MARJAH, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The first installment in a three-part-series chronicling the experiences of Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during their participation in Operation Moshtarak in Marjah, Afghanistan.
Several young men huddle around a small video camera, their faces bathed in the soft hue of its LCD screen, in the dark confines of an abandoned compound in Marjah, Afghanistan, March 20. As the Marines gather around, pulling up boxes of food and bottled water to use as stools, Lance Cpl. James R. Borzillieri, a gunner with 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, shows fellow Marines the video clips he made during the first several days of fighting in Marjah.
Feb. 13, 2010 – D Day
“Well, it’s seven-thirty in the morning and we’re here, sitting in an open field in Marjah and we’re slowly being surrounded,” says the smiling face of Borzillieri on the first clip before it’s turned off and another is played. The second clip takes place an hour and a half later, but starts the same way, Borzillieri, with a serene smile. “Well, they’re shooting at us now and we’re still out in the open,” he says before turning away from the camera and grabbing his M-240 medium machine gun. The video continues that way, with Borzillieri firing at insurgents who fire back.
Intermittently, Borzillieri turns back to the camera for the occasional update, saying frankly, “I think I got one,” or “they just fired an RPG at us.”
The fear and apprehension present in the Marines that day never shows on the video, but it’s there. A nonchalant comment or random chuckle is offset by wild eyes or heads on a swivel, which move left and right as rounds impact all around them.
“The only thing that really prepped me for this deployment was my last. Nothing you can do to prepare, except do it,” said Borzillieri, who was with 1/6 during their last deployment to Afghanistan, when the battalion saw combat in Garmsir. “Trying to prepare for combat, you need to understand that you can’t control who gets hit or who’s coming back. You just have to keep your head down and fire back. Keeping your composure is key. Emotions will get the better of you if you let them.”
Crouched next to Borzillieri in the video was his assistant gunner, Lance Cpl. Allan J. Fenley with the 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Co., 1/6, who is also on his second deployment to Afghanistan and was with 1/6 during their last tour.
“I kept thinking about and mentioning my family,” said Fenley. “Even before things started happening, I was just thinking hard about family and how I need to get home to them. I knew what was happening. I just wanted to stay alive for it.”
Even before the fight began, the Marines were forced to struggle with conflicting emotions; a rising sense of frustration being the most commonplace.
“Since we first landed, my frustrations started then,” said Cpl. Joshua T. Hurst, the fire direction center chief for the 81 mm Mortar Platoon, with Weapons Co., 1/6. “We were spread out on different flights, and landed on two different sides of a canal. We needed to get the gun line up before the sun rose, but our weapons system was spread out amongst the two different groups.”
Due to the weight of their ammunition and the weapon’s system itself, the mortar section was broken up and placed on different helicopters before being flown into Marjah, but when they landed, they had to regroup in the dark and quickly set up their position, Hurst said, adding that when he landed in the city, the base plate for one their mortar tubes was on another helicopter.
“We were sitting behind our packs in an open field, after being told this was the most hostile place in the country, but nothing was going on, until it was,” said Hurst. “We started taking small-arms and indirect fire from every direction. Rounds were cracking over our heads, RPGs were whipping by, and then we got the call to pick up our gear and move to a different location. When the snipers started to shoot, my frustrations reached their peak, thinking ‘if I move an inch I’m going to get shot.’”
As the video goes black, and the footage from the first day is finished, Borzillieri looks around the room, which has grown more crowded since the video began playing.
Although they experienced those first few days first hand, every Marine nearby has gravitated towards the camera, wanting to see it again. Thumbing the play button, Borzillieri starts the video of their second day in Marjah.