CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- During Operation Enduring Freedom, the Low-Altitude Air Defense Detachment became an integral part of the Battalion Landing Team as they provided unprecedented support to the infantry units.
The LAAD Marines had been integrated and trained with infantry units even before the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s pre-deployment work-up exercises. The detachment participated in a Combined Arms Exercise (CAX) at Marine Air Ground Training Center, Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., where they served as the only air defense unit in the Marine Air Ground Task Force training.
"At CAX we were integrated with Light-Armored Reconnaissance and Combined Anti-Armor Team," said 26th MEU stinger team leader and gunner, Sgt. Maurice A. Dunston. "These were all [mechanized] units."
A few months later, they trained with the MEU's own infantry--Battalion Landing Team 3/6. They completed training aboard the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.
"Bridgeport was our [introduction] to working with Weapons Company, BLT 3/6," said Dunston. "We were in the mountains and it was the first time we did our job on foot with them." Dunston explained that in Bridgeport, during their mountain survival training, they also acted as basic riflemen. They brought back knowledge of the BLT SOPs and an appreciation for the rigors of mountain patrolling.
With the completion of their training at Bridgeport, both the Stinger detachment and the BLT had a much better understanding of each other's assets. This understanding proved to be very important while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"Over the past year we've worked with them and got to know them," said Cpl. Steven T. Avers, 26th MEU, Stinger team leader. "It makes it a lot easier to work with somebody when you already know them."
The BLT learned that much about the LAAD Marines' assets, particularly their night vision equipment. Stinger missiles have a Forward-Looking Infrared or FLIR sight, and the multiple-stinger launch pedestal called the Avenger has a thermal zoom sight called a Wide-Angle Stinger Pointer. Both the infrared and thermal vision devices contributed greatly to the security of Marine perimeters in Afghanistan.
The first employment the unit received during the war was at Forward Operating Base Rhino in Afghanistan. With a reported threat of suicide aircraft, LAAD acted in it's traditional role and was also used along the perimeter for their night vision capabilities.
After the Rhino mission, the LAAD Marines to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to man the perimeters. Cpl. James A. Lindsey recalled that, "We manned different positions around the perimeter. We also held a position with some of the snipers. They used our thermal vision and their high position was perfect for our air defense position."
There are five LAAD teams with the MEU. Their section leader, Staff Sgt. Joseph H. Faragone, said that after their role in Operation Enduring Freedom, they would probably be integrating their units with the infantry a lot more. But Faragone explained that the LAAD team's conventional missions would not be lost.
One of their most crucial missions is as the Emergency Defense Amphibious Task Force. LAAD Marines were dispersed to the three ships of the Amphibious Ready Group at chokepoints with high threat potential, such as the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. Faragone said that, although the ship has its own defense mechanisms for air threats, they might not be able to handle close-range air threats with the agility that his Marines can from a ship's deck.
Overall, Faragone said it's been a long time since a LAAD section has been employed like this and they did a great job.
"BLT 3/6 has high standards," said Faragone. "And we lived up to those standards."