NAWA, Afghanistan -- The Jump Platoon, though the members of it would never say so themselves, is special.
Unique in size, mission and structure, the platoon is entrusted with the responsibility of providing security for the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment commanding officer while circulating him throughout 3/3’s battle space in Helmand province roughly every eight days.
While this is an honorable task and certainly Jump Platoon’s most visible function, the platoon continuously works behind the scenes to accomplish many other vital tasks for 3/3 as well.
The Jump Marines perform a variety of tasks, from providing supplementary security and running vehicle checkpoints, to masonry and gardening.
Not only have they logged more than 5,000 miles on the road in Helmand province while performing their primary duty, they’ve also assisted with reinforcing defensive positions and taken to odd tasks like planting a vegetable garden.
“It’s kind of cliché to say, but no mission is too small or too big,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 James P. Law, the Jump Platoon commander and battalion gunner for 3/3. “We do whatever the battalion needs us to do.”
Because the Jump Platoon is capped to a certain size, everyone pitches in, regardless of rank, and has to be prepared to complete tasks outside of their traditional roles Law said.
The mentality that each man might be called upon to perform any task is a driving force in Jump, and a part of the reason Law is in the platoon. It isn’t typical for a battalion gunner to be as much of a part of the battalion’s security team as Law, but in a small section tasked various responsibilities, necessity dictates otherwise.
“There’s no other way I could get around the battlefield without being with these guys,” Law said. “Nawa is too large and we’re too few in numbers to have a special group that takes me around. I’m another member of the team.”
Being a part of that team affords Law the ability to perform more traditional battalion gunner duties. Here, he moves from position to position, teaching and mentoring Marines. Although he says it’s rarely necessary, he’ll dig into Marines for the small mistakes.
“I would feel I was not doing my job if I did not go around and get into people for little minor things that I think could save their lives,” Law, from Portland, Ore., said. “The Marine Corps picked me to be a battalion gunner; they didn’t pick me to be a guy that sits in an office and critiques people. I’ll go out there and teach a Marine how to change magazines quicker and, when necessary, I will explain to him why his gloves need to be on correctly and why his sleeves need to be rolled down, because if he goes home with horrific burns on his arms, what do I tell his mom? ‘I was a weak leader and didn’t have morale courage to correct him.’”
When Jump travels, they roll rank heavy, typically moving with the battalion commander, the battalion sergeant major and the battalion gunner at least.
When that many command members come rolling into patrol bases and combat outposts, a general feeling of unease sometimes spreads through the Marines and sailors who live there. Although they have no reason to be on edge, as Law says, “Our corporals and sergeants are some of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Still though, there is a general attitude about Jump.
“The Jump Platoon is kind of an outcast because we’re different, not because we’re anything special,” said Cpl. Parsons, a Jump Platoon vehicle commander. “We’re the same riflemen that are in line companies. Only, because we’re a small unit in a large battalion, and we’re not 300 strong like the line companies, people look at us different. You see the same kind of attitude toward elite units, only we’re not elite.”
But in a way the platoon is elite. The majority of the men who make up Jump were selected by their company first sergeants to represent their respective company and the battalion as a whole. For Parsons, the opportunity to be a part of Jump was a shot at redemption.
Parsons, from Pensacola, Fla., had gotten himself into trouble and after losing two pay grades the Marine was facing administrative separation.
“Lt. Col. Holt and Sgt. Maj. [Andrew] Cece came on board as new commander and sergeant major and decided, graciously, to give me an opportunity to redeem myself,” Parsons said. “Since then, I’ve been reestablishing my identity in the battalion and trying to piecemeal a career back together. Working as the colonel’s personal security assistant is an honor. It’s put me in the right place at the right time to try and salvage and rebuild what I’ve previously destroyed.”
Parsons has worked hard at redeeming himself. He’s already picked up one of the ranks he lost and is among the most active members of Jump Platoon.
Parsons, along with most members of the platoon, checked out and completed four to five Marine Corps Institute distance learning programs — all on non-infantry topics: refrigeration, welding, generator repair …
“We did the MCIs on those topics because we had no understanding of them prior to this deployment and there was a need for it,” Parsons said. “Sitting there looking at a broke generator won’t fix it.”
Cpl. Calvin Vaulner, a Jump Platoon vehicle commander and currently the acting platoon sergeant, attributes Jump’s mentality not just to necessity, but to upbringing.
“We keep busy with work all the time because for most of these guys it’s just part of their background,” Vaulner said.
So now, with just weeks left to go in the deployment, after thousands of miles have been driven and hundreds have been patrolled, the radio operator can do what the machine gunner can do, and the corpsman can do what the rifleman can do.
“Everyone took their own expertise and expanded it and blended it in with each other,” Vaulner said. “Everybody ended up coming out on top, knowing a little bit of everything.”