A Marine with Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, sets security in Sangin, Afghanistan. Four Marines were honored for their bravery during a six-day battle in Helmand province in 2012. (Cpl. Mark Garcia/Marine Corps)
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The mood was calm as two platoons with Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, conducted a nighttime air assault into Qaleh-ye Gaz, a rural town in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
It would probably just be another “dry hole,” thought Staff Sgt. Joshua Brodrick as he and his Marines flew in on helicopters in the early hours of June 22, 2012. They had been on recent operations that yielded little to no enemy contact, and now they were dropping into the village to establish a forward operating base. It was their job to survey the area and gather intelligence for a SEAL team that was considering setting up shop there.
But the calm would break along with the day. The Marines found themselves in a six-day fight for survival that would leave two dead, another seriously injured and result in the awarding of two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars with “V” devices for valor. In the wake of the operation, the SEALS would decide against moving into the area, said Brodrick, 1st Platoon’s platoon sergeant, who received a Bronze Star on Feb. 18 at a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., for his actions in Afghanistan.
The unit put boots on the ground at about 4 a.m., but were ordered to hold their position.
Only a small contingent, led by 1st Lt. Kenneth Conover III, 1st Platoon’s commander, would immediatly push south to reconnoiter the area. Conover earned the Silver Star for his actions over the following days.
“We basically received orders that we couldn’t move until the sun was coming up because of the IED threat,” Brodrick said. “When the sun started coming up, we saw women and children leaving the town at a rapid rate.”
They knew something bad was afoot. Then indirect fire began hitting the Marines’ landing zone, followed by intense small-arms and medium machine gun fire. Brodrick ran across 75 meters of open field to link up with the squad taking the most fire, according to his medal citation. He deliberately left cover to direct return fire, which forced a lull in the enemy’s attack.
At the same time, Sgt. Kenneth Rick, a 1st Platoon squad leader who also earned the Silver Star, was “attacked from multiple positions by high volumes of medium machine gun and indirect fire,” his citation states. On four occasions he subjected himself to the fusillade of enemy fire so he could accurately fire his M4 Carbine and M203 grenade launcher while directing his squad’s movements. His actions are also credited with forcing the enemy to break contact.
Sgt. Nicholas Brandau, a fellow squad leader who earned the Bronze Star, was also subjecting himself to enemy fire to help his unit maneuver to a nearby compound for cover.
The concerted effort by the four leaders and their Marines broke the enemy’s attack within about 15 to 20 minutes and gave Brodrick enough time to maneuver south 600 meters to link up with Conover’s element.
“I wouldn’t classify it as a big break in the attack, but more as a lull,” Brodrick said.
The attacks would eventually wane in frequency, but were regular — nearly constant — for the first few days in Qaleh-ye Gaz.
The enemy fighters “were professionals and well-trained,” Conover said. “They carried out a coordinated attack on our position and the LZ.
“However, our Marines were definitely doing all the things that you would expect Marines to do. Sergeants were putting themselves where they needed to be, often times in direct line of sight of the enemy, making sure things that needed to get done got done. It is because of those guys that more Marines didn’t get hurt.”
Later on the first day, after Conover and his Marines maneuvered to the compound they would use as their base of operations for the following six days, the enemy mustered another attack.
While 1st Platoon was fortifying the compound, the enemy engaged them with grenades, small-arms and medium machine gun fire. Brandau, from an exposed roof-top perch, broke the attack with grenades, but Marines inside the patrol base were injured, Conover said. Others were dispatched to set up a landing zone for a medical evacuation helicopter when one Marine was mortally wounded in a field outside the base.
“The reason those Marines were out there in the middle of that fire was because a Marine had been wounded by shrapnel earlier at the patrol base,” Conover said. “A corpsman stabilized him and was calling in a medevac. [The Marines] “were outside the patrol base to ensure we could bring in the helo safely for their wounded brother. While out there doing his job, one was killed by the enemy.”
Brandau and Rick immediately left the the base to recover the body.
Rick led a security team while Brandau led an aid and litter team over more than 200 meters of fire-swept terrain, according to their citations. As rounds landed within feet of Rick, he continued to direct his squad and remained outside the patrol base, suppressing enemy fire until all other Marines were safely inside. Brandau similarly directed suppressive fire to allow the litter team to carry the casualty back to the patrol base.
Brodrick would also aid with a counterattack, directing fire support from a tank section to destroy enemy as close as 75 meters.
The next day, Rick led his squad to counter another enemy ambush.
“The precision fire he employed from his grenade launcher destroyed two enemy fighters and oriented close-air support aircraft onto their targets, ultimately leading to the destruction of the enemy,” his citation reads.
The enemy’s efforts would persist, however.
While Conover gives great credit to his enlisted leaders, he is singled out in his Silver Star citation for his calm efficiency under fire. During the operation, which included two platoons from 1/7, another platoon from 1/8, and support from tanks, artillery and air, Conover is credited with leading Marines through “40 significant events, to include 23 direct-fire engagements, one grenade attack, two indirect-fire attacks, and 10 enemy attempts to overrun his position.
“In relentless pursuit of the dozens of enemy who attacked his platoon,” Conover directed tank main-gun rounds, artillery rockets, close-air support strikes and AT-4 rockets, his citation states. “His efforts resulted in more than 12 enemy destroyed, five enemy wounded, three detainments and an enemy vehicle destroyed.”■