HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
For Marines, “special forces” traditionally means Force Reconnaissance units.
Most have heard stories about Force “Recon,” but they may not familiar with the role of a Marine special operations company. A couple weeks here with a Marine Special Operations Company deployed from the 1st Special Operations Battalion in Camp Pendleton will change that.
Marine Special Operations, as an organization, has only existed for about two years. The MSOC Marines come from former Force Recon and other infantry units, said a former Force Recon Marine. Their experiences vary, but most have had years of combat experience.
The MSOC Marines, based out of a forward operating base in central Helmand Province, operated at a much faster pace than other units in country.
Accompanied by a small group of Afghan National Army soldiers, the Marines were constantly on the go: visiting villages, distributing humanitarian aid and always searching for insurgents. Their breaks between operations varied from 12 hours to three days.
The MSOC Marines thrive on missions that have them patrolling for enemy forces, an MSOC Marine said. “We don’t like being on the FOB.”
Shortly afterward, the unit departed on a mission in northern Helmand Province.
An MSOC leatherneck said his Marines were attacked four times throughout the four-day mission. He described how they overcame enemy machine gun positions, mortar attacks and rocket-propelled-grenades.
“Needless to say, we silenced their weapons,” said another MSOC Marine.
On their next mission, a three-day assignment in north central Helmand Province, the MSOC Marines visited other villages throughout the districts. At night the Marines slept on the desert ground – in sleeping bags, but not on cots.
While on foot patrol through the first village on day one, it was clear these Marines were not on a time schedule, and they took no shortcuts. In full combat gear they searched all compounds, streets and paths in the village. When it was secure, they set up distribution sites for the humanitarian aid they took with them.
On the second day the unit came under attack within five minutes of arriving at a small village. Immediately the MSOC Marines positioned themselves throughout the village and began engaging the enemy insurgents.
Halfway into what turned out to be a nearly four-hour battle, a Marine who seemed to never rest, said with a grin, “We’re not done yet.”
He seemed unfazed that earlier an RPG missed him by less than two feet.
Despite several other close calls, the Marines relentlessly pursued the insurgents until they secured the village, and the Taliban fighters were either killed or fled. Before they were done, the MSOC hospital corpsmen cared for and treated villagers injured by insurgents.
Afterward Marine leaders met with village elders and committed to return with much needed aid and support, as long as the Marines had the villagers’ support.
Shortly after returning to their FOB, the MSOC Marines prepared to depart on another mission. After all, they weren’t done yet.
Editor’s note: Because the Marines personnel mentioned in this story are special operations personnel, their names and the specific locations cannot be published.