his soon-to-be-born son at home.

He is sending his upcoming baby boy the Stars and Stripes, which flew 50 feet above the Task Force Leatherneck compound here, April 28.

Downey is currently serving a year deployment to Helmand province with 1st Marine Division (Forward) and said he doesn’t think he’ll be able to make it home in time to see his son born, so he dedicated a flag to him.

“One day I want him to understand that there was a reason why I wasn’t there,” said Downey, a 25-year-old St. Louis native.

Downey is combat engineer officer by trade, but serves as a fragmentation order manager working in the combat operations center at the Task Force Leatherneck compound – the ground combat element command and control cell for Marine operations here.

He deployed to Afghanistan in February, a few weeks after his girlfriend, Megan Black, broke the news that she was pregnant. Although he said it was exciting news, the days leading up to the deployment was “interesting” to say the least. Quickly, the two planned for the best way to care for Black during her pregnancy, as Downey’s deployment date wasn’t budging.

“Those were some pretty crazy times,” Downey said. “A lot of phone calls; a lot of getting stuff ready and situated. I didn’t want her on her own with the baby coming.”

Black moved in with her parents, who didn’t live too far from Downey’s home station at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Downey said he’s glad it worked out well.

His demanding job involves tracking and coordinating mission orders from the command element of the Marine air ground task force in Afghanistan. From there, orders continue through the operations center, tasking subordinate units with specific orders directly impacting the mission of coalition forces a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Downey said his hours are very dependent on the daily plans of Regional Command (Southwest), a coalition headquarters element here manned by I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and Task Force Leatherneck, manned by 1st MarDiv (Fwd). With his odd working hours at the combat operations center, he said he rarely finds time to call home and communicates mostly online.

“We chat and exchange emails almost every night,” Downey said. “She emails me pictures and things of the doctor visits and ultrasounds.”

Downey said one of the biggest problems he faces at home is the time difference. On a typical day, when Downey’s shift ends at 9 p.m., it’s 9:30 a.m., in California. So, as one wake’s up to start her day, the other is just going to bed from an exhausting one.

“She only answers my emails late at night or early in the morning,” he said. “I try not to call during the day because she will wake up in the middle of the night, get herself up and together, and I don’t want to drag her out of bed in the middle of the night like that.”

As thoughtful as he is to Black, and as dedicated he is to the mission in Afghanistan, he saves room for enthusiasm about becoming a father. His son is due in September, the seven-month mark of Downey’s scheduled one-year deployment.

He said the flag he dedicated to his son will serve as a chapter in his family history.

“A lot of Marines dedicate their flags to their parents or family members who were former Marines,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony B. Triplett, the administration chief for the commanding staff of Task Force Leatherneck and manager of the flag program. “To receive a flag that has flown over a Marine base in Afghanistan for a day means a lot to those people.”

Downey’s lineage includes two grandfathers who served with the army in World War II, and two uncles who served with the army in Vietnam. He said he hopes his wartime souvenir to his son will be passed on for generations to come.

He plans to frame the folded flag in shadow box and hang it in his son’s room after he’s born.

Downey said he has a hunch that questions will evolve from his future curious 2- or 3-year-old of what’s hanging up on his wall, to 14 years later when his son is in high school and truly understands what the flag means.

Triplett, a native of Milwaukee, said flying an American flag for a day is a program available to all service members here. He encourages Marines to dedicate flags to loved ones at home who’ll value the flag as much as the Marine serving underneath their colors in Afghanistan.

The mission Downey serves may not compare to being at home during his girlfriend’s pregnancy, but he said an American flag that was flown from sunup to sundown in Afghanistan should be a priceless gift at Black’s upcoming baby shower.

Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes

Data Network Marine An Expert In Her Domain

When a senior Marine refers to one of his devil dogs as the most “Marine” Marine under his charge, a person reaching 5 feet 1 inch and shy of 100 pounds is probably not the visual.

Nonetheless, Lance Cpl. Samantha C. Catoe, a data network specialist working at the headquarters element of Task Force Leatherneck, 1st Marine Division (Forward), was given that title by her supervisor, Staff Sgt. Donald T. Jones.

Catoe, a 21-year-old native of Irmo, S.C., said she believes she earned the reference by being respectful, professional, excellent at her job and enthusiastic about her current assignment in Afghanistan.

“She’s been giving it all she has,” said Jones, the date chief for Task Force Leatherneck. “She’s the lead Marine on the server build team. It requires someone who’s technically proficient and she’s got the technical knowledge.”

She currently works the night shift at the Task Force Leatherneck communications section (G-6) Helpdesk, taking on tasks that range from answering calls of assistance with inoperative computers used by 1st MarDiv (Fwd) personnel, to building and refurbishing client servers.

Catoe said her job is really customer service-oriented and very satisfying. But although her work environment is behind friendly lines, her job can be rather chaotic when everyone in the 1st MarDiv (Fwd) compound is communicating by transmitting data.

“Communications, the servers and networking are essential to the mission,” Catoe said. “We work at a high echelon. If the commanding general’s computer goes down, it’s a major deal. If connectivity in the combat operations center goes down, which has computers among computers in there, it’s a huge deal.”

Still, she thrives at her job, keeping communications between coalition forces in Helmand province running.

Her nightly shift begins behind a desk built by Marine engineers in a warehouse lined with wooden walls, tucked in a corner of the division compound. Just as most people working “behind the scenes” at Camp Leatherneck have stacks of papers on their desks, she has stacks of laptops and hard drives that need her expertise.

A couple dozen red wires streaming across the ceiling into a cold climate server room offer a sci-fi décor to the helpdesk hut. But there’s nothing fictional to Catoe’s responsibility of working with equipment worth millions of dollars. Her duties of troubleshooting and fixing network problems even extend to forward operating bases throughout Helmand province.

“People sometimes have issues talking from unit to unit, and we at the help desk will walk them through fixing it,” she said. “Except for Marines who are out on patrols, no one really communicates over radios anymore. Without computers, the units out there wouldn’t be able to coordinate missions or monitor operations.”

Excelling at her job only compliments what she’s done for herself during her two years as a Marine.

With first class combat and physical fitness test scores, high biannual personal evaluation points and certificates from Marine Corps self-education courses in her personal record, she received recognition by her command here. Catoe was selected as this period’s Marine of the Quarter for Headquarters Detachment, 1st MarDiv (Fwd), for qualities that sets her apart from fellow competing peers.

“It was a close call and it came down to scores on her service record book,” said 1st Sgt. Sean Hyman, the Headquarters Detachment first sergeant and a native of Little Rock, Ark. “The first thing you’ll notice about her is that she’s a small individual, but her personality speaks differently. You would know Catoe by her actions.”

The recognition began with Marines who directly supervise her, but she said she also owes the distinguished reputation to her own self-motivation.

“I had good scores, and I worked really hard for those scores,” Catoe’s said. “I’m not going to do something [at half effort]. If I’m going to do MCIs (Marine Corps Institute courses) I might as well do 12 of them. I want to look good as a Marine.”

Catoe is also scheduled for a promotion in rank in May. She said she came into the Marine Corps with an understanding of what her perseverance as a Marine means and how to generate it. Her mother served four years in the Corps, and her father retired after serving for 20 years as a Marine infantryman. The two met while serving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. – a place commonly known for where Marines are made.

After high school, Catoe, who rocked blue-dyed hair and several piercings in her ears at the time, continued her education in college studying computer science. However, she said she felt it was time to leave home after the first year.

She said the Marine Corps is something she never considered, let alone deploying to Afghanistan. But she became motivated after listening to a series of conversations between her former boyfriend and her father.

“My boyfriend at the time was going to join the army, but my dad talked him into joining the Marines,” Catoe said. “I started getting a little jealous so I wanted to join too.”

Typical of parents during a time of war, especially those who endured the challenging life of a Marine, Catoe said her parents tried to persuade her from enlisting and suggested finishing school and becoming a Marine officer.

She also faced a tough decision with her boyfriend.

“My boyfriend pretty much said ‘I won’t date you if you join,’” said Catoe.

Two years later and in Afghanistan, Catoe said she loves being a Marine. She knew what she wanted to do for the Marine Corps when she saw her recruiter in 2010, and she’s living up to that dream today.

“I love my job. I really do,” she said. “If you’re not building the network, you’re monitoring the network – monitoring all the user accounts, emails and any issues with their computers. It’s something I always really wanted to do.”

Some of Catoe’s fellow Marines said sometimes they find humor in their job – mostly with trouble tickets involving simple solutions that the common computer savvy person can figure out. Other times, her friends show brotherly-sisterly love by making light-hearted and welcomed jokes of her stature.

“I get called short and tiny. I kind of embrace it,” she said. “It kind of pushes me to do more. Yeah, I’m 98 pounds and I can do anything anyone else can in this job. A lot of my motivation comes from people who don’t expect it from me.”

Work and motivation is continuous in the helpdesk hut. As Marines and coalition forces in Afghanistan begin to consolidate into new battle positions and turn bases over to Afghan forces, computer networks need rebuilding, said Catoe. Her return to her home station, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., is something she doesn’t think about right now, as she focuses her priorities on trouble tickets and building servers.

“The most satisfying part of the job is working for the Marines,” Catoe said. “They’re usually really grateful about our help, and it’s a good feeling.”

Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes, 1st Marine Division

Personal Security Keeps VIPs Safe

Rounds are flying down range making holes in the paper. Weapons drills are important to maintain because the commanding general’s security depends on it. One Marine steps off the range as the call comes in, the boss has just landed and he departs the range to meet him.

Cpl. Joel Arreola, personal security for Regional Command Southwest, does more than just escort the commanding general and deputy commanding general on missions.

He travels with them to important meetings, visiting villages and elders throughout RC (SW). Along with the protection of the generals, he also guards other VIPs who visit the area including the Secretary of Defense and many three and four star generals. He is constantly training and preparing to protect the battlefield leaders.

Arreola, a native of Fresno, Calif., likes what he is doing out here supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Arreola said he feels blessed to work for Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, RC (SW) commanding general.

This is Arreola’s first deployment and he is getting a firsthand look into the general’s life. He is his shadow when going out on missions. He flies in helicopters, travels in convoys and escorts him when visiting the local Afghans.

“It has its benefits,” said Arreola. “I get to travel.”

Recently, Arreola, normally a military policeman, recently went on a convoy to another area of operations and said there was no danger in sight.

“There is always security around him and our job is to protect him,” he said.

His modest attitude and devotion is apparent. When he returns to the range, his friends give him high-fives. Arreola picks up the training where he left off and continues without falter. As the sun sets and the dust clouds pick up, he moves to the firing line and takes the commands from the range officer.

“He is a dedicated member of the team,” said Gunnery Sgt. Bradley Driver, officer in charge for PSD.

The personal security team attends Combat Marksmanship Program and between missions performs detailed drills, switching up scenarios to keep their skills on point.

The training allows Arreola and the other personal security members to work together. They get to know each other’s personalities. By running through the drills over and over, they become more familiar and comfortable with their weapons and with each other. They train as they fight and are serious about the mission. As the range officer called out the evolutions, Arreola transitions from small arms to his M4 seamlessly and confidently hits the target.

Arreola has been in the military for almost four years and it is time to re-enlist. Arreola is grateful for his military knowledge and his tactical skills.

“The experience the military gives you, you can use in any part of life,” said Arreola. “I take the positives out of it.”

Arreola would like to go to college. His knowledge of government and politics is extensive. He is undecided if he is going to remain in the law enforcement field. When not at work, Arreola enjoys going to the gym and reading.

Whatever Arreola decides to do after the military, he will succeed. He was selected from his unit for this position. His positive attitude and determination is exclusive. His professionalism and sense of humor is an asset. He plans on staying in California because that is his home. He’s a father and a husband. The hardest part of this yearlong deployment is missing his 4-year-old daughter, he said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Monique LaRouche

Blue Knights Give 2/6 A Lift

The rotor blades are spinning and low chatter is drifting in over the internal communication system. The flight crews of the two MV-22B Ospreys awaiting takeoff – again – have been flying since before 5 a.m., March 28. It’s late morning now and their day is far from over.

Before the day is done, the crews from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, known as the “Blue Knights,” will have picked up nearly 40 Marines, sailors and Afghan National Army soldiers from a remote patrol base and dropped them off even deeper into Helmand province, Afghanistan.

“When getting ready for an [operation], I’m thinking about prepping the aircraft and making sure our weapons are clean and ready,” said Sgt. Kyle Harrison, a crew chief with VMM-365 and San Diego native. Harrison explained that clean weapons and updated personnel rosters are important concerns for him as a crew chief. He ensures that the aircrews have everything they need to complete the mission, whether it is available seats for passengers, ammunition or fuel.

Upon landing at the patrol base, there is little time before the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment file efficiently onto the two aircraft. They are organized and they are ready. They have all the gear they will need to spend several weeks outside the wire conducting combat operations.

The Marines and sailors of 2/6 have only been in country for a few months and some have already taken note of the efficiency and professionalism of the aircrews they often depend on for supplies, long distance movements and infiltrations.

“Every time we do this, they’re very professional,” said Lance Cpl. Dylan Jackson, a fire team leader with 2/6 and Fairfax, Va., native.

Jackson explained that he has participated in three aerial infiltrations and each time the aircrew has worked to get Marines and sailors to their destination safely and ahead of schedule.

Harrison added that the ability to fly to these locations is crucial to completing ground operations.

“We have the element of surprise,” said Harrison. “We drop out of the sky and land anywhere. If [ground troops] walk, they’re [vulnerable] to attack. If they have to take their vehicles, they’re forced to travel on roads with [improvised explosive devices.]”

When the Ospreys land at the predetermined patrol site in southwestern Afghanistan, the Marines, sailors and ANA soldiers are off the aircraft even faster than when they boarded. The well-trained personnel fan-out in a defensive arc, faced with barren desert and sparse farms.

“Once we got off the deck … everything went very quickly,” said Harrison. “We got the [ground combat element] exactly where they wanted to go. That helps them effectively carry out their mission.”

The Blue Knight crews take flight as soon as the last man is on the ground and at a safe distance from the Ospreys. The aircraft depart quickly, racing upward and conducting stomach-churning turns. The faster they get back in the air, the safer they are. It’s time to return to Camp Leatherneck and prepare for the next mission.

Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot


Sailors Earn Marine Corps Combat Qualification In Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — The Fleet Marine Force qualification, a military badge earned by Sailors assigned to U.S. Marine Corps commands, is a source of pride for many in the Navy, a testament to experience, to time spent on the Navy’s “green side” – serving alongside U.S. Marines.

More than 50 Sailors attached to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) in Afghanistan now proudly wear the silver device on their chest, a distinction earned during their deployment.

“It means a great deal, it’s an honor to be able to wear this every day,” said Seaman Chase Lapradd, a corpsman attached to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and a native of Drakes Branch, Va., who was presented his qualification badge during a ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 16.

The Fleet Marine Force qualification is issued to Sailors who are trained and qualified to perform duties in support of U.S. Marine Corps operations, and can only be issued by Marine commanding generals or commanding officers of regimental-level commands.

Unlike many Sailors who earn the Fleet Marine Force qualification, Lapradd’s service with Marines wasn’t part of a two or three year tour. The Drakes Branch, Va., native served temporarily with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) – augmenting specifically to deploy to Afghanistan.

“It’s something I really wanted to do,” said Lapradd, an augment to the Wing from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., “Coming from a Naval command, this isn’t something I could do until I was attached to the Marines.”

During his time in Afghanistan, Lapradd worked for the Wing’s surgeon office, coordinated medical evacuations, provided medical support for coalition forces at the combined aid station, and provided medical coverage for enemy combatants at a detention facility in Helmand province.

Lapradd and the Wing’s other Sailors who earned the qualification did so by demonstrating intricate knowledge of Marine Corps combat operations and the history of the Marine Corps.

“It’s a pretty intense program, the qualification process is not easy,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Nathan Whiddon, the senior enlisted Sailor with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and a native of Gray, Ga. “It takes a lot of time and effort, so it shows good initiative and dedication to do something like this, especially on a deployment.”

Since March 2011, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) has served as the aviation combat element in southwestern Afghanistan.

The Wing provides vital functions to coalition forces on the ground, including close air support, troop movement, resupply, cargo delivery and aerial reconnaissance.

It’s a monumental task with tremendous challenges, made possible by the hard work of thousands of dedicated Marines and Sailors.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself out here,” Lapradd said. “I’ve learned a ton and gained a lot of valuable experience to take back to my command.”

Stay connected with the latest news and information on the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan at http://www.facebook.com/regionalcommandsouthwest.

Cpl. Brian Adam Jones, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)


Marine Sergeant Major Serves With Son In Afghanistan

As Sgt. Maj. Henry Prutch’s yearlong tour in Afghanistan draws to a close, only one thing worried him – he might not get to see his son out here.

But Lance Cpl. Scott Prutch, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, flew in to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, to begin a six-month deployment to Helmand province, Jan. 28.

The sergeant major is preparing to return home to eastern North Carolina in about a month as his unit, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), hands responsibility over to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) in the early spring.

“I knew it would be close, so this worked out pretty good,” said the elder Prutch. “I missed his graduation from boot camp in April.”

As the sergeant major for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), Henry Prutch serves as the senior enlisted advisor to Maj. Gen. Glenn M. Walters, the flag officer responsible for all Marine Corps combat aviation operations in southwestern Afghanistan.

Scott said his dad, a Marine with 29 years of experience, has had some pretty good advice for him, and provided a lot of support for him when he decided to join.

“I had a lot of knowledge beforehand from conversations at the dinner table,” said Scott, who was recruited out of Havelock, N.C.
Scott said that he feels prepared and excited to begin his tour in Afghanistan.

“With my team, with the support company I’m a part of, I’m 100 percent confident we will be successful,” he said.

The sergeant major had some words of encouragement for his son as he begins his first combat deployment.

“Enjoy your time out here one day at a time. It’s never as bad as you think it is,” Henry Prutch said. “You’re with a good unit, they’ll be successful, and it’ll be a good opportunity.”

Scott described his goals for his time in the Marines as furthering his career and education. His dad seemed to like the plan.

“Seeing him wear this uniform, it’s a good feeling, it makes me proud. Personally, you want the best for your kids, want them to succeed and be happy in life,” the sergeant major said. “I know a lot of the young Marines are the same age. He’s going to succeed or not succeed based on his own ability.”

“Being in the Marines, I can wake up and know what I have to do each day,” Scott added. “It’s a nice little set up – you work hard, you do what you’re supposed to do, and you’ll succeed.”

Cpl. Brian Adam Jones


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Life on Patrol Base Boldak: The Routine Of Weapons Co., 1st Bn., 25th Marines

PATROL BASE BOLDAK, Afghanistan — A horde of flies swarms above Cpl. James Baker’s head. They repeatedly swoop down and buzz around his face. He quickly swats one away, only to swat another moments later.

Baker has been standing inside of a sandbag bunker the size of an office cubicle for the past six hours. On his desk sits a MK-19 grenade launcher pointing towards the endless expanse of the Afghan desert.

Baker, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, and a native of Yarmouth Port, Mass., is manning an observation post at Patrol Base Boldak, Helmand province. It is a duty that lasts several hours in which Marines watch for suspicious activity and serve as the first responders in case of an enemy attack. Today, the only attack is coming from the hundreds of flies dive-bombing Baker’s face.

“I’ve killed like 80 flies…at least it seems that way,” said Baker. “They don’t go away. You can keep killing them and they just keep coming.”

A couple hundred yards away, an Afghan farmer is herding hundreds of sheep. That is all Baker really sees while on post. Every once in a while the silence is broken by another Marine’s voice on a radio.

Boldak is a forward operating base located near Camp Leatherneck. It is the first line of defense for the largest coalition base in Helmand province. It is occupied by the Marines of Weapons Co., 1st Bn., 25th Marines, a reserve unit based out of Fort Devens, Mass.

The guard post scene is typical for Marines at Boldak. For Baker, his day started before sunrise when he replaced another Marine on a similar several hour-long shift. In addition to his body armor and helmet, he wears a metal bracelet with the name “Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos” engraved on it. Xiarhos was Baker’s best friend growing up. He was killed by an IED two years ago in the Garmsir district while serving with 2nd Bn., 8th Marines.

In a few hours, another Marine will relieve Baker. After a few more shifts, he will return to man this post again. This is his routine.

“Living on a patrol base is like living in a perpetual Groundhog Day,” said Cpl. Ryan Arsenault, a mortarman with Weapons Co., 1st Bn. 25th Marines, and a native of Boston. “Time kind of stands still. Your life stops, but the world keeps going.”

The perpetual Groundhog Day Arsenault refers to consists of routine…and more routine.

When the Marines here wake up, they shave, shower and conduct other morning necessities. However, there is no plumbing on Boldak. The Marines hygiene using bottled water with a hole punched in the cap and rear-view mirrors broken off armored vehicles to see their reflection. They shower using baby wipes or by grabbing some bottled water and stepping inside a room that looks like a telephone booth made out of plywood.

Once they are done with hygiene, the Marines quickly eat breakfast, which consists of Pop-Tarts, packaged muffins or dry cereal. From there, they go to work.

If a Marine is not standing post, he is on a patrol. If he is not on a patrol then he is cleaning or maintaining some part of the base, filling the generators with fuel or finishing a project like building a new kennel for the military working dogs.

If the Marines have any free time, they exercise in the “prison gym”, which is a collection of free weights located in a dusty, dimly lit tent.

At dusk, the Marines gather around a large wooden table and eat dinner together. On rare occasions, meat is taken out of a freezer and prepared with some canned vegetables in a makeshift barbeque grill made out of a fuel drum. Paper plates piled with food are delivered to the Marines who are standing post.

The conversations at dinner are reminiscent of friends meeting together at a tavern. In distinct New England accents, Marines can be heard griping about work and about the Red Sox losing their last few games of the season. They frequently burst out in laughter from the ruthless joking and needling going back and forth.

“We’re all from the same area,” said Arsenault. “We all love the same sports teams. We all know the same places. It’s different in the fleet where you have people from different backgrounds. Here everyone is almost the same person.”

If there is a patrol going out the next day, the Marines will gather around a map to plan and discuss where they will be patrolling. Once the meeting is concluded, the Marines retire to their tents to watch a movie. Some prepare the armored vehicles for patrolling the next day.

At night, the Afghan sky is filled with stars and the occasional helicopter or jet flying by. To the north are the bright lights of Leatherneck. To the south are the districts of Nad’Ali and Nahr-e-Sara, where firefights between U.K. troops and insurgents can be seen from time to time.

The next morning, the routine starts over again.

About once a week, a convoy will come in from Leatherneck carrying mail and care packages from home. Marines trade snacks and magazines sent from family and friends with each other and throw the rest underneath their cots.

Other than traditional mail, there is really no other way to contact home. Periodically, the Marines will rotate back to Leatherneck for a week of quick reaction force duty. There they will be able to use the wireless internet to get on Facebook and email.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Greenfield, a platoon sergeant in Weapons Co., and a native of Spokane, Wash., enjoys being in the austere environment that he and his Marines have made home.

“I like Boldak,” said Greenfield. “I wish I could stay up here. There’s less going on. No phones or computers. It’s more of a sense of pride and ownership because we own it. The Marines have been working to making it our own piece of home.”

For the next several months, Boldak will be the Marines’ home. It will be their routine. It will be their life.

Houston Marine Reflects On 9/11, His Reason For Serving

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Many Americans remember where they were when they heard the news on September 11, 2001. They remember watching the planes crash into the World Trade Center towers and listening to the news about the plane crash at the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pa. Some felt sorrow, anger or fear. Others felt a call to serve. First Lt. John McJunkin was one of the latter.

Now, nearly ten years to the day of the attack, McJunkin, is deployed to Afghanistan serving as the budget officer for Regional Command Southwest.

McJunkin, a native of Houston, was sleeping in his dormitory room, at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, that Tuesday morning before class. His door flew open and his roommate yelled at him to wake up, that America was under attack.

The two made their way to the building’s common area, where the second plane flying into the south tower was replaying on a big-screen TV.

“We didn’t know exactly what was happening, but the biggest thing that was going through my head once we found out that Osama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda were taking claim for it was ‘Why?,’” he explained nearly 10 years after the tragic day.

On October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced America was going to war.

“He said that we were going to war and that it was a holy war,” McJunkin reflected. “That was when I said ‘okay, I’m going to pick up arms. I’m going to protect our freedom of religion that is provided in America. I’m not going to allow extremism through Islamic jihad to grow and affect our way of life. It’s just not going to happen on my watch.’”

McJunkin left college and landed himself on the yellow footprints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, July 29, 2002.

“I think it’s really noble of him to have put the welfare of his country ahead of himself and his education,” said Sgt. Warren Webber III, the RC(SW) budget chief, and a native of Indian River, Mich. “He’s a good Marine and leader because he’s mission accomplishment first, then troop welfare. He has the total Marine concept and lives for the Marine Corps.”

On choosing which branch to join, McJunkin said his decision was easy.

“I wanted to get down and dirty. I wanted to be a part of the world’s finest war fighting organization there is to offer,” he boasted on his decision to join the Corps. “I think the challenge was why I came to the Marine Corps as opposed to any other branch of service. The Marine Corps, well there’s just something about it. It’s small and it has the same capabilities of all the other services.”

Coming in with an open contract on the enlisted side of the Marine Corps, the Corps put McJunkin in the job field of financial management. Lucky for him, he enjoyed his work.

But, something was still missing. He decided he wanted to finish his degree and become a commissioned officer. McJunkin applied for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training program [USMC,Marine Corps] and was accepted. He graduated from Worcester State University and received his commission July 29, 2009, exactly seven years to the day after he arrived at MCRD San Diego. Opting to stay in the field of finance, McJunkin became a budget officer.

“Everyday our dollars that we employ across all six war fighting functions, whether it is logistics, command and control or if it is fires – it touches a dollar,” he said. “Somebody has to account for that. Through the Global War on Terrorism some would say that our deficit is too large to bear. I like to know that since September 11, everything we’re doing with money as a weapon system directly correlates to September 11, 2001.”

McJunkin said he feels fortunate to know that as the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks, he is serving in Afghanistan alongside what he considers to be nothing but good Americans.

“I think every generation has that call to arms,” he explained. “Whether it’s World War I, World War II, Korea or Vietnam. We might be known as the iPod generation. We might be a little bit more sophisticated with Xbox and Playstation. But, I think we’re still as hungry and we’re still as strong and capable as the generations who have gone before us.

“I think everybody who is in uniform today is a good person just trying to answer the call to arms. This is an all volunteer service right out here in Afghanistan. And throughout my tour I’ve met some fine people, some fine Americans.”

McJunkin looks forward to returning home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. this spring, where he will be reunited with his wife Laura and their young daughter.

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