FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- At Forward Operating Base Ripley, Afghanistan on May 31, nearly all heads were turned skyward as a sleek, rarely seen aircraft cut through the clear skies overhead.
For nearly 15 minutes, the Air Force B-1B Lancer long-range bomber cut several lazy circles over the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s base in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province as an American show-of-force in a region that to date has seen little U.S. presence.
Most of the Marines who saw the Reagan-era aircraft immediately put the idea out of the mind, at least for a few days.
However, on the second day of intense fighting against anti-coalition militia (ACM), the memory of this aircraft came in loud and clear for the Marines of Charlie Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines. After a firefight that left three Marines wounded and at least five enemy fighters dead, the company began pursuing the remaining ACM forces up the steep mountains and called for air support.
Instead of another run by Marine attack jets and helicopters, or even Army helicopter gunships, the voice on the other end of the radio reported that a B-1B was in the area and ready to assist in the battle.
To this point, AV-8B Harrier II attack jets and Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft had been the aerial heavy-hitters of the fight, but were both overshadowed by the appearance of the Air Force bomber.
Introduced into the U.S. inventory in the early 1980s, the B-1's early life was used exclusively in the nuclear deterrent role. In the post-Cold War world, the Lancer was converted to an exclusive conventional use and with its impressive payload capacity, is an ideal for long-range strategic and tactical bombing.
Flying high out of sight and in the space of only a few minutes, the Lancer dropped two 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs on the mountaintop where the Taliban fighters had fled. The thunderous explosion shook the valley and ridges, and created a huge gray and black cloud that mushroomed and dominated the skyline.
Marines as far as four kilometers away, who were escorting wounded comrades and battlefield detainees to a mobile command post, were caught unaware by the first bomb's detonation.
Sgt. Ryan West, of Lafayette, Indiana, is a squad leader in Charlie Co.'s second platoon, and spun around when the bomb exploded.
"I feel sorry for those guys caught up there," he muttered, referring to the anti-coalition militia targeted by the B-1B.
Since that day, additional B-1B sorties have been dedicated to the MEU's continuing hunt for enemy fighters in south-central Afghanistan.
In addition to BLT 1/6, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.