ABOARD THE USS BATAAN -- Marines from the Combined Anti-Armor Team and Light Armored Reconnaissance of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) left the USS Bataan and arrived at a forward operating base near Kandahar on Dec. 4. This was the second Marine unit to land in Afghanistan.
The 15th MEU (SOC), from Camp Pendleton, Calif., has been at the base near Kandahar for nearly two weeks. Now they are joined by elements of the 26th MEU (SOC), based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The elements of the 26th MEU that have been called forward to join 15th MEU assets already in place may prove to be valuable if the remaining Taliban forces continue to resist. The Marines of CAAT/LAR can provide a vital projection of firepower to the battlefield, and the speed and maneuverability of their combat vehicles far exceeds that of their foe's.
Although, these Marines may be facing combat in the days that lie ahead, they are well prepared, assures Sgt. Derek J. LaClair, LAR scout section leader. The Plattsburgh, N.Y., Marine has probably been closer to real combat than many of the Marines in his unit; a few years back he was fired upon while performing an embassy evacuation in Sierra Leone.
"We were all excited until we heard the first round," said LaClair. "Instantly, all our training came into focus. When you hear rounds and they're not a part of training, you become part of the ground."
Despite his men's lack of actual combat experience, LaClair is still totally confident in their abilities. "With what we could be facing soon, I wouldn't want to go with anyone else. We know our weapons and are ready to employ them. We're ready for combat - that's our job!"
One of the reasons LaClair speaks with such confidence is that he knows he has experienced leaders such as Staff Sgt. Gregory L. Snyder, LAR platoon staff noncommissioned officer in charge, who has over 10 years experience, including time spent in the Gulf War. Snyder, like many staff NCOs, is able to train his men based on past experiences.
"He told us not to get excited or too pumped up," said Cpl. Ryan M. Malarsie, Light Armored Vehicle gunner. "Lately it's been, 'we're going, then we're not.'"
Malarsie said he is not surprised his unit is the first from the 26th MEU to 'hit' the ground.
"We would have to launch first despite any orders to go ashore. Our vehicles are staged on the [air-cushioned landing crafts] LCACs," said Malarsie.
The Marines' families are more nervous that the Marines, said Malarsie. "But, I guess that's how mothers are. [Mine] understands that after Sept. 11, we are doing what needs to be done."
One of Malarsie's 'teammates,' Cpl. Erik Luker, LAV crewman, understands the nervousness of family members back home and knows they all await the safe return of their sons and daughters.
"I guess you could call me the 'worry wart' of the family," said Linda DeCesare, Luker's aunt. "I always have to know what's going on. I constantly watch the news and wait for news about Erik and all our troops, and their safe return."
Malarsie explained, "As Marines, we don't get stressed-out in these situations. We keep things under control so if anything new 'pops up,' we'll be able to deal with it."
Right now Malarsie said he and his Marines are concerned more with the tasks at hand; things like getting their gear ready, and less about the state of their future operations. "Small steps," said Malarsie. "If we pay attention to what we're doing here, we'll be ready for what happens down the road.