CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- A bulldozer flattens piles of dirt and rock that formerly protected the perimeter of a patrol base, while Marines relocate 40-pound sandbags.
Miles down the road, a Marine uses a metal detector to locate improvised explosive devices and mark a safe lane for vehicles and ground troops. Still farther down the road, a squad transports materials for a new bridge across the Helmand River.
The Marines of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 7, provided this and other engineer support to multiple battalions and numerous Security Forces Assistance Advisor Teams during a seven-month deployment here.
Spread across Helmand province and often sleeping under the stars without shelter, the Marines provided electrical capabilities, route clearance and IED training to units operating under Regional Command (Southwest).
They also provided multi-faceted operational support. The most noted of these operations was “Operation Dynamic Partner,” which required engineer support for route clearance, breaching known IED fields and the retrograde of equipment, said Lt. Col. John Osborne, the 2nd CEB commanding officer.
The operation involved multiple Marine units facilitating the retrograde of military personnel and equipment from Village Stability Platform Shurakay.
Osborne said the operations allowed the Marines to return to their expeditionary roots by providing support miles away from forward operating bases.
Another operation, named “Operation Golden Gate,” allowed the engineers to work alongside Navy and Army engineers to construct a new bridge over the Helmand River in Sangin district.
The Marines have also helped close bases across Helmand province. For the engineers, this meant tearing down buildings and security barriers or restructuring bases to transfer them to Afghan National Security Forces, a difficult and time-consuming process, said Lt. Col. Brian Neil, the executive officer of Regimental Combat Team 7.
“The battalion was widely successful in all that we asked them to do,” Neil said. “Across a range of activities, they successfully completed the mission.”
Second CEB was deployed to Helmand province from late 2009 to early 2010 and again during 2011, and the Marines have seen a difference.
“It’s less kinetic than in years past,” said Osborne, who was born in Quantico, Va. “We’re still doing (IED) sweeps, but not nearly as much.”
Coalition forces in Afghanistan are now focused on assisting and advising Afghan forces, and the CEB Marines have helped that mission as well.
“Our mission wasn’t to work side-by-side with the Afghans, but we were able to provide engineer support to the Marines who advise them.”
The engineers also helped the ANSF develop an engineer company to combat the threat of IEDs without the help of the Marines, Osborne said.
As the mission in Afghanistan has changed, the Marines of 2nd CEB have had to adapt to operating with less personnel and vehicles. Despite the challenges, the engineer Marines completed all that was asked of them.
“The Marines have done excellent and have made all this possible,” said Osborne. “We can think up all the plans we want, but it takes the Marines to execute them. Their ability to adapt and accomplish the mission has been amazing.”