MUSA QALA, Afghanistan – The Marines had been on the road for less than an hour from Combat Outpost Shukvani when their resupply convoy hit its first hint of trouble.
The logistics train, overseen by Combat Logistics Battalion 2, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., was pushing through Helmand province when it came upon a likely improvised explosive device that troops from the nation of Georgia already had marked and cordoned. The Marines rolled around it but took harassing gunfire a few minutes later.
“Drader, be advised: They said they’ve been taking pop shots from the right side of the road!” Staff Sgt. Gordon Lunna warned his turret gunner, Lance Cpl. Brendon Drader, from his seat in an MRAP. “Stay low!”
The gunfire and IED yielded no additional threat, but they’re indicative of the sporadic danger logistics Marines face as they deliver everything from vehicles to generators to forces based at combat outposts across Helmand province.
Photographer Colin Kelly and I were invited to tag along on a resupply mission that left Sunday night from Camp Leatherneck, the Corps’ largest base downrange. The 27-vehicle convoy pushed north up the west side of the Helmand River, eventually making it all the way to COP Shir Ghazay in Musa Qala district.
I rode toward the back with Lunna, 34, the burly platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Transportation Support Company. A 17-year veteran, he enlisted straight out of high school, turning 18 at Parris Island.
The Marines said that while there are far fewer infantrymen in Helmand as a result of the drawdown in U.S. forces, they’re as busy as ever. The long rides from Leatherneck to northern Helmand continue, but CLB-2 also spent a portion of their summer shipping gear from bases the Corps closed to outposts that remain open.
“It’s lots and lots of ISO containers,” said Lance Cpl. Wade Meaney, a motor vehicle operator in the convoy. “Half the time, we don’t even know what’s in them.”
The trip gave me a new appreciation for what Marines do while running log trains. We left Leatherneck about 9 p.m., and last saw paved roads around 10:30 p.m. The convoy didn’t stop for the night until after 2 a.m. when we reached COP Shukvani, a post operated by the soldiers from the nation of Georgia. We pulled cots out of the Marines’ trucks and caught a few hours of sleep under the stars.
Monday brought stops to several more outposts. We returned to Leatherneck well after midnight, as many of the Marines stifled yawns and slurped caffeinated drinks to stay awake. They still had several more hours of work to do, including cleaning the trucks and accounting for what they brought back to base.