HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Marines and sailors from Charlie Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) fortified an Afghan compound during a two-week operation in order to create a suitable village stability platform (VSP) for members of Special Operations Task Force-West.
The mission required a full range of general engineering operations and mobility support. Due to the complexity of their task, Charlie Co. was reinforced by other members of 8th ESB including a motor transportation element, a security element and a heavy equipment element so they could focus strictly on their engineering role.
Special operations personnel planned to enter an area in central Helmand Province that previously lacked a coalition force presence, and they needed a fortified structure to base their operations from. To minimize the impact on the local community, the special operations personnel chose to fortify an existing Afghan compound rather than create a new VSP from scratch.
“Due to the prevalence of enemy activity and in order to maintain the element of surprise, we were not able to conduct an on-site survey that is usually performed on engineering projects,” explained Capt. Brad Klusmann, Charlie Co. commander, 8th ESB. “All of our planning was done from aerial imagery."
More than 60 vehicles marshaled at 8th ESB’s compound aboard Camp Leatherneck early in the morning of June 19, filled with engineering supplies and heavy equipment headed for the VSP.
Due to the remote location of the VSP, Charlie Co. had to blaze a new route to the objective over challenging terrain. Leading the way were members of Mobile Assault Company, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, who provided route clearance support, ensuring the new route was clear of any improvised explosive devices.
Charlie Co. arrived at the Remain-Over-Night (RON) site, which served as a staging area for the engineer project, after a full day of travel. “Getting to the RON site and the VSP were the hardest parts,” said Klussman. “Once we arrived at the VSP, we were able to get started on the engineering projects which we are much more comfortable with.”
The next day, the company arrived at the VSP with SOTF-W personnel already in place. The Marine heavy equipment operators immediately began mobility operations to improve the route to the VSP as several streams made the approach difficult for some of the larger equipment.
“The heavy equipment operators put in a lot of time at the start of this mission, and they really adapted to the situation well,” said 1st Lt. Christopher White, platoon commander, Charlie Co., 8th ESB. “Originally we were planning on installing a medium girder bridge to cross one of the gaps leading up to the VSP, but we ended up installing several culverts instead. We planned multiple courses of action for the mobility operations because we knew things could look different on-site versus from the air.”
Once the heavy equipment operators improved the route to the VSP, the rest of Charlie Co. got to work fortifying the compound to meet the special operations team’s needs.
First, they swept the area for improvised explosive devices. Then the Marine engineers fortified walls with Hesco barriers, demolished several excess inner compound walls, laid out a helicopter landing zone, built several guard towers, increased visibility from the compound and improved fields of fire.
“Our general support relationship with SOTF-W has been really good,” said Klussman. “We want to support them as much as possible, but at the same time they have also been willing to listen and take advice.”
The area proved to be kinetic as enemy activity was high. Several IEDs were found or struck along the route to the VSP, and insurgents also engaged Charlie Co. with small arms fire.
Despite these challenges, 8th ESB was eager to support SOTF-W and successfully accomplished the mission.
“This is definitely the most exciting mission we have completed during this deployment so far,” said Lance Cpl. David Laviolette, motor transport operator, 8th ESB.