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Marines work behind the scenes to aid the infantry

31 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Backing ever rifleman in Iraq is an elite team of junior Marines hunched over maps and computers making sure they have what they need, when they need it.

The grunts of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., rely on the Leathernecks behind the scenes in the command operations center to keep them at the top of their game.

"I think the most important job in here is the radio operator," said Sgt. Ramon C. Mayfield, a 26-year-old radio supervisor in the COC.   "He has to get reports, find out about casualties and keep the guy on the other end calm.

"When a unit is under fire and they're yelling into their radio needing help, it's the radio operator who has to understand what they're saying," added Mayfield, of Atlanta.

Radio operators who work in the COC rarely leave the wire but they have to be spun up on all the aspects of field combat.  Relaying incorrect grid coordinates or misinterpreting something could cost the Marines on the line their lives.

"The confusion when something happens is pretty stressful here, said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Martinez, 20, from Gypsum, Colo. "Everyone in the COC needs their own individual information.  I have to get it to them correctly and as fast as I can."

The radio isn't the only thing that keeps the fight driving though.  Rifle companies can't operate without knowing where they are going or what to expect when they get there. 

Making sure they're informed is the job of Lance Cpl. Stephen J. Boyko, an intelligence analyst from Orefield, Penn.  The 20 year-old has the responsibility of debriefing patrols when they return and gathering information across the area of operations to establish trends.

"I track where improvised explosive devices hit us, when they hit us and what kind they are," Boyko said.  "I put together a package with charts and give it to the battalion commander and the rifle companies."

The companies use the information Boyko provides to conduct raids, ambushes and to find the safest roads to travel.

"I make sure the companies are aware of what directly affects them and what's going on in (the rest of Iraq)," Boyko said. "I'm sure the information has saved lives."

Another important job in the COC belongs to Cpl. Caleb D. Johnson, an operations clerk with the task force.  It's his job to keep track of where units outside the wire are. 

Whenever a unit encounters fire or moves positions Johnson updates his rolling account of the battalion's operations.  If the chart isn't always correct and up to date, things can go downhill in a hurry.

"I have to keep track of what's going on and be ready to brief it to anyone at a moment's notice," Johnson said.  The 20 year-old from Greenville, S.C. added, "When a unit in the field is in trouble there are orders flying all over the place and I have to catch and keep track of all of it."

If artillerymen or air support don't know where a unit is they could send fire right on top of them.  Young Marines like Johnson keep in close contact with the supporting units to keep battles running as smoothly as possible. The result can best be termed organized chaos.

"When we (get contact) this place becomes a zoo with everyone needing to know what happened," said 1st Lt. Daniel B. Frank, who spends most of his day inside the COC as an artillery liaison officer. 

"If people aren't doing their jobs right in here things can snowball pretty quickly," said Frank, 25, from Austin, Texas.   "Everyone has to know what's important enough to report to the watch officer or we'd be hearing about radio checks all day. 

"It's the important information that we have to know and then we can decide whether the unit can handle a problem or if they need our help to squelch the enemy," Frank explained.

When the Marines behind the scenes fit their individual pieces into the puzzle it takes a huge burden of the individual rifleman so he can concentrate on the fight in front of him.

"What we do here ... allows the rifle companies to do their jobs," Boyko said.