SANGIN, Afghanistan -- The Marines of 3rd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, with their Afghan National Army counterparts, set out on a patrol to “draw lines in the sand,” outside Patrol Base Fulod in Sangin District, Dec. 30.
Sgt. David “Bibi” Castillo, 2nd squad leader and Rosamond, Calif. native, led a reinforced squad, of Marines, Navy corpsmen, ANA soldiers and interpreters on a dual-pronged patrol. To conduct the mission, the squad was broken into two teams. Cpl. Jason Albright, a 2nd squad team leader and Chicago Ridge, Ill. native, led the first phase of the patrol, which was to bring their platoon commander to meet with village elders and deliver funds to help repair a damaged mosque, and to gather intelligence on Taliban activity in the area.
“The Taliban stole the carpet inside the mosque and did damage to the façade,” said 1st Lt. Josef Patterson, platoon commander, 3rd Plt., I. Company. “With funds we delivered on behalf of the district governor, the Mullah can now pay young kids to make the repairs, so the children are not seeking jobs offered by the Taliban.”
After a very successful meeting with the Allikozai village elders, the patrol continued to push down Route 611. For nearly 300 meters of roadway, the village was filled with dozens of friendly children, smiling and asking for “Chocolate! Chocolate!” After dispensing all of their sugar-filled ‘ammo’ to the children, the Marines left the main road into an area described as “friendly and hostile.” As the 2nd team crossed the invisible “line in the sand,” the mood of the patrol shifted.
Children had surrounded Albright and the patrol moments before. Now they were soon no where to be found. With Castillo and the other half of the squad already in place, Albright’s team pushed ahead with the second phase of the patrol.
“The other point of the patrol was to go into an area that we really haven’t had a foot print in and dis-rupt any Taliban sympathizers or Taliban themselves in that area,” said Patterson, a 31-year-old native of Owasso, Okla. “And to let the local people know that they are not forgotten and that we are there with the ANA to support them in security and assist them with getting rid of IEDs and the Taliban.”
Before the two teams could reunite, the patrol had to get through a maze of mud compounds and alley-ways, cross many dangerous areas open to enemy fire, stop and search suspicious vehicles, all the while keeping their eyes to the ground for the threat of stepping on a deadly IED.
The patrol also covered all doorways and windows, but were extra keen to watch for minute openings in the walls, they refer to as “murder holes.” These punctures in the mud walls are just large enough to fit the muzzle of a rifle through.
One of the dangerous areas the teams had to pass was physically marked with two white Taliban flags, both flying over compound walls riddled with murder holes. Patterson and his Marines took fire here recently, but today they did not take the bait. They were able to bypass the possible ambush site and push further into “Taliban country.”
“I respect the enemy we are fighting here in Sangin. They are extremely aggressive and legitimate fighters,” Patterson added. “The biggest problem I have with them is when they use women and child-ren to hide behind. We refuse to shoot at kids.”
Once the squad linked up in an Afghan compound, they identified a building to use as an overwatch position. With daylight burning, Castillo and his lead element wanted to act fast and seize the vital compound, but something did not seem right.
“There were too many danger areas and countless murder holes,” said Castillo. “I also had to factor in the potential need for casualty evacuations routes and it did not add up.”
After assessing the situation, Patterson and his team leaders, decided on another route to bypass the danger area. Only moments after departing the compound, the patrol returned. While Lance Cpl. Nathan Peyton, a combat engineer with 3rd Plt., and point man on the patrol, was sweeping for IEDs, he noticed a slight difference in the texture of the dirt. Brushing away the dirt by hand, Peyton discovered an IED!
“This IED was a directional ‘frag,’ so instead of blasting upward, it was set up to blast the length of the alleyway,” Castillo said. “Peyton’s alertness probably saved four to five lives -- an entire fire team.”
After calling in the coordinates of the IED to their Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, the patrol had reached an impasse for the day. Covering each other like the brothers they are, the U.S. and Afghan team members bounded back until they safely returned to PB Fulod.
“The patrol was extremely successful. We confirmed a village elder’s credibility, found an IED, no one got hurt, and we pushed the lines in the sand further than ever -- nearly 150 meters,” Patterson said.
Castillo, Albright, Peyton and all the Marines and sailors of 3/5’s Dark Horse and their ANA partners will continue to push the lines in the sand, taking away the enemies’ will to fight. The bond of their are my family,” he said proudly. “For 14 years, I have loved the Marines Corps. After serving here in Sangin, now I can say, ‘I love Marines!’”