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Patriotic Article
By Marine Cpl. Bobbie A. Curtis

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Team Of Three Keeps Desolate Base In Touch With The World
(March 26, 2009)

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Lance Cpl. Ryan D. Leftwich, a data network specialist, with Data Platoon, Communication Company, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), assists Lance Cpl. Eric C. Armstrong, a mobile multi-channel equipment operator, with Radio Platoon, Communication Company, with adjusting a Multi-Service Support Wide Area Network Satellite, at Sahl Sinjar Airfield, Iraq, Mar. 7, 2009. The Marines are part of a three-man detachment that provides all 2nd MLG (Forward) assets on the base with phone and internet services.
  SAHL SINJAR AIRFIELD, Iraq (March 19, 2009) — When Cpl. Christapher M. Bess and Lance Cpls. Ryan D. Leftwich and Eric C. Armstrong deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) in January 2009, they never thought they would find themselves fixing phone lines and computer networks in the mountainous region of the country known for its harsh living conditions.

The three Marines from Data and Radio Platoons, Communication Company, thought they would join the rest of their company at Camp Al Taqaddum, but shortly before their departure from the states, the trio found out that they would be sent to a place few Marines from 2nd MLG will ever see - Sahl Sinjar Airfield.

Located in the northwestern Iraqi province of Ninewa, Sahl Sinjar Airfield is used by Marines as a base for interdiction operations around the Syrian border that are designed to deter the trafficking of arms. The MLG contingent at Sahl Sinjar is far removed from 2nd MLG's normal area of operations in the Al Anbar province.
The three Marines are in charge of running the Multi-Service Support Wide Area Network Detachment that provides all MLG assets on the base with phone and internet capabilities.

“We built up to the deployment with months of training,” said Leftwich, a data network specialist. “They knew someone would be going to a detachment like this, but didn't know who.”

He said that being at the remote detachment has been far different from the working environment he experienced during his short time while stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“We have a much smaller team,” he said. “We have three people instead of being in a shop with 20 other data Marines.”

“There's a lot of self-reliance,” he continued. “A lot of this falls on me, not anyone above me.”

The rougher than usual conditions on the base, reminiscent of the tent-ridden camps that dotted Iraq during the early years of the war, and the increase in responsibility has been no problem for Leftwich who has enjoyed his experience.

“I have learned a lot about my military occupational specialty, lots of valuable information and a lot more about being a deployed Marine,” he concluded.

Without the services that Leftwich and his companions provide to Combat Logistics Battalion 7's supply, maintenance and command sections, as well as the base exchange, Shock Trauma Platoon and Arrival / Departure Air Control Group, they would have no access to unclassified or classified phone and computer networks, which are essential to mission accomplishment.

“We wouldn't be able to function as an STP without them,” said Lt. j.g. Jannifer L. Wick, the assistant officer-in-charge of Sahl Sinjar's STP.

“We wouldn't be able to call for medical evacuations or consult with medical providers outside of Sahl Sinjar,” she continued. “We think the world of them ... I don't know what we would do without them.”

Armstrong, a mobile multi-channel equipment operator from Radio Platoon, who cross-trained in the SWAN system that the detachment uses, didn't know what to expect when he found out he would be sent to the outlying base upon his arrival to Iraq.

“I didn't know what to think and I didn't have too many expectations either,” he admitted.

Armstrong also said that he has now gained a sense of accomplishment for what he and his fellow Marines have done for the expeditionary base.

“I think this is a side that a lot of Communication Marines don't get to see,” he said. “I think communication is one of the most important things ... I am happy to be one of those that are responsible for this, it gives me a sense of pride for what I do here.”

The time spent on Sahl Sinjar has been a change in scenery for Bess, the detachment chief, who is on his second deployment to Iraq.

He explained that the location of the base makes the detachment's job a lot harder compared to when they're on a larger base such as Camp Al Taqaddum.

“It takes days to get things fixed,” he said. “I have to wait until [the next group of Comm. Company Marines who replace us] come in order to receive any new parts.”

Bess added that the environment has allowed him to get to know his Marines better; with the isolation from the company, he and his junior Marines have formed a tighter bond.

“They've both had to learn a lot in a little amount of time,” he stated. “One of them is right out of boot camp and the other isn't even in data. Given their limited knowledge on the SWAN system, they have done a stellar job.”

The detachment's Marines have been in Sinjar since late January and are set to be replaced by a new group of Marines some time in the near future. The responsibility for the detachment will be split between three teams who will continue to rotate throughout the deployment.

Article and photo by Cpl. Bobbie A. Curtis
2nd Marine Logistics Group
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Marine Corps News

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