Tennessee Native Re-enlists, Sees Fruits of his Labor in Marjah
MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand province -- Sleeping in muddy fighting positions, going months without a real shower, and receiving ammo resupplies more often than shipments of food, isn’t the ideal lifestyle choice for most. One Tenn. native understands the sacrifices expected of a Marine Corps infantryman, and said that he believes those sacrifices are necessary to see change in Afghanistan.LCpl. Joseph Stearrett said that he knew since he was a child, he was going to serve his country’s military as an infantrymen. He never imagined, however, that his service would lead him back to the city of Marjah, an insurgent stronghold his bn. was ordered to clear in 2010. In early 2010, 3/6 made its way into Marjah to rip the city from the insurgents’ grasp. "The unit’s Marines and sailors pushed into the city and were shot at from day one," as Stearrett recalled.“For the next 2 weeks, it was like firefights from sunup to sundown,” said Stearrett. His platoon was spilt into 2 locations, and his squad lived most of the deployment at a local center for elementary education, a location the Marines referred to as the yellow schoolhouse for its color.“Depending on where you were in the city, there were good times and bad times,” said 1st Lt. Jackson Smith, an Md. native, and the EO for India Co. “For the yellow schoolhouse, those guys who were there full-time -- there were not a lot of good times. It was bad, or it was really bad for the most part.”Smith was Stearrett’s plt. cmdr. during their deployment in 2010. He said that throughout the deployment, no matter how bad any situation got, he never heard Stearrett complain about anything. “Through it all, you never heard Stearrett open his mouth and say, ‘I don’t want to do this, or I don’t want to do that.’ He was just going to get the job done.”“I got told we were coming back here, and I was expecting all hell to break loose; then we get here and there was nothing,” said Stearrett. “Last year we got ammo resupplies more than we got mail drops or resupplies on water and chow. It was a big shock from, literally, 9 to 10 months ago.”Stearrett, who has been back in Marjah for 4 months, said he has not fired a single round since his return. It’s a big change from waking up to go on patrol, and knowing there was a 90% chance they were going to get shot at. He said that he never expected for Marjah to turn around as quickly as it did, but the city’s speedy about-face was not the only thing that surprised him. He was baffled to hear that his former home -- the yellow schoolhouse -- had been renovated and re-opened as a school, after he returned to the U.S. Stearrett decided he wanted to continue his Marine Corps career, and was approved for re-enlistment recently. He asked to do his re-enlistment ceremony at the yellow schoolhouse. “This year when I found out he was re-enlisting, and that he wanted to do it at the yellow schoolhouse, was about the most humbling experience I’ve had,” said Smith. “The guy could have pretty much gone anywhere, and choose to have anyone with him. Just to be able to witness that, and to see him back in that place, was a pretty awesome experience.” As Smith witnessed his Marine swear to serve and protect the nation for another 4 years, Stearrett bore witness to his own efforts during his 2010 deployment. Stearrett explained that many people don’t think they make a difference, because they never see the effect of their efforts. Coming back to Marjah and being able to see the impact he and his fellow Marines had on the area, brought him a sense of accomplishment. “Seeing everything we fought for, definitely brings us a lot of pride,” said Stearrett. “Three hundred and ten kids attended that school this year. You definitely get a sense of pride knowing you helped set the school up for success – 310 kids got an education. Everything you did was worth it.”
LCpl. Joseph Stearrett was in some of the thickest fighting to recapture the city from insurgents.
Story and photos by Cpl. James Clark
SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand province -- They walk through sand, fine and powdered like hot chocolate mix, and look up at mountains belonging on post cards, as they work under the heavy afternoon sun. For the junior Marines in the section, this is their true test. “I came here and found out how little I knew,” said LCpl. William Murray, a radio operator. “In the first few months I’ve learned so much more through hands-on experience. The senior guys passed down a lot of knowledge we needed, and taught us how to avoid making certain mistakes they'd made in the past.”By working in adverse conditions, junior Marines, like Murray, were challenged to learn quickly, and become self sufficient. “Things are now going pretty smooth, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can start teaching myself,” said Murray. It's often through firsthand experience where true learning takes place, although they've trained extensively and prepared for these scenarios.“At military occupational specialty school they learn to walk, then during predeployment training they begin to jog, but it’s not until they deploy that they begin to run,” said Sgt. Jaime Shanks, the plt. sgt. for Comm. Plt.. “They’re the future; we teach them everything we know, because when we leave here, they’re it.”"Marines in the communications field are responsible not only for establishing radio contact with CF, but satellite communications, internet capable troop tracking assets, and maintaining all electronic equipment within the bn," explained Staff Sgt. Carl Davidson, the comm. maintenance chief. "Even with the heavy pressure placed on his junior Marines’ shoulders," Davidson added, “the newer Marines are definitely learning; they’re picking up quick and on the fly.”In addition, many of the junior Marines will be attached to infantry companies for combat ops, and will be responsible for fulfilling that role on their own. “A lot of the new guys going forward are being taught how to do it all, to be self sufficient and know their job, and that of the Marine above them.” said Shanks, a N.H. native. “Most communications Marines nowadays learn the newer side of radio, but don’t know how to operate in the field – how to set up communications equipment quickly, like you would do in major ops.” In order to learn how to best handle their newfound responsibilities, the more junior Marines are turning to those like Shanks, now on his 3rd deployment, for guidance. “We teach them how to do the job more efficiently,” said Shanks. “They ask a lot of questions and have a lot of knowledge. If they want to try something new, we let them.”Nearing the end of their first week at PB Alcatraz, Marines of Comm. Plt., have settled into a more consistent, albeit far-from-easy routine. They still work around the clock, but for the more junior personnel, the finer points of their craft are coming a little easier.
Marines set up communications equipment.
SAMC Induction Ceremony at Bagram Air Field
BAGRAM AIR FIELD – Staff Sgt. Danny Estep said he firmly believes that he represents his former NCOs that helped mentor and coach him, during his 16-year military career. The ceremony marks the first time the Lifeliners brigade and the 101st STB has sponsored an SAMC induction ceremony at Bagram Air Field, since deploying to Afghanistan. “This is my first deployment, and I’ve definitely gotten a lot out of it. Getting the SAMC in a combat zone makes it pretty special,” the Ark. native said.
The Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, named after the late movie actor and most decorated Soldier in World War II, is a private org. for the Army’s enlisted NCOs. It was formed in 1986 at Fort Hood Texas, and is geared toward inducting NCOs whose leadership qualities and professional achievements best exemplify the Army values.“This is the epitome of the NCO Corps,” Master Sgt. Michael Negron, brigade ops sgt. maj., 101st Sust. Bde. “It’s a big achievement for NCOs to get inducted. It means they’re set above their peers, and anyone who sees them knows they’re the ones who can make it happen.”Estep, a communication switch section sgt., said that this was his second attempt at being inducted. He originally began working on his goal while he was stationed in Korea back in 2005. “My 1st sgt. there was a SAMC member, and he inspired me to want to do it,” he said. “He was a great NCO, and I loved working for him. He said to me, ‘I think you’ll make a good one,’ and he got me prepared to go.”He got delayed when the Eighth Army raised the SAMC Army Physical Fitness Score qualification to 300 points. He eventually left Korea, and took on assignments as instructor and recruiter that left him no time to study and prepare. “I got mentally prepared. He trained me up, but I didn’t have the time. I never lost the desire to be inducted,” Estep said. “I wanted my 1st sgt. to know that I wanted to be like him,” he said. “When my 1st sgt. in theater said that I should go, that was the only push I needed.” Bde. Command Sgt. Maj., Command Sgt. David Thompson described Estep as “the epitome of a great NCO.”“I wish I had 10 more of him in this bde., but we're inundated with a lot of great NCOs here,” he said. “For him to be a junior NCO performing a grade or 2 above his rank is phenomenal. Alpha gets the reward of having him in their ranks every day.”
A Different Fight in Helmand at Fiddlers Green
FIRE BASE FIDDLERS GREEN, Helmand province – “We get fire missions at any time,” said Ohio native Staff Sgt. Dawud Hakim, a plt. sgt. “You stop everything. There is nothing more important than a fire mission. Whatever you're doing, it’s going to stop. You’re in the bathroom, everything stops; eating chow, you just drop everything and move.”These Marines fight a different fight. They're rarely called upon to patrol in the fields and farmlands of Helmand prov. Rather, their fight resides right on the gun line within their base. They know lives are on the line when they receive a request for fire, and the weight of making sure they send rounds accurately downrange, falls squarely on their shoulders. They live feet from their M777 howitzer artillery cannons to ensure swift and timely movement to their weapons at a moment’s notice, but in between missions, they still make time to enjoy the little things that make life here agreeable. The Marines must be ever-vigilant, regardless of the day’s activities: while performing routine duties, in the middle of a meal, during a coveted conversation with a family member, or even while taking a shower. If the call for fire support comes, they must answer it.
An M777 howitzer kicks rocks and dust into the air after firing during a recent mission. The Marines with Charlie Btry, remain undaunted as they listen to the recorder to see if they've another mission.
Marines quickly reload their M777 howitzer during a recent fire support mission. At any moment artillery Marines must be ready to support calls for fire. Oftentimes, the call comes when they're eating a meal or working out at the gym, causing Marines to run to the gun line in various forms of dress, while throwing on their protective flak jackets and Kevlar helmets.
Marines dig in to secure the legs of their M777 howitzer. At any moment the Marines may be called for a fire mission, so maintaining their positions is essential.
Marines fire an M982 Excalibur round from an M777 howitzer during a recent fire support mission. The artillerymen spend hours each day, running through dry-fire training drills to keep their skills sharp in preparation for requests for fire support.
HELMAND PROVINCE -- During an op to disrupt an insurgent network in Musa Qal’Ah district, yesterday, a combined Afghan and coalition patrol detained several insurgents. The op seized 22-lbs (10 kgs) of opium, IED components, and small arms.
----- In Reg-e Khan Neshin district, a coalition patrol uncovered a drug cache, yesterday, consisting of 315-lbs (143 kgs) of hashish. One suspected insurgent was detained during the op.
URUZGAN PROVINCE -- In Khas Uruzgan district, today, a combined Afghan and CF patrol discovered and seized a weapons cache consisting of 700 7.62 mm rounds, a rifle and several mags.
KANDAHAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor captured a Taliban leader, during an op in Kandahar district. The leader received shipments of explosives and weapons, used to support Taliban ops in the area.EastLOGAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition patrol detained 2 insurgents, including a suspected insurgent leader in Khoshi district, yesterday. The leader is responsible for supplying lethal aid used in attacks against ANSF and CF. ----- In Muhammad Aghah district, yesterday, a combined Afghan and coalition patrol detained 2 insurgents, including a suspected insurgent leader. The leader is an IED facilitator, responsible for attacks against ANSF and CF.
PAKTIKA PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a facilitator in Gomal district, yesterday. The facilitator plans and conducts attacks against CF in the Sarobi and Orgun districts.
COB BASRA – Soldiers with the 414th CAB recently redeployed from COB Basra. These reservists made up the military support element, whose mission was to support the U.S. Dept of State in leading the PRT in Basrah prov. In July, the PRT transitioned to the U.S. Consulate General in preparation for the drawdown of U.S. troops.“Our mission was to help rebuild the infrastructure within Basrah prov., in particular, to assist the State Dept in accomplishing their mission,” said 1st Lt. Raymond Bixler, officer-in-charge of the consulate tactical ops center. "The mission was to assist the State Dept in the transition from a military op to a diplomatic mission," he added."It was a civil affairs mission guided towards assisting and advising the State Dept," said Col. Lavore Richmond, cmdr. for the military support element. “We provided them with security when needed; we provided them with red zone pick- ups for the escorting of key leaders from the Iraqi govt.” The military support element was also instrumental in programs that focused on improving the infrastructure of Basrah, Maysan, Muthanna, and Dhi Qar provs. “A lot of the PRT projects were in economics, dealing with incoming commerce projects. We did some women’s initiatives where women were given opportunities to get funding for small businesses,” said Richmond. "The PRT worked with the provincial gov., to help improve essential services and U.S.-Iraq relations," said Richmond.
"These programs relied on money provided by the Cmdr’s Discretionary Fund, and the Cmdr’s Emergency Response Program, (CERP)" said Bixler. “All the CERP projects within Basrah prov., went through us,” he said. “We used that money to refurbish schools, build a school, drill a well, build a water treatment plant, whatever needed to be done.”
Now that U.S. Forces are leaving Iraq, the reconstruction efforts in the southern provs., will be led by the consulate here, and focus on developing stronger ties with the Iraqi people. “We knew we were working ourselves out of a job,” said Richmond. “It’s bittersweet seeing it come to an end, knowing we're the last ones.”
Cpl. Khai Tran, 414th CAB, is awarded the Army Commendation Medal. Tran provided security for key-leader engagements, for the U.S. Consulate General in Basra.