FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Afghanistan – The job was called in like many others: “We’ve got a mortar mission now!” yelled Staff Sgt. Gregory Sanders, the platoon sergeant for the fires team here.
With that, a handful of Marines with Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., scrambled through the darkness Sunday night to an 81mm mortar tube on this mountainside base in Kajaki district, Afghanistan. A small group overseen by Cpl. Wesley Neville, a squad leader, launched a series of illumination rounds over a rocky ridgeline and lit up the sky. The rounds exploded in white light and washed everything below in eerie light as they slowly fell from the heavens like fireworks.
Missions like this, where Marines man both mortar tubes and M777 Howitzer artillery guns, are common. The illumination rounds can serve a variety of purposes, from providing coalition snipers better visibility to forcing likely insurgents to react, Marines said. Taliban fighters frequently meet under the cover of darkness and decide who to track from a distance.
Photographer James Lee and I observed the mission in the darkness and watched Lance Cpls. Andrew Baxter and Ahmad Garland scramble with Neville to get their work done. They sent five shots over the horizon then wiped the sweat and dust off their brows.
I’m writing this blog entry from FOB Whitehouse, the headquarters in Kajaki for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. I’d like to thank the Marines of Golf Battery and Alpha Company 1/8 for their candor and hospitality while we were in their neighborhood.