CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent on Friday, Aug. 21, visited with Marines from 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) during what will likely be Conway’s last visit to Afghanistan as CMC before turning over responsibilities to the incoming commandant later this year.
Conway and Kent toured the 9th Engineer Support Battalion and Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (Forward) compounds, speaking with Marines and viewing demonstrations of their capabilities of providing tactical logistics to war fighters in support of the International Security Assistance Force.
Their first stop was the Bulk Fuel lot at 9th ESB, where Cpl. Gerald Sears, a bulk fuel specialist, explained to the Corps’ top officer how a fuel bladder containing 50,000 gallons of fuel can be transported to Marines in Marjah. After their brief conversation, a nervous Sears admitted this was his first time meeting the Marine Corps’ top officer.
"I never thought I’d get to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps," said Sears, 21, from Adair, Ill., who has served in the Marine Corps two years.
Lance Cpl. Michael Parker, an assistant mechanic noncommissioned officer in charge, explained to Conway and Kent how smaller fuel bladders are transported to Kajaki Dam, in the northeast corner of Helmand Province, where Marines are stationed at a remote combat outpost. Trucking supplies to the dam proved too dangerous, so the 1st MLG (FWD) Marines transport much-needed supplies to the COP by air.
"It’s a big part of the mission because this is the only way they’d be able to receive fuel," said the 22-year-old Enid, Okla., native. "Without fuel, we couldn’t drive any of the vehicles."
Conway and Kent next made their way over to the a water purification display, where Lance Cpl. Alexander Harrison, a basic water support technician, explained to the Corps’ top brass how he constructed a way to give Marines at remote COPs with no running water a solution that would negate the need to use bottled water for basic hygiene purposes.
Harrison constructed a wooden "sink" area that allows Marines to shave and brush their teeth – a 900-gallon water tank atop the sink structure, complete with faucets that activate the gravity-fed water flow. By cutting down on bottled water usage, the "shave table," as Harrison calls it, saves hundreds of gallons of water every three days and reduces the number of trucks on the road that resupply the COPs with bottled water every few days.
"It improves their lifestyle a little bit and gives them something nicer than what they have out there," said Harrison.
The next stop on the tour was an explosive ordnance disposal static display; EOD techs explained to Conway and Kent the various types of high- and low-tech improvised explosive devices commonly used by insurgents against coalition forces. IEDs are the number-one threat to troops in Afghanistan. EOD techs demonstrated methods used for combating the threat, to include remote-controlled robots and metal detectors; they also simulated the removal of a notional IED packed deep under dirt and rocks.
"Our main focus of effort is to provide freedom of movement in the battle space," said Sgt. John Shopa, an EOD tech with 1st EOD Company, 1st MLG (FWD), 28, from Richfield, Minn. "We do our job so Marines can do their jobs safely."
The commandant and sergeant major’s tour continued at the CLR-15 (FWD) Intermediate Maintenance Activity lot where Marines in oil-soaked coveralls were hard at work repairing vehicles damaged by IED blasts.
Marine mechanics are able to repair the severely-damaged tactical vehicles in under a month, said Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Miller, CLR-15 (FWD) sergeant major.
"It’s amazing what these Marines can do to fix a vehicle," said Miller, noting that the Marines learned how to fix the million-dollar armored vehicles "on the fly" while deployed.
In about 30 days, the mechanics are able to assess the damage, order repair parts and completely rebuild a vehicle, according to Capt. Melissa Ventrone, executive officer for Maintenance Company, CLR-15 (FWD).
"The Marines of Maintenance Company are doing phenomenal things," she said. "They work extremely long hours in the blazing hot sun to make sure the war fighters’ equipment is in top shape."
At the end of the visit, the commandant and sergeant major handed out coins to several Marines and shook their hands, signifying a job well done. Kent was impressed with the level of professionalism and positive attitude of the Marines.
"1st MLG is doing an outstanding job of supporting the war fighters out there," said Kent. "They are continuing the legacy of our great Corps."
The commanding general of 1st MLG (FWD), Brig. Gen. Charles L. Hudson, was proud to be able to display the capabilities of his Marines and how they contribute to the counterinsurgency mission.
"It’s extremely important to showcase the Marines and the tremendous work they’re doing," said Hudson.
In addition to bulk fuel, general engineering and maintenance support, 1st MLG (FWD) Marines also procure and deliver supplies, and provide health care and other vital services to Marines and sailors throughout Helmand province.