FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- As the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently pushed deep into central Afghanistan's rugged mountains in pursuit of Taliban insurgents, a deep, fast-moving river presented a unique planning challenge.
Since arriving in Afghanistan nearly three months ago, the MEU has had to deal with narrow mountain passes, crumbling trailways, and broken and treacherous roads, but the river was something new altogether.
A careful study of the terrain indicated the river had to be crossed, and while the Humvees and seven-ton trucks of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element, could ford the river with ease in numerous locations, the task force's Afghan Militia Force (AMF) allies could not.
Traveling on Toyota Hi-Lux pick-ups, the AMF forces couldn't traverse the river on their own and with no usable bridges within a reasonable distance, the only alternative fell to a locally-operated ferry boat service.
The two ferry boats, attached to ropes spanning the river, were pulled across by teenage Afghan boys who were undoubtedly the ferry service owner's sons. With practiced ease, they sped across the river, and with practiced ease, supervised the loading of the AMF trucks and quickly began shuttling the vehicles across in several waves.
Other than in the movies, it was a sight the nearly 200 Marines and Sailors had probably never seen before.
"It reminds me of 'The Outlaw Josey Wales'," yelled out Warrant Officer Oscar Chaney from mid-river, referring to the classic Clint Eastwood movie. Chaney is BLT 1/6's Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare officer and was pulling double duty as a battalion advisor to the AMF advisor. "I'm just waiting for a sniper to shoot the rope and send us floating down the river."
Meanwhile, about a quarter mile down the river, the approximately 20 Marine Humvees of the operation were plunging through the river without a hitch.
Shown by a local Afghan farmer the best way across the river, the first vehicle had deposited Maj. Brian Christmas, BLT 1/6's operations officer, on the far shore where he guided the rest of the convoy onto dry land. On the opposite bank, 1st Lt. Joshua Cavan, the battalion adjutant, gave each Humvee driver a quick orientation on the route across.
While the crossing was underway, Marine infantrymen from the Combined Anti-Armor Team and BLT 1/6's Charlie Company provided ground security while a pair of Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter made continuous low passes over the river and surrounding terrain.
"That wasn't as bad as I thought, we made it through with no problems" said Sgt. Dan Trackwell, of Klamath Falls, Oregon, vehicle commander and driver for Light Horse 1-6, one of the machine gun-armed CAAT Humvees. In anticipation of the crossing, the vehicles had been outfitted with their fording kits, and even though the water topped the Humvees' doors, the kits proved unnecessary.
In addition to BLT 1/6, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), 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 http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.