FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- Years from now, when the Marines and Sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) swap stories about their time in Afghanistan, there will be one common thread through all their tales.
On nearly every operation the MEU has undertaken since its arrival in Afghanistan, from vehicular reconnaissance patrols in early April to combat offensives of recent weeks, a single armored Humvee has led the way.
Dubbed 'Alone and Unafraid' by its crew, this particular Humvee has covered more miles of desolate Afghan countryside than perhaps any other in the 22nd MEU (SOC).
Sgt. Maj. Thomas Hall, of Bardstown, Kentucky, is the senior enlisted Marine of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element, and heads up the vehicle's three-Marine crew.
A former tanker with a keen eye for terrain, Hall and his Marines spend their days scouting routes for vehicle convoys, picking out spots for units to remain overnight in the field, and determining where helicopters can safely land to conduct resupply or evacuation missions.
"We're the ones people call in the middle of the night when they need to find a way in and out of these areas," Hall explained as he bounced down a dry riverbed leading a supply convoy to units in the field during Operation RIO BRAVO in mid-May. "We figure out the best way to get the job done."
With Largo, Florida native Lance Cpl. Jorge Granados in the driver's seat and Sgt. Richard Martinez of Lubbock, Texas manning the Humvee's .50-caliber machine gun, 'Alone and Unafraid' has been in the field since April 24, bouncing from operation to operation and unit to unit.
"We're almost never with the same unit two nights in a row," said Granados. "It keeps it interesting going from place to place."
"We've seen more of Afghanistan than anyone except maybe CAAT," added Martinez from his perch in the gunner's ring mount atop the Humvee, alluding to BLT 1/6's Combined Anti-Armor Team of machine gun and anti-tank equipped Humvees, "and even that would be a close call."
For example, during RIO BRAVO in Afghanistan's mountainous Oruzgan province, 'Alone and Unafraid' escorted seven-ton trucks from MEU Service Support Group 22 laden with water, food, and mail to each of BLT 1/6's three rifle companies and attached units. Staying overnight with Alpha Company one night, back at Forward Operating Base Payne the next, and with Charlie Company the third, the job gave Hall a unique perspective on his unit's Marines.
According to Hall, the visits help him gauge how the Marines are doing in terms of morale and physical condition, things he reports back to the commander of BLT 1/6, Lt. Col. Asad Khan.
"I love riding with the sergeant major," explained Granados. "Like I said, it's always something new and wherever we go we know that's where the action is."
When elements of BLT 1/6 recently got into a firefight with anti-coalition militia deep in a mountain range and emerged with wounded Marines, a wounded Taliban fighter, and two battlefield detainees, Hall, Granados, and Martinez were there to meet them. Providing the exhausted and thirsty Marines with water, Hall sent his Marines down to help bring up the wounded and then escorted them back to BLT 1/6's battlefield headquarters.
"I liked it when I was with CAAT," said Martinez, a machine gunner by trade, "but being out here with Sergeant Major Hall ... I wouldn't trade it for anything."
In addition to BLT 1/6 and MSSG-22, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) and the Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment from the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Light). The unit 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.