AL ASAD, Iraq -- A piece of camouflage netting flaps in the powerful winds gusting by the lone tower. Two Marines inspect the distant sands of the desert with a pair of incisive eyes to catch anything unusual around the perimeter of Al Asad.
The tower sentry Marines around Al Asad's fence line with 1st Platoon, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are responsible for keeping the base secure from anything or anyone that could be perceived as a threat to them or the personnel inside.
"Our main mission is to watch the perimeter outside the wire and report anything that is unusual, which is anything from vehicles to personnel walking around," said Cpl. Damaris R. Granados, tower sentry, 1st Platoon, and a 19-year-old native of Los Angeles. "We protect the base and keep anything from getting through the fence line. We are pretty much the first line of defense."
While being deployed for a full seven months, these Marines spend eight hours of every day inside a small tower watching the desert through sand storms, rain and other adverse weather conditions.
"There are a few challenges like boredom and wind," said Lance Cpl. Nelson M. Caro, tower sentry, 1st Platoon. "It gets very windy up here and it gets hard to hear, so you have to keep the (radio) receiver up to your ear most of the time to hear anything. There are also days where nothing happens, and you are just sitting here looking at sand.
"It's a job like everything else," the 20-year-old Miami, native added. "You have to do it regardless. Sometimes the days are exciting, and sometimes there is nothing at all."
Manning the towers isn't really a physically demanding job, but draws more of its challenges from the Marines mentally, according to Lance Cpl. Tyson M. Snyder, tower sentry, 1st Platoon.
"We had a sand storm come through awhile back and people were trying to sneak over the wire during it," said the 20-year-old Wooster, Ohio, native. "We have had shots fired at the towers, too. You have to stay alert and vigilant."
The Marines guarding the edge of the base are not placed in towers by themselves, but instead, with another Marine, whom they will usually come to know very well by deployment's end.
"You get to really meet the person you are with," said Caro, a Homestead Senior High School graduate. "It's not like you are just stuck with this guy. At the same time that you are watching out, you talk to the person you are with and get to know their background, and they get to know yours. You build a bond with the people you work with out here."
With sentry Marines, like the ones with 1st Platoon steering troubles away from Al Asad, the other personnel aboard Al Asad have little to worry about as far as perimeter security.
"We help by keeping the people on this base safe, so that they don't have to worry about someone sneaking on the base and going crazy," Caro concluded. "We also help by keeping our ordnance safe. We don't want people harming our people or taking our ordnance to use against us. That's what makes our job important."