SUROBI DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- Operation Bama, the first large-scale operation conducted by 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, since deploying to Afghanistan earlier this month in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, was completed here May 28.
The battalion is continuing operations started by 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, earlier this year, as well as beginning new operations in the Surobi District, located about 45 kilometers east of Kabul. Operations include patrols, vehicle checkpoints, civil and humanitarian assistance coordinated with the coalition’s provincial reconstruction teams.
Operation Bama was conducted in the Wusbin Valley, an area believed to be a hiding place of many anti-coalition militia members, as part of the coalition’s ongoing effort to disrupt terrorist activity in Afghanistan.
The valley, north of Surobi, is an area coalition forces haven’t really made a presence in before, said Capt. Justin Ansel, company commander, I Company. “The intent of this operation was to show our presence in the area.”
Operation Bama began with the helicopter insertion of scout sniper teams and subsequent ground insertion of mortarmen to provide additional firepower if needed during the patrol.
Hours after the mortarmen departed more than 50 Marines and Sailors from the battalion stood ready near a landing zone marked with chemlights. The sun began to rise over the distant mountains as the Marines lifted their packs onto their backs, preparing for their helicopter transports.
Two Army CH-47 Chinook medium transport and four Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters neared overhead. The Apaches quickly began circling the area as the two Chinooks began their landing.
Dust and debris flew everywhere as the Marines ran in two single-file lines into the rear hatches of the “birds.” Everyone took their seat and the helicopters lifted off the ground, carrying their combat-ready troops to their destination.
The Chinook helicopters touched down on a mountain near the first village of the 15-kilometer patrol route through the valley. Marines rushed from the back of the helicopters, quickly establishing perimeter security.
Two Apaches remained with the Marines, circling overhead to provide close air support for the patrol. From the mortar positions, Marines watched the village and observed the reaction of the villagers as the Marines neared the village. They radioed their report to the Marines on the ground.
After patrolling down the steep mountainside, the Marines took a security position outside the village. Ansel, a few other Marines and an interpreter approached a villager and asked to speak to the Malik, or village leader.
Speaking to the villagers, they introduced themselves as a friendly coalition force in the area to protect Afghanistan’s best interest and continue ongoing efforts to destroy terrorist infrastructure and weapons caches. After the introduction and various conversations, Ansel presented the village with a radio as a gesture of good faith, he said.
“I thought this operation was a good way to let the people in the valley know the coalition is here,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Bailey, mortarman. “We did some humanitarian assistance too; handing out toys to the local children.”
The Marines continued their patrol through the valley, repeating the scene in each of the several villages along the way. The Afghans responded differently in each village, but the majority supported the Marines. Many of the children in one village snacked on food and candy the Marines had given them.
As the day wore on, the patrol element grew larger as the teams of scout snipers, who had been watching the area for a few days, joined the rest of the company.
“The terrain and the weather were challenges, but it’s what we’ve been training for,” Bailey added, referring to the battalion’s recent Combined Armed Exercise held at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
As temperature here reached about 120 degrees, the sun bore down on the patrol. Each Marine wore his body armor and helmet, which protect them from bullets and shrapnel, but not heat. They also carried their weapons and packs, weighing about 80 pounds, Ansel said.
“Despite the tough conditions and harsh weather, the Marines maintained their focus and discipline,” he said. “The patrol was long, hot and monotonous.”
As the patrol continued, the non-commissioned officers ensured their Marines stayed hydrated. Marines shared their water with their fellow devil dogs, encouraging them to continue and keep their mind in the game.
“You have to keep a brave face in front of your Marines, even if you’re hurting,” said Cpl. Raymond Butler, squad leader, weapons platoon. “Take some of the weight if they have too much; give them some of your water. You have to encourage them, not de-motivate them.”
As the Marines reached the end of their patrol route, they knew their hard work had paid off; establishing their presence and completing their mission.
“Completing a patrol like this is a significant feat in and of itself,” Ansel said. “Add the weight, the weather and the terrain and it’s a real challenge. But, in typical Marine fashion, these Marines successfully accomplished their mission.”