CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
A small group of heavily equipped tactical vehicles speed along Route 1, the only strip of paved road in the region, bound for a turn-off point somewhere in the distance where they will carve their own path to their final destination. The turret gunners constantly scan the landscape as it is revealed before them at 40 miles per hour and the crackle of the occasional radio message can be heard from the phone-like receiver clipped to the Modular Tactical Vest of the vehicle commander seated to the right of the driver.
The trip is only scheduled to last a day, but due to the nature of the region they operate in, they know better.
Along with enough food and water to last for several days, they also brought generous quantities of extra fuel and ammunition in case things take a turn for the worse. Due to increased enemy activity attributed to the Taliban’s purported resurgence in southern Helmand province, these guys are prepared for anything.
In fact, perhaps more so than many other Marines in the battalion, their assertiveness, attention to detail and marksmanship skills are imperative to their primary day-to-day mission – to look after the personal security matters of the Combat Logistics Battalion 6 battalion commander.
‘A very specific set of skills’
The CLB-6 Personal Security Detail is a school-trained small unit within the battalion numbering 12 members, including team leader Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy D. Gohl. Hand-picked by Sgt. Maj. A. M. Dobson, the battalion sergeant major for CLB-6, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), Gohl had his work cut out for him in preparing the team before the battalion deployed to Afghanistan just a few months after he checked aboard. Regardless of the time crunch, the senior enlisted Marine of the “Red Cloud Battalion” knew he was the man for the job.
“He came with a very specific set of skills which we could capitalize on,” said Dobson. “Between training as a military policeman and his time with SOTG (Special Operations Training Group); his pedigree and experience, he was a no-brainer for me.”
Though his initial reaction to the news was one of surprise mixed with a hint of indifference, Gohl quickly warmed to the notion.
“The day I checked into the unit, the sergeant major pretty much met me at the door and asked how I would feel about running the personal security detail,” said Gohl, a military policeman by trade. “I didn’t really know what the PSD duties would entail, but after learning a bit more I really liked the idea of having a non-standard mission over here.”
Like Gohl, the rest of the Marines who would make up the team were also preselected by the command staff – Sergeants Timothy Dobbins, Anthony Diaz and Joey Mashburn; Corporals Daniel Vargas, Eric Bush and Ivan Colina; and Lance Corporals Benjamin Arens, David Johnson, Shannon Ohlinger, Joshua Quinones and Seth Miller. Spanning various years of experience, their range of occupational skills include motor transport mechanics, heavy equipment operators and electricians, factored in with weapons proficiency and knowledge, allowing them to be an extremely self-sufficient crew.
“I got with the company first sergeants and we looked at who we could pull for the detail; the top ten percent,” said Dobson. “We looked at things like MOS proficiency, weapons skills and combat experience. For those who didn’t have any, and there are a few on the team, it was their drive and desire to be here that earned them a spot.
“It’s a bonus for some of these guys,” noted Dobson. “It says a lot about the lance corporals and corporals on the team.”
The Marines officially began their journey together when they each reported to the Battle Field Commander’s Security Team Course in Melbourne, Fla. in October 2009. Over a period of seven training days, the Marines learned evasive driving techniques, controlled collision procedures and various other defensive tactics to include fighting withdrawals and complex ambush negotiations; all lessons geared toward accomplishment of their mission in Helmand province.
Further theater-specific training was executed aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., during Enhanced Mojave Viper pre-deployment exercises.
“We gained a lot of knowledge through those training exercises,” said Vargas, team member for PSD, CLB-6, 1st MLG (FWD). “On top of that, guys like Bush already had a lot of experience with logistics patrols, so he brought a lot to the team and Gunny Gohl, with his background, has done a great job getting us where we need to be. He looks at the psychological side of things too; he looks at who will perform the best in each position, whether it’s gunner, driver, or whatever, and he looks for the perfect fit.”
“He’s always willing to go out of his way to make sure we understand things,” said Ohlinger, team member for PSD, CLB-6, 1st MLG (FWD). “We’ve become very well rounded.”
‘Nothing else matters’
First and foremost, the safety of Lt. Col. Mike Lepson is in the hands of these 12 individuals. From the frequent and relatively safe trips up the hardball to Forward Operating Base Delaram II to the long and unpredictable cross county trips to patrol bases in and around Now Zad, Marjah and Musa Qal’eh, Lepson’s safe passage through these imminent danger zones is their sole responsibility.
“Other than the protection of the battalion commander, nothing else matters,” said Gohl, a native of Apalachin. N.Y. “We are ready to jump in the fire, so to speak, if we have to.”
More than halfway through the deployment, with dozens of trips outside the wire under their belt, Dobson couldn’t be happier with the team’s performance record.
“Though we aren’t an infantry unit, our battalion commander moves around the battle space just as much as anyone else and the PSD has really been top notch,” he said.
Though their duties can consist of unconventional hours, non-stop work days and even put them in harm’s way, each member will tell you it’s an invaluable experience and one they take extremely serious.
“As a lance corporal being selected to be a part of the team, I was pretty surprised, but it’s something I have a lot of pride in,” said Ohlinger. “It represents a lot.”
Miller, team member for PSD, CLB-6, 1st MLG (FWD) echoes these thoughts.
“It’s an awesome responsibility to have,” he said. “It’s our job to protect the CO and if we need to step into the line of fire to do that, then that’s what we will do.”
Though this group was pulled from sections all over the battalion; many of them never meeting before being pulled together by the battalion sergeant major, Vargas sees the team as a perfect example of a Marine’s versatility.
“This group is an example of what the Marine Corps is all about,” said Vargas. “It doesn’t matter what you do – supply, maintenance, heavy equipment operator – you can give Marines any billet provide them the proper training and no matter what, they will perform at the highest level. This is a dedicated group of guys and we’re all proud to be here.”
Since touching down nearly six months ago, the team’s operational knowledge has grown exponentially and if one aspect of their duties has become more apparent than another, most will note pre-mission preparation as the key to success out here.
“After each run, we immediately begin to reset for the next one,” said Mashburn, weapons non-commissioned officer for the PSD, CLB-6, 1st MLG (FWD). “We make sure the essentials are taken care of and then all we need to do is check things over again real quick and we’re ready to head out again as fast as we need to.”
To assist with this process, the team manages their own compound area, complete with their own set of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected tactical vehicles and storage facility. This allows them perpetual access to their trucks and gear, enabling them to continuously address maintenance issues with their equipment and improve the overall execution of operations.
“From the moment we are tasked, we begin analyzing the route and threat level and then plan accordingly,” said Gohl. “Work is continuous though. Vehicle maintenance is a big part of it, but because the two motor [transportation] mechanics with us have kind of taken on that burden, the other team members can turn their focus elsewhere as needed.”
‘Heightened state of awareness’
On mission day, the team members all put their game faces on. They crawl out of their racks several hours before the scheduled departure of friendly lines to ensure everything is in place, leaving no detail overlooked – trucks fueled, weapons properly lubricated and mounted, radios checked and ammunition loaded, to name a few.
Today the team, along with Lepson and Dobson, will depart Camp Leatherneck and make liaison with an element from CLB-6’s Bravo Company at FOB Delaram II. From there, they will push north to a small patrol base as part of a combat logistics patrol intended to resupply the Marines based in the area with necessities such as bottled water and food items.
On this particular morning, all 12 members of the team will take part in the mission, but there are times when the entire detail is not needed. Regardless, each member plays a pivotal role in each mission. According to Gohl, everyone brings something different to the table to get things accomplished on game day.
“Everyone, on the day of a mission, is in a heightened state of awareness,” said Gohl. “The safety and security of the battalion commander is the first thing on all of our minds. We were trained for the worst, but as we head out of the motor pool at the beginning of each mission, we can only hope for the best.”