CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
The 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) commanding general’s personnel security detail is a rich melting pot of experienced, seasoned Marines who perform a particularly specialized mission.
Among the 14-man team’s members are military policemen, a Navy corpsman, a motor transportation operator, a communications specialist and infantrymen.
The team has combined experiences serving across the world and in some of the most well-known military operations of the last decade. Here are a few of their stories:
Sgt. Sean O. Currie, a team leader with the PSD, has had a much different experience over the course of his current deployment to Iraq than his previous two.
On his first two deployments to Iraq between 2005-2007, Currie served as a mortarman, a gunner that fires a football-shaped grenade from a tube called a mortar. The weapon is mainly used as an indirect-fire weapon meaning the grenades fired arch over the battlefield and rain down on targets, somewhat like a small artillery gun.
While operating with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Currie performed a host of different duties including providing base security at Al Asad Air Base, as well as conducting combat operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar province mainly around Habbaniyah, the site of a pre-World War II Royal Air Force Base, located in the Sunni Triangle where the fiercest fighting in the Iraq war took place.
Though reluctant to provide details of his combat experience, he explained re-securing Habbaniyah from Sunni insurgents was an experience which he will never forget.
“We went through a lot to regain control of it,” he said. “I had a lot of close calls, should’ves and could’ves.”
Being on Camp Al Taqaddum, a major military base neighboring West Habbaniyah, an Iraqi Army base, Currie often has to retrace his past deployments as he passes through the former Coalition base that he actually helped turn over to the Iraqi Security Forces.
“It’s quite difficult,” he said. “It’s like mending the past deployments together. I put feet on the ground, shooting and moving – for others it may be something new … to me I still see it as 2006-2007.”
He said that though the memories of combat are still very vivid and real for him, he is glad to see the positive change in the country’s well being.
“It’s nice driving over areas where we used to live for six to seven months,” he said. “I actually remember some of the people; it’s nice to see them walk around smiling.”
“We helped rebuild this area,” he continued. “To see them prospering is a good experience.”
The reduction in violence has allowed Currie the opportunity to take time for self-improvement.
“There are a lot of things coming out of this,” he said. “I am getting my schooling done.”
He explained that he has been preparing himself for the future by using spare time between missions to pursue a degree in Fire Science and to also prepare for a job-change to crash, fire, rescue as a Marine Corps firefighter.
Comparing this phase of OIF to the last ones he played a part in, Currie issued this advice:
“Make use of your time,” he said. “For all the guys who don’t feel like they’re doing anything, use the time to better yourself.”
He said that the deployment with PSD has held other perks besides time and that he loves working with the team of experienced, trustworthy Marines.
“One thing we don’t have on this team is a first deployment,” he said. “We are all rolling on two, three, four deployments. There’s plenty of experience … I feel a lot safer.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class James A. Holcomb, a hospital corpsman with the team, first came to Iraq in 2003 for the invasion when he crossed the border into Iraq from Kuwait with 1st Health Service and Support Battalion. The first 48 hours he said, were intense.
“There was no rest, we were wearing MOPP suits,” he explained. “We were down to one MRE a day.”
The combination of Iraq’s hot climate, a lack of Meals Ready to Eat, and wearing of heavy, stuffy Mission Oriented Protective Posture suits, designed to protect troops from chemical attacks, created miserable conditions for the invading troops.
Holcomb said that during the course of the invasion his unit traveled camp to camp providing medical services to what turned out to be mostly injured Iraqi fighters and civilians.
Though only 20 percent of casualties his unit saw were American, he said that his most profound moment was seeing a specific Marine who was killed in action.
“The moment it came real for me was when a Marine who was shot in the head was brought in his own sleeping bag,” he said. “The ones that affected me the most were the Americans, just because you had something to relate to,” he explained.
During this deployment to Iraq, Holcomb has noticed an obvious drop in the number of casualties, explaining that the only medical work he has had to perform is small routine procedures on the team.
Another difference he has noticed is the amount of construction that went on between the time he left in 2003 and now.
“Everything is built up now,” he said, describing the changes. “Back then it was just tents. Actually having a chow hall and a shower facility has been great. We used to do our own laundry out of buckets.”
He believes that working with a PSD has been an improved experience from his last deployments, particularly enjoying the small unit and its camaraderie.
“My favorite part about being here this time is being with my own platoon,” he said.
Before he had been with a unit made of almost exclusively corpsmen.
“I feel like I am doing what a corpsman is meant to do … taking care of Marines,” he added.
Another benefit he gets from working with the team is the boost in morale he says it brings to the Marines.
“It makes me feel good because I know they couldn’t do the job they do without me here,” he stated. “Their morale is that much higher just because of my presence.”
Sgt. August C. Hamp, a mortarman, was a new comer to the Marine Corps when he found himself on his way to war. With only a few months in the Marine Corps, Hamp was tossed into the middle of the Sunni Triangle in 2004 on the dawn of the most prolific and violent fighting the Marines would see in Iraq.
After arriving to Iraq, Hamp was quickly put into a combined action platoon, one of the first used since the Vietnam War. The platoon is made up of a small element of Marines combined with members of a military force from the local Iraqi region, allowing the Marines to assist and advise the local military with tactical-level decision making and tactics.
The Marines lived among the Iraqi Security Forces at a security station in the town of Haditha. One day while working, the war experience for Hamp became painfully real.
A vehicle packed with approximately 50 155mm rounds, each one with a kill radius of 50 meters, pulled up to the station and detonated.
“It blew my buddy like 10 feet in the air,” he said, explaining his friend was uninjured. “I actually got wounded … took shrapnel to the face and back.”
Hamp was awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries.
“I was about three months into the fleet,” he continued. “I learned real quickly how serious it is to do the right thing at the right time.”
In November 2004, Hamp and the rest of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment,were positioned just outside of the city of Fallujah ready to embark upon the most brutal urban fighting Marines had experienced since the battle for Hue City, Vietnam in 1968 – Operation Phantom Fury, or Al Fajr in Arabic meaning “the dawn.”
The Marines and their Iraqi Army counterpart’s mission was to retake the city from Iraqi insurgents who held it since April. Their force strength was estimated at 5,000.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Hamp said. “The whole thing wasn’t about the battle itself, it was about taking care of your buddies.”
He said that the Marines in the battle didn’t particularly follow the escalation of the situation that led to the fighting, they just did their job.
“It was get in, do our job and try to get out,” he said.
Another Marine from PSD happened to be in the battle with Hamp - Sgt. Harry Johnson, who was also in 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.
Hamp said there is a big difference in the job that he is doing now with the PSD than the one he conducted in 2004.
“When I showed up and went down to [training] it made me realize that our whole mission is different than the basic mission of an infantryman,” he explained. “When you go out with an infantry platoon nothing is built around one specific person in the group, as with the PSD everything is built around the boss (the person they are providing security for).”
Even though he is no longer on the attack, Hamp is still content with his mission in Iraq.
“I like this,” he said. “It’s nice.”
The remaining Marines of the 2nd MLG (Fwd) PSD each have common and unique experiences that eventually guided them together to Iraq a second, third and even fourth time, to serve under the same unit’s colors. Even though the experience here is different than what most of the team is used to, all will leave with more to add to their book of knowledge and skills. This is part one of a two-part story covering the individual accounts of the experienced membes that make up the 2nd MLG (Fwd)'s PSD team.