Marines learn that combat experience is the best teacher

27 Jul 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

When a convoy with Charlie Company and other elements of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines began taking small arms fire from a mountain in south-central Afghanistan, the unit's Marines and Sailors did exactly what they were supposed to do and moved to engage the enemy.

In the excitement of what was for many their combat initiation, many of the Marines and Sailors left their vehicles without enough water.  As the skirmish developed into a full-scale battle that lasted nearly seven hours, and the sun beat down mercilessly on the Marines moving up the rugged terrain in pursuit of the enemy, many of the Marines ran out of water.

Thankfully, careful water conservation and sharing prevented any heat injuries that day, but it was a hard-learned lessons for the Marines.

"You can never have enough water," Capt. Paul Merida, Charlie Co.'s commander, told his platoon leaders and senior enlisted Marines that night.  "When they get off the vehicles they should have a full CamelBak [backpack-style canteen] and water bottles stuffed in every pocket."

It was a reminder the men and women preparing for the next day's operation didn't need.  Even before the company leadership passed Merida's advice to their units, the Marines and Sailors, remembering their parched throats and discomfort, were cramming bottles into day packs, attaching CamelBaks and canteens to flak vests, and chugging water.

The need to carry as much water as possible was just one of many lessons learned that day.

Lance Cpl. Vincent Leonetti, of Franklinville, N.J., was wiping dust from his M203 grenade launcher and preparing to move up the mountain when another Marine reminded him to replace the cloth cover over the dust goggles strapped to his helmet.   If he hadn't, the reflection from the lens could signal his location to enemy marksmen.  Leonetti promptly pulled the cover, in fact an old sock, over the goggles and returned to cleaning his weapon.

After a while, as Air Force attack aircraft and Marine attack helicopters and jets pounded the mountain where the ACM were entrenched, the Marines waited to push up the mountain.  While some of the company maintained a base of fire to keep the enemy fixed in place, the assault element, 3rd Platoon led by 1st Lt. Jeffrey Gaddy and then-Staff Sgt. James Delao (since promoted to gunnery sergeant), took the opportunity to catch their breath.

Crouched in a small trench behind a building, the Marines sat, drank what water they could, and steeled themselves for the upcoming trek up the steep, boulder-strewn mountain.  The old adage of why stand when you can sit was in full effect.

Later that night, Staff Sgt. Christian Boles, platoon sergeant for Charlie Co.'s 2nd Platoon, reflected on his actions that day.

"I did better than I ever thought I would," said Boles, who admitted that the firefight was his combat baptism.  "You always wonder how you'll perform, and me and all the Marines did what we were supposed to do.  It was a great learning experience."

The next day, as the company embarked on another mission that would lead to yet another firefight, the lessons learned from the day before were evident.  Extra gear like knives and pouches that went unused the day before and deemed unnecessary were replaced by extra ammunition or water, goggles were covered, the Marines who don't normally eat breakfast had gulped down a quick meal or snack for energy, and a new feeling of confidence and self assurance ran throughout the company.

In addition to BLT 1/6, the MEU consists of its Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22.

For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit