Lance Cpl. Kevin Romero, rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine
Regiment, looks for a suspected insurgent who had engaged the Marines
while they were conducting a sweep of a compound near Patrol Base Boldak
March 3. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt Bobby J. Yarbrough)
The air was still and the fading sounds of morning prayers echoed throughout the valley as our convoy lumbered to a halt.
The lead vehicle had become stuck in a field and couldn’t move. The
patrol leader, Sgt. Brandon Bond, radioed to Marines in the stopped
vehicle and asked if they could move. It was almost 5 a.m. and Bond knew
people would soon begin to leave their homes and move about the city.
The vehicle was immobile, so we dismounted and began to patrol on
foot to two compounds which lay just 400 meters to our north. The
Marines with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, had watched the compounds over the last few weeks and believed insurgents were using them for refuge.
The glimmer of the moon outlined the bodies of the Marines around me as
we crossed the rutted fields. The fields had been irrigated the day
prior and, with each step, mud clung to the bottom of my boots. We
trudged through the mud for five minutes, approached the compounds and
cordoned the area.
Dogs howled in the distance as I took a knee. I provided security to
an outside door as some of the Marines and their interpreter entered the
compound. When all the occupants inside the compound had been gathered
up and placed in the courtyard, I entered.
Petty Officer Third Class Brandon Henthorne and Lance Cpl. Kevin
Romero were already questioning some of the occupants. They began using
the Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit (SEEK), a biometrics machine used to gather the personal information, fingerprints and retina scans of individuals.
Henthorne, the platoon’s corpsman, had never taken the lead in
questioning individuals before, but he and Romero calmly took turns
questioning the men inside the compound. I snapped a few photos as they
worked and then entered the inside of the house.
As I pulled back the fabric which draped across the door, beams of
light danced across the walls inside. Lance Cpl. Gavin Ellis and Lance
Cpl. Chris Harrison were searching each room with flashlights for any
signs or evidence of insurgents. I took photos of the Marines as they
respectfully and meticulously combed every inch of the compound.
The Marines finished searching and we walked back outside. The sun
was rising and rays of sunshine poured over the compound walls.
Henthorne and Romero had interviewed the last person when 2nd Lt. James
Clement asked Ellis to escort me across to the other compound.
We left the compound door, but stopped just 15 feet away. Ellis had
grabbed a pick from inside the compound and began digging. He had
canvassed the outside of the compound and thought an area of dirt was an
ideal location for a weapons cache. Ellis continued to dig for a few
minutes and after finding nothing, we patrolled 50 meters to the other
As we walked inside, three goats, two turkeys, a dozen chickens and a
single cow stood in the courtyard. Four men were already assembled
along the back wall—among them was a man the Marines recognized and had
hoped to find during the sweep.
For the next half hour, the Marines searched the compound and
interviewed the residents. I helped provide internal security alongside
Lance Cpl. Thomas Foster, a light armored vehicle operator who serves as
the platoon’s dog handler. We talked about his life at Twentynine
Palms, his five weeks of dog training, and what we believed Afghans’
perception of Marines is.
A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) with a wrecker had already been
dispatched from Camp Leatherneck, so now our unit just had to wait.
Lance Cpl. Emilio TherienGonzales posted a few Marines around the
compound to observe the activities of the locals and watch for anything
suspicious. The rest of the Marines sat on a concrete slab in the middle
of the courtyard, smoking cigarettes and talking about prior patrols in
Over the radio, Marines requested help with one of the stuck
vehicles. Henthorne, Foster and his military working dog, Diamond,
volunteered to assist since it was the vehicle they had ridden in during
As they exited the rear door to the compound, I stepped just outside
the frame of the door to snap of few pictures of them walking away. Two
shots rang out, both hitting a small mound of dirt about 20 feet to my
right. As I turned around, a third shot was fired, hitting the ground in
between Henthorne and Foster.
I stepped back through the door and relayed to Sgt. Dennis Rose, who
was already positioned in the doorway with his rifle perched on a
55-gallon barrel, where the shots had impacted and the direction they
As I moved left of the door, TherienGonzales climbed the back of a
Marine to position himself on the top the compound wall to try and
locate the shooter’s position.
Another round struck the outside wall near the doorway where Rose was
positioned. TherienGonzales saw the shooter’s head pop over the right
corner wall of the adjacent compound and yelled out the shooter’s
location to the other Marines. Rose fired at the shooter’s position.
The residents inside the compound began to scream and rushed to take
cover inside one of the bedrooms. I moved towards the compound wall
closest to the shooter. Ellis was already positioned behind a stack of
cut tree limbs and dried poppy stalks and had begun firing on the
shooter’s position. I took up a position to his left on the corner of
the wall, using my scope to locate the shooter.
The shooter popped over the top of the wall again
and fired two more shots. Ellis fired again and I squeezed off one
round before the shooter dropped down behind the wall.
By now, the turret gunners inside the vehicles had located the
shooter’s position and began firing. I left my position along the wall,
grabbed my camera and then followed TherienGonzales through a small
opening which led into the holding pen for the goats. Using a pick ax,
he pierced the wall and dug out a hole big enough for him to position
his weapon and take a shot.
I crawled back through the opening and began taking photos of Ellis
as he continued to fire on the shooter’s position. More shots rang out
from the shooter’s position, but were immediately overshadowed by the
sound of machine gun fire from the turrets.
The rounds fired from the machine gun barely missed, skipping just above the shooter’s head.
I followed Ellis as he moved to the front entrance of the compound to
meet Clement, who had positioned himself along the outside corner wall
near the front entrance. From there, he had good concealment and could
see the shooter’s position perfectly.
Between firing rounds, he radioed the turret gunners and guided their aim onto the shooter’s location.
Clement decided to assault the compound where the shooter was positioned. One of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected
(MRAP) vehicles pulled around to the side of the compound and Clement,
Ellis and I climbed in. We drove through the fields to the northeast
corner of the compound, opposite where the shots had originated from,
and exited the vehicle.
With rifles at the ready, we assaulted into the main compound. I was
the last to enter. A single man and a handful of children exited the
inside of the house. The man was the owner of the compound and said he
knew nothing about the shooting, but would escort us through the
remainder of the compound.
We exited back through the front door and continued to move along the
outside of the compound wall. As we turned left along the back wall, a
shot rang out from behind us to our right. I took a knee and looked in
the direction from which I thought the shot had come. Seeing nothing, we
continued along the wall to a small door covered in fabric. The owner
entered the door and, about 30 seconds later, he exited along with four
others—two men and two boys.
Exposed to potential fire, we gathered everyone and continued to move
around the compound wall. Through a large opening, we entered the
courtyard from where the shooter had fired. We conducted a quick search
of the immediate area and told the men to take seat.
In the back corner, a yellow jug was propped against the wall with a
50-pound bag of seed on top of it. It was in the exact location from
where the shots had been fired.
I provided security as Clement called over the radio for vehicle
extraction and Ellis conducted a hasty sweep looking for any other signs
of the shooter. The shooter had left nothing else behind.
We conducted a quick search of the men, loaded them into the MRAP,
and drove back to the compound where the rest of the Marines were
located. The Marines interviewed each man and loaded their information
into the SEEK. Each one of them had clean records, so they left the
compound on their own accord.
The QRF had arrived by now and the wrecker was able to free all the
vehicles from the mud. We all loaded back into the vehicles and the
convoy headed back to Patrol Base Boldak.
On our way home, the convoy again took sporadic fire and Marines
assaulted another compound. This time we found spent cartridges which
were the first rounds discovered in several months.
For the remainder of the patrol, I thought of only two things as we rode home.
First, I had always wondered what goes through a person’s head when
they are fired upon. The answer, for me at least, was nothing. There is
no time to think about anything, you simply react to the circumstance
And lastly, I thought about how the Marines of 2/7 are by far the
most collected and professional infantry Marines I have ever met. At no
point during the exchange was there confusion or disorder. Everyone knew
what their job was and they completed it. It was nothing short of
amazing to me.
As we drove back through the gate at Patrol Base Boldak, I silently
thanked God for his hand of protection over our patrol that day and
prayed he would watch over the Marines of 2/7 in the future.
This was the first time I had been shot at, but for them it was simply just another day in Afghanistan
Orig story here: