BLT 3/6 snipers provide cover, surveillance for embassy guards

22 Dec 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

He sits for hours behind a three-foot tall wall of sandbags peering through his night vision device into the night's darkness. A man's voice sings out prayers that are broadcasted throughout the city by loudspeaker. Shots are fired nearby. During the day, he manages a few hours of sleep while hunkered down out of the chilly wind. His replacement also hears the gunshots. "This is my first opportunity to do something like this," said Sgt. John R. Crandall of Syracuse, N.Y. He and Sgt. Shane Schmidt from Wausau, Wis., Cleveland's Cpl. Bradley C. Peterson and Cpl. Dustin M. Lee of Reno, are adapting to the winter conditions while manning rooftop sniper positions atop the diplomatic chancery here. All four Marine sharpshooters are currently assigned to Scout/Sniper Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 3/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C. They, along with the artillery Marines of Kilo Battery, were dispatched from the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, to augment the U.S. Department of State security personnel here. The 34-year-old concrete and brick structure was evacuated in January 1989 during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and recently received some damage at the hands of the Taliban. It is presently undergoing an assessment by a team of State Department engineers to determine its fitness for future use. "We've been off this roof maybe a total of thirty minutes," said Lee, a three-and-a-half year veteran. "We go down for chow, water and maybe coffee and then its back up on the roof," said Schmidt. They have been on duty for nearly a week since being led to the roof by explosive ordnance Marines on Dec. 9 to provide overhead protection for the guard force. "The first couple of days, we got maybe two or three hours of sleep," said Lee. "Our shifts are 20 hours on and four hours off ," joked Peterson. They collectively admitted that they were skeptical when they were tasked with the mission just 12 hours prior to leaving the Bataan. "We had several other missions cancelled. We knew this one was going to go when we took off in the C-130 (airplane)," said Schmidt, an infantryman for almost seven years. The ad hoc security team traveled ashore by LCAC (air-cushioned landing craft), then were trucked to a remote Pakistani Marine training base at Pasni and subsequently flown here to an abandoned airfield nearby. "I was apprehensive at first," he said concerning their arrival in Kabul. "We were told to expect possible hostile action." "It seemed too calm," said Peterson. "We just blazed right up into the compound," said Lee. "None of us ever expected to be doing something like this." The Marines placed themselves at opposite corners of the rectangular building in order to have 360 degrees of visibility. "We considered the front and back gates to be tactical areas of interest," said Crandall. Their positions offer them almost unrestricted views of the compound grounds below, the adjacent residential and commercial areas and the rugged, steep and treeless mountains that nearly surround the city. "Enemy sniper fire from the mountain ranges is our main concern," said Schmidt. "We're in range of machineguns and mortars," said Lee. The leathernecks somehow remain jovial and focused on the mission despite the obvious danger. "We joke about the fact that we could get whacked at any minute," said Lee. "We've pretty much accepted the fact that it may happen," said Schmidt. "We're getting used to the constant gunfire," said Lee referring to the sporadic shooting. Schmidt commented on the Taliban's marksmanship. I'm not worried about them hitting me," he said. "Unless they're right in front of me." That scenario is unlikely due to two factors: a spike and razor-wire topped, eight foot-tall, thick stone wall that surrounds the compound and them spending time watching for irregular behavior and patterns of the curious Afghans that form outside the walls. "We have a bird's eye view of the culture," said Lee. "Ninety percent of our business involves surveillance," said Schmidt. "It gets boring though, watching the same piece of property everyday. But, this is a whole different world here. There is always something going on." "Since we've been here, I've watched cattle and sheep being herded right down the street," said Lee. The snipers also look out for known Taliban fighters and keep track of suspicious vehicles that frequently cruise past the embassy. In the event of a perceived or actual hostile action, they have clear and definite instructions. "Protect the Marines, the [State Department] people and prevent intrusion into the embassy," said Peterson. "I wouldn't hesitate to take the shot," said Schmidt. The Marines said that there are a lot of considerations that might involve making a possible life saving, split-second decision. "We're looking for an actual threat to our lives," said Peterson. "I'd ensure that I [have a clear field of view to] get a good shot," said Crandall. "We also have to be aware of who is in the background," said Lee. They have each drawn field sketches of their sectors of fire that detail danger areas, target distances and other pertinent information. "We're the guardian angels for everybody here," said Lee. They stay lighthearted on post and joke amongst themselves to pass the time. "We are so sarcastic," said Lee. "I think we are just generally happy to be off the ship." "We are definitely a lot closer now," said Schmidt. The present Marine security guard detachment will remain on post here until relieved.