Marines react to threat in Pakistan; vigilance, good attitudes prevail over threats, boredom;

19 Dec 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"We've got boxes, cans, pallets and lots of dirt," joked Staff Sgt. Eric A. Engerson. "We polish our boots so that the sand sticks to them."

The Ovid, N.Y., Marine is an Amphibious Assault Vehicle section leader and one of many 2d AAV Battalion and 2d Tank Battalion leathernecks who are providing security for the ship-to-shore re-supply point here.

The logistics base, nestled between two craggy, low mountain ridges, was established to support the inland operations of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit that is currently deployed to southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

It is set up on a Pakistani Marine training base with a short runway, several large concrete aircraft hangers, a barracks and other outlying buildings.

More than 350 host-nation Marines man the perimeter of the expeditionary airfield and hilltop observation posts while the U.S. Marine guard force is set to deploy to several predetermined defensive positions on the airfield during a perceived threat or hostile action. Each section is responsible for the accountability of its personnel and the defense of their hangers.

Recently, unknown intruders startled the combined U.S. and Pakistani Marine guard force into action.

"Initially, we didn't know who they were," said Gunnery Sgt. Gary M. George of Charleston, W. Va.

Sentries reported that at least four sport-utility vehicles were approaching the airfield from the southeast and traveling at high speed.

"We were kinda nervous," said Lance Cpl. Robert W. Mattingly of Las Vegas.
"Tension was high for awhile," said 2d Tank Bn's Gunnery Sgt. Roy L. Meek of Greenbrier, Ark. "We didn't know if they were Taliban."

Meek explained that the Pakistani Marines had received information that there were smugglers in the area.

"They communicate by flashlight," he said.

Pakistani Marines launched flares to ward off the suspected smugglers and the watch standers returned to their posts without incident, according to Meek.

The Camp Lejeune warriors here are steadfast in their duties despite the heat, rocky terrain and unrelenting dust.

"These guys will lose four to five pounds while they're on post," said George.
The sentries wear protective body armor that weighs more than 40 pounds and is capable of stopping small arms rounds up to 7.62mm.

With minimal comforts and no running water, they have made themselves at home. They laid their sleeping bags and mats on the concrete hanger floor and burrow in them at night to ward off the cold night temperatures of the desert. They have resorted to canteen showers and washing their uniforms in cardboard boxes with plastic bag liners.

The Marines here recently received a bit of respite from a Virginia group of Marine-Moms-On-Line.

"Those care packages came right on time," said Sgt. Jonathan L. Rodriquez, a tank gunner.

The boxes contained letters from school children, games, Christmas cards, lip balm and nutrition bars, according to the Marietta, Ga., Marine.

"When we got here we had nothing [to occupy free time]. Boredom was getting bad," said Meeks. "We don't know how long we'll be here, but we're going to be alright."

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)