CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
In the midst of darkness, a team of seven Marines assembled with one common goal; to provide services and goods to war-fighting troops stationed at various patrol bases and forward operating bases throughout northern Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The team is known as the Warfighter Express Services Team, a part of Marine Corps Community Services for the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
The WES Team is a mobile unit that provides Post Exchange, postal, disbursing and morale satellite mobile internet and telephone services to locations that do not have these everyday luxuries for those stationed there.
It includes two exchange personnel, two postal clerks, one disbursing clerk from 2nd MLG (Fwd.) and three truck drivers from Combat Logistics Battalion 8.
“We are here to bring morale to the troops who do not have the opportunity to walk to their local PX, postal or disbursing office,” said Staff Sgt. Erick Landers, MCCS WES Team staff noncommissioned officer.
Upon arriving to their first location, Combat Outpost Cafferretta, the WES team quickly set up to ensure their customers had the maximum time allowed to shop before the sun set. They stayed open until the last customer was served, and they did not turn anyone away.
Many Marines and sailors stood in line with smiles on their faces. Some had not seen the inside of a store in more than two months. The dim lights made visible chips, cookies and other popular snacks in the exchange trailer.
A change well received by the military members who are used to eating the Meals Ready-to-Eat on a nightly basis.
“It is a little taste of being home,” said Lance Cpl. Robert Shuter of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “It really gives you something to look forward to.”
The disbursing office allows members to withdraw cash as advanced pay. Lance Cpl. Jordan James, 2nd MLG (Fwd.) Disbursing, explained the importance of being able to have cash readily available to troops.
“Sometimes having a couple of dollars in your pocket makes you feel like your back home,” said James, “I’m here to help out everyone, I love being a part of this team.”
Other times they need cash for purchases at the PX or for shipping goods stateside in the mobile post office.
The postal office also afforded troops the opportunity to receive their mail from loved ones back home. They were also able mail items out.
The team could not have arrived at a better time for members preparing to return home.
“It is definitely a morale booster to have postal here, it is very helpful not to have to drag all your stuff around,” said Sgt. Marissa Stuart, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2. Stuart was mailing personal items home as she prepared to return to the U.S. after a 12-month deployment in FOB Edinburgh.
The three-week journey brought the WES Team to 10 different PBs, COPs and FOBs. They serviced more than 2,140 customers.
“The total sales for the entire mission was $86,948.00; that is a record set.” said Gunnery Sgt. Donald Clark, WES Team Manager. “Overall, the mission was a huge success.”
But sales were not a concern to the WES Team. They concentrated on making sure their customers received items that are in high demand in the field.
“Our vast experience enables us to know the individual Marines’ needs in the field,” said Sgt. Rory Duane, WES Team noncommissioned officer. “It is the whole reason why I took this job; I know what it is like on the other side. I have been there, and I feel the connection to these Marines.”
What are some of the popular items these war fighters look forward to?
“Food, energy drinks and cigarettes!” said Lance Cpl. Brandy Hogan assigned to the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Female Engagement Team at COP Cafferetta.
The MCCS WES Team is a well-oiled machine. They faced many adversities on their journey; no air conditioning, no showers and no hot meals. But it did not stop them from completing their mission. They pulled together as a team and ensured they serviced as many locations as they possibly could.
“Overall, what kept us going was teamwork on behalf of all the WES Team members, including the drivers of our vehicles,” said Landers, “Everyone working together made it possible for us to cover a vast area of PBs and FOBs that otherwise don’t get the everyday opportunities to utilize such luxuries of the field without us.”
In the end, the WES Team traveled the distance to ensure the warfighters received a bit of normalcy in their lives. They continue to do so until the last customer checks out.