AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- In a far corner of the most violent province in Iraq, a small, unassuming office facilitates the inner workings of a Marine logistics battalion.
Ensuring Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion 7 have what they need to get the job done falls on the shoulders of the S4 section. This critical section for the battalion is run by three junior enlisted leaders – noncommissioned officers - with very different but equally important missions.
The S4 section is the place CLB-7 Marines go when they need logistical needs like ammunition, fuel, food, water, maintenance, and transportation services.
The battalion is responsible for providing logistical support to Marine infantry units operating in the unforgiving northwest section of the Al Anbar province, arguably one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq.
Delivering supplies like food and ammunition, repairing highways damaged by roadside bombs and constructing housing for forward-operating infantry units are just some of the jobs this support unit provides.
However, the support CLB-7 provides Marines throughout western Iraq could not be accomplished if their own Marines did not have what they need to get the job done.
“I have never had a doubt that the corporals would not take the initiative and step up to fill this gap. The Marines have all learned new skills they never perceived themselves as acquiring in combat,” said Capt. Arturo Manzanedo, S4 officer-in-charge and Headquarters and Service Company commander.
As the hazardous materials chief, Cpl. Steven McMaster ensures his fellow Marines - from the newest private to the most senior-ranking officer in the battalion - work in the safest environment possible. Correct protective equipment for riding in humvees along the dangerous roads of Iraq, hearing and eye protection for personnel working around machinery and proper disposal of used engine oil are just some of the responsibilities he deals with daily.
McMaster, 22, has Marines and sailors at each unit who act as his representatives to enforce regulations and educate their sections to prevent accidents from happening.
“The stuff that I teach the Marines about is really important to get them out of that Superman mentality thinking that ‘It’s never going to happen to me,’” said the Jacksonville, Ark., native.
Although checking on more than 1,000 Marines in the battalion to ensure his fellow Marines are operating safely can be tedious work, McMaster says he has a sense of accomplishment when his efforts pay off.
“It’s an awesome feeling when an inspection comes down and we get flying colors all across the board,” said McMaster, who has more than three years of experience with safety and HAZMAT.
One mission that is not as visible as McMaster’s but essential to the survival of the Marines who go ‘outside the wire’ is Cpl. Lance J. Elzner’s job as the ammunition chief.
Elzner, a Houston, Texas native, is responsible for every bullet issued to each Marine in the battalion. Every convoy leaving the base must be ready for a worst-case scenario - an attack by the very insurgency they are trying to neutralize - so Elzner ensures every weapon from the individual Marine’s M16 rifle to the fully automatic grenade launcher mounted on top of some of the vehicles is fully stocked with ammunition so if, and when, an attack occurs the Marines will be ready to fight.
The 21-year-old also maintains total accountability of heavier weapons munitions such as shoulder-fired rockets and missiles that may mean the difference between life and death.
“I feel that this (responsibility) has boosted my confidence; it lets me know that it is a billet that cannot be denied and that someone has to step up and fulfill it,” said Elzner.
The third corporal, Christopher J. Leinenkugel, also feels that Marines should not shy away from greater responsibilities found in a combat zone.
“For Marines to grow as leaders, they need to be given the chance to step up and be entrusted with more responsibility,” said the 22-year-old Chippewa Falls, Wis., native.
Leinenkugel is the embark chief for the battalion and is responsible for major movement coordination such as the battalion’s deployment to Iraq earlier this year. He ensured all of the battalion’s assets from office supplies to generators were ready for shipment, weighed and organized for the journey while maintaining total accountability of the equipment.
“Moving a battalion from point “A” to point “B” has a lot more intricate details than it may seem and the transportation issues would be a dilemma (the battalion) would all have to reckon with,” said Manzanedo, 35, from Sahuarita, Az.
Now that the battalion and all of its property are in Iraq, Leinenkugel continues to account for everything and is planning the shipment for the unit’s return to the States later this summer. He tracks down shipping containers the Marine Corps has leased from civilian companies for return to their owners.
Leinenkugel has Marines he directs as they organize the battalion’s return while he handles the administrative side of the job but he is not afraid of old-fashioned manual labor, he says.
“As an embark clerk, I just needed to execute (my mission). Although I now play more of a planning role, as a corporal, I still need to get my hands dirty,” he said.
Sgt. Sean P. Carlin, who recently returned back to Twentynine Palms, Calif., as his time in service comes to an end, used to head the crew with three corporals under his charge.
The 22-year-old Seattle native handled the utilities department acting as the battalion’s superintendent managing the repairs of the unit’s housing and work areas.
Now, with their sergeant gone, the endless ‘to do’ list is the responsibility for the corporals left to fill his shoes.
The S4 may be one of the smaller offices in the battalion, but it plays an important role in the daily operations of all six of the battalion’s the companies, said Manzanedo.
“In my eyes, the purpose of the S4 is to alleviate the companies from these daily duties so each company can focus on their primary mission, whether it may be maintenance, security, or engineers,” he said.