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Through the Eyes of Infantrymen

Lance Cpl. Nathan Aschenbrenner, an automatic rifleman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, patrols across a field during the first week of Operation Double Check, a battalion-level offensive to rid Khwajadad and other areas in southern Musa Qal’eh district of insurgents. The Marines spent almost a week away from their company position and had to combat cold weather, inadequate shelter, fatigue and hunger, in addition to insurgents, during the first week of the operation.

Lance Cpl. Nathan Aschenbrenner, an automatic rifleman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, patrols across a field during the first week of Operation Double Check, a battalion-level offensive to rid Khwajadad and other areas in southern Musa Qal’eh district of insurgents. The Marines spent almost a week away from their company position and had to combat cold weather, inadequate shelter, fatigue and hunger, in addition to insurgents, during the first week of the operation.

PATROL BASE 7171, Helmand province, AfghanistanInfantry Marines deployed to Afghanistan endure trials that Americans unfamiliar with military life cannot begin to fathom. Inclement weather, insatiable hunger, perpetual fatigue and direct combat with enemy forces are challenges frequently confronting the infantryman because he regularly operates in austere, hostile conditions. The infantry Marine in Afghanistan, commonly 18 years old and fresh out of high school, is often significantly more mature than others his age because of his unique experiences.

The Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, face the challenges of combat as they participate in Operation Double Check, an ongoing battalion-level offensive to rid areas in southern Musa Qal’eh district, Helmand province, of insurgents and establish a government presence in places that have been insurgent safe havens in recent years.

Double Check started in the early hours of Jan. 3 when the infantrymen, commonly called grunts, helicopter inserted into the area under the blanket of darkness and began clearing compounds believed to be improvised explosive device manufacturing factories. An early discovery of contraband suggested the enemy might be near.

“We moved into a compound; it ended up being abandoned, but after we searched it, we found one room that had homemade explosive [materials] all over the floor and walls,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Smith, a squad leader with Fox Company from Clinton Township, Mich. “We searched the rest of the compound, keeping our eyes open for anything else, and then we came across a locked door – it wasn’t really a full weapons cache, but we did find some machinegun parts in there as well.”

The initial resistance directed at Smith’s squad began as the Marines continued to clear compounds while the sun crept above the horizon. They received machinegun fire from a concealed enemy position, forcing many of the Marines to duck for cover. The Marines responded by launching grenades, maneuvering to a dominant position, and returning direct fire at the insurgents, which caused them to flee, according to the 27-year-old Smith.

“No one freaked out under fire even though a lot of us almost got shot,” said Smith, a 2002 graduate of L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township, Mich. “[The Marines] would get shot at, and they’d just get right back up and look at the enemy like, ‘Try again!’”

Mother Nature was also unkind to the Marines during the operation’s first weeks. Freezing temperatures made life miserable for the Marines at night, who only had sleeping bags, cold weather jackets and warming layers to try and keep warm. The gear helped, but the cold proved inescapable.

Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, scan their surroundings for enemy combatants as an adjacent element of their patrol takes fire during Operation Double Check, a battalion-level offensive to rid areas of southern Musa Qal’eh district of insurgents. The Fox Marines were involved in multiple engagements with insurgents during the first weeks of the operation.

Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, scan their surroundings for enemy combatants as an adjacent element of their patrol takes fire during Operation Double Check, a battalion-level offensive to rid areas of southern Musa Qal’eh district of insurgents. The Fox Marines were involved in multiple engagements with insurgents during the first weeks of the operation.

“We settled in, tried to fit as many guys as we could in small rooms, as small as these rooms are, to keep warm at night,” said Dayton, Ohio, native Cpl. Russell Swabb, a fireteam leader with Fox Company. “We would find some nasty, nasty blankets and pillows that were left in compounds and just kind of snuggle up next to each other to stay warm when we weren’t on post. While on post, me and whoever I was on post with, we’d throw a tarp over each other and just stay close.”

The Marines traveled everywhere by foot and tried to keep their packs as light as possible. Most packed only the bare essentials needed for survival in a combat zone, such as food, cold-weather gear and batteries. Even still, the bags were awkward and heavy to carry for the Marines, who were also wearing full combat gear.

“It’s definitely exhausting, regardless of if you’re somebody who has to carry around a lot of stuff or if you’re just carrying the bare minimum,” said Edmond, Okla., native Lance Cpl. Nathan Aschenbrenner, an automatic rifleman with Fox Company. “The only way to really do it and keep positive about it is to think of it like a joke like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’

“I just take it from checkpoint to checkpoint,” added the 24-year-old. “If I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to move so many kilometers tonight or so far today,’ it’s just going to beat you down, but if you take it from checkpoint to checkpoint or objective to objective, it goes by pretty quick.”

The Marines have stayed busy during the operation, spending most of their time moving positions, sending out security patrols, or standing posts. When the infantrymen do get some spare time, they spend it hanging out with other Marines from their squads, sitting around a fire, playing cards or joking around.

“Most of the time if we’ve got some downtime we really try to sleep, but that’s really when all the jokes and horseplay really comes out,” said Aschenbrenner, a 2005 graduate of Edmond North High School. “If we’ve got a chance to horse around and have some fun, kind of boost morale, that’s definitely what we do.”

Experiences like Double Check may seem like a nightmare to people who have never experienced a combat operation – volunteering to be cold and miserable, to go without bathing or using a toilet, to have incessant hunger, and to regularly put one’s own life in danger for an extended period of time may seem crazy. 

There is an upside, however. 

The infantrymen of Fox Company share special bonds with members of their squads because on deployment, grunts spend every day together, sharing every triumph, every hardship – shared experiences in Afghanistan have made them friends for life.

“We’re all around each other 24/7 living in small tents or sleeping in small buildings, getting together close for warmth so we don’t freeze to death, and these are the best friends you’re ever going to have,” said Swabb, who graduated from Belmont High School in 2008. “I’ve got good friends back home, but honestly I’m closer to these guys than I’ll ever be with anybody else.”

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  • deutcherlonnig44

    The agenda for endless war and placing young men and women in harms way solely to advance zionism and enrich a small group of military contractors sits well with you?? You need to spend less time at the gym and more reading. “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” , “War is a Racket” , “They own it All” to start.

    I’ve dissuaded countless youth from joining the military for reasons you hopefully will some day soon understand. (Captain Brent Tanner, USMC)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OLGVVVKYZOG32FO5WXZQSTIRDU jay

    hey, bro’s i a marine stationed here stateside, Semper Fi!!!!

  • Tman

    Thank you for defending us ill be with you guys soon

  • Joeshmo

    Marines might deploy to afghanistan but us grunts really get the whole concept like this article is talking about, you really have ur best friends right there next to you the whole time!

  • Beard0352

    Gunny, how will it play out when we race out of there leaving intact our foes, aided by Iran, to further radicalize the place (yes, that’s possible) and claim “victory” over the US?

    What would “kicking ass” accomplish without the follow on of nation building? Only barbarians conquer a nation and leave the inhabitants to starve and suffer in the smoldering remains. While you may Oorah kickin’ ass and taking names that just won’t cut in over here in reality. We’ve made an effort to rebuild almost single nation that we’ve defeated and it’s in our best interest to do so. The world is a web and isolationism doesn’t work. This isn’t a boxing match, it’s geopolitics.

    Maybe if you didn’t think of the  people that you’re trying to help as “rock climbers” who “resist modern times” you could get something done with your counterparts. Like it or not, the way you think of them influences the way you treat them which directly impacts the level of trust/fraternity in the relationship. (COIN! It’s not just for breakfast anymore!) If you hate them they’ll know it and if you’re ready to cut bait they’re certainly not going to fight for you or their country. You do know that Afghans were once moderate, right? Hippie kids used to freakin’ hitchhike through the country in the ’60s!

    I don’t want another American to die over there, but I certainly don’t want all of our brothers to have died for nothing.

  • Josh Snyder

    Josh Snyder-USMC

    Love the infantry did it for 4 1/2 years and two deployments with 3RD BN 4TH Marines

  • Luker96

    have you ever thought about force recon

  • Yazzle

    Thank you for all you do!!!!

  • Spencer Walker

    Infantryman, the REAL Marines.

  • Shhedges58

    all U.S. Troops should be pulled out of Afghan. so fast it would make an audible sucking sound.. Our troops should only be deployed to places when absolutely necessary and for only as long as necessary..  I agree we needed to go in there and kick ass..  but this nation building is foolish.. we need to rebuild our own nation..  Those Rock climbers over there will resist being pulled into modern times with the last drop of their blood..  we should not spill any more American blood trying to change them..  

    Steve Hedges  GySgt Ret.

  • Debbie

    Thank you for sacrificing so much to maintain our freedom back in the USA. Our prayers are with all of you!

  • Networkguru

    Yes we copy that Johnsom…. Once a Marine, Always a Marine….. Here’s your weapon and some ammo….. Lock and Load.

  • WyteOne

    That depends on how long ago you were in. Our Plate Carriers weigh more than ever and thats without adding the ammo, map pouches, grenades and whatever else to it. Yes we have better gear these days but that doesn’t necessarily mean its lighter or easier. It is nicer to wear because you don’t have thin straps digging in to uncomfortable spots..

    Anyways thanks for holding down the fort before us.

  • N. J. Neighbors

    A lot of people are misunderstanding what this means.

    1. Imminent Danger Pay is additional pay to the normal paycheck, so Marines are NOT getting paid less than minimum wage.
    2. Imminent Danger Areas have not not changed. If someone spends  6 months in Afghanistan they will get 225 dollars a month every month.
    3. Basically if a Service member goes to Afghanistan on February 4th and leaves the entire country on February 5th then they will get $7.50 However if they come under fire or are in the vicinity of an IED blast, they will receive the full $225.

    In summary: If you’re in a hostile nation you get paid as such, if you’re not in a hostile nation you get paid regularly. This barely changed anything.

  • CWO

    Many of you sound ignorant of military pay and allowances.  As a military member of 17 years, I’d argue we make quite a bit while deployed.  In ADDITION to imminent danger pay (which most will still get), we make family separation pay (over $200), hazard duty pay, and we don’t pay taxes.  Which means when you DO compute your taxes for the year, you’ll pretty much get all the taxes you did pay back.  At sea you get sea pay.  If you know a language you’re continuing to get language pay, up to $1000 per month.  While I agree that it still doesn’t compensate for possibly having to give the ultimate sacrifice, you joined for the wrong reason if you didn’t think that was a possibility.
    Most will still get imminent danger pay. I think this more applies to folks who are in places like Kuwait or Bahrain, who are no more in imminent danger than I am in Camp Lejeune.  But they should be ok, most are making $100 in per diem and living the good life.

  • Dontworryaboutit

    Wait did all of you join for the chance of a little bit of extra pay when deployed to a combat zone because I sure didn’t.

  • Kyoung103

    there are A$$ holes on welfare who should be cut off not our fine men and women in uniform…..who are providing “Common Defense” as prescribed in the constitution…………Instead our president believes in “promoting General Welfare”…………My son is a Marine and I believe he is being given the crappy end of the stick

  • Robyn91570

    So thankful for your sacrifice.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FIAAEU6OVZB5REJNNVZHLR3FGI Kevin Johnson

    I remember humping my backside off. It looks so much easier now. Issue me a rifle so I can go over there and kick the bad guys backsides. Was that the correct way of saying what I needed to say?