NOW ZAD, Afghanistan --
In the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, infantry Marines and the shore party got mixed up after the initial landings on the beach. As gear and supplies were offloaded to support the assault, the shore party was unable to effectively direct the distribution of the cargo because they could not be distinguished in the swarm of other Marines on the beach. To mitigate the confusion, the shore party began wearing a red patch on their trousers and covers to identify themselves.
Although the core concept of their job remains the same, today’s shore party Marines are known as landing support [LS] specialists, and the red patch insignia is still proudly worn. While there are no beaches to assault in Afghanistan, LS Marines stay busy conducting several other missions associated with “Red Patchers.” Chief among those tasks include organizing the travel of passengers and cargo throughout Helmand Province.
“I love the term “Red Patchers,” said Lance Cpl. Brent Wars, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “It is the one thing that separates us from all other Marines. It’s kind of a pride thing.”
Wars, 20, a Groveton, Texas native, runs the Arrival/Delivery Airfield Control Group at Forward Operating Base Now Zad. Working in a noncommissioned officer’s billet, Wars is responsible for the entire A/DACG’s operation as well as two other landing support Marines who manage and organize every flight that comes to the FOB.
“We are all capable of accomplishing the mission at hand,” said Wars. “But I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that the job gets done.”
The landing zone at FOB Now Zad can support numerous types of Marine Corps aircraft including MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53E Super Sea Stallions, and UH-1 Hueys as well as some U.S. Army, civilian and British helicopters. The three Marines manage anywhere from 20 to 40 incoming and outgoing flights per week.
“Our job is to facilitate and manifest the aerial travel of ‘PAX’ and cargo here at Now Zad,” said Lance Cpl. Justin MacRae, landing support specialist, CLB-4, 1st MLG (Fwd).
During World War II, infantry Marines and LS Marines worked together during beach assaults by providing security and directing the distribution of supplies. This tradition continues today at Now Zad. Security for the landing zone is provided by infantrymen with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, while the landing support Marines are responsible for identifying the landing zone.
When an aircraft approaches the landing zone, Wars or MacRae employ smoke grenades so the pilots can gauge the wind and determine the exact point to land.
Once the bird touches down, the “Red Patchers” speak with the aircraft’s crew chief to exchange information about the arrival and departure of passengers and cargo.
An aircraft idling in a landing zone can be extremely dangerous, and it is the LS Marines’ responsibility to ensure personnel are escorted safely to and from the aircraft. Passengers arriving at the landing zone are led to a safe area to await transport to the FOB. Once all arriving personnel have been moved to safety, the LS Marines escort any departing passengers to the waiting aircraft.
“Since we’re the guys on the ground…we get to meet a lot of people,” said MacRae, 19, a native of Las Vegas.
Whether it’s day or night, the landing support Marines are out at the landing zone directing incoming aircraft.
“One of the coolest sites to see is the Ospreys when they land at night,” said MacRae.
After the aircraft takes off, the arrivals are loaded up into trucks for a short drive to the FOB. Though the location may be a small dot on a map to some, MacRae said he loves what he does.
“I have wanted to join the Marine Corps since I was a little kid and deploying to a combat zone was another big goal that I had,” said MacRae. “Being out here and seeing how my job affects people is really cool."
Wars agrees that regardless of where they do their job, this is where he wants to be.
“Ever since I joined I have wanted to deploy,” said Wars. “I’m happy to be here and have the opportunity to serve my country.”