Saturday, January 31, 2009

Air Combat Marines conduct convoy ops

Date written: Jan. 28, 2009
Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

CAMP HERO, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines attached to Marine aircraft wings spend the majority of their time flying and maintaining their equipment, but every so often, those Marines are given the opportunity to serve in another manner.

The Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan’s air combat element have conducted convoy operations in Afghanistan for the past three months. Despite the discovery of several improvised explosive devices along their routes during the past year, these Marines have embraced the opportunity to conduct operations on the ground.

“We really don’t get to do these kinds of operations in the wing,” said Staff Sgt. Jason R. Rochefort, a dynamic component mechanic with Marine Aerial Logistics Squadron 16 who also serves as the air combat element’s convoy commander. “These convoys are a good opportunity to put down our wrenches and pick up our rifles.”

The Marines conduct semi-monthly convoys to transport their command’s flight surgeon to a women’s medical clinic on Camp Hero, where Navy Lt. Christine Stehman trains and mentors an Afghan midwife to help curb the mortality rate of women and children in a country with one of the highest rate of maternal and infant deaths in the world.

“These guys have been awesome – very motivated and willing to help out,” Stehman said. “My second trip out, prior to the ACE taking over transportation duties, I rode with (Combat Logistics Battalion 3) – the folks who have been trained on this and do this on a regular basis. Since I started riding with the ACE guys, I have been impressed that my trips with them have been smoother, more organized and I have felt just as safe as compared to my trip with CLB.”

To prepare for their task, the MALS Marine received extensive ground operations training prior to their first mission.
According to Cpl. Clintt F. Hazlet, a flight equipment mechanic with MALS-16, he and the team of Marines conducted basic fire team, squad and humvee formation training, in addition to several escalation of force and Afghan culture briefs. Drivers and vehicle commanders received additional training.

“The training these Marines have been through has improved their situational awareness and their ability to detect and avoid dangerous situations,” Rochefort said. “We may be with the wing, but we are Marines: we have to be prepared for anything.”

Despite their precautions, there was one obstacle for which their training did not prepare them.

“There is no prior training for fending off a swarm of children,” Hazlet said jokingly as he passes out candy to Afghan children and watches them tear through a box of toys. “This mission is about helping them, making sure these kids are healthy and grow up knowing we’re just trying to help.”
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