SOUTHERN HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The Marines and Sailors of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, live minimally - to say the least - at their tiny outpost in southwestern Afghanistan.
With only a dirt square outside their compound for a helicopter pad, swirling dust clouds made by helicopters landing and taking off, known as “brownouts,” make the delivery of necessary supplies, as well as troop movements in and out of the compound, dangerous for both the aircrews and ground personnel.
That is where the Marines and Sailors of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 come in. The MWSS-273 “Sweathogs” traveled to the desolate post on May 4th, to construct a safer helicopter landing zone (HLZ) with approximately 15,000 cubic meters of gravel and rock, a handful of combat engineers and only about twelve hours to complete the project.
“By having a constructed [landing zone], the gravel will mitigate a lot of the dust problems and will enable us to get into and out of the LZ quicker and safer,” said Capt. Steven Kosnik, the Echo Company commander, with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and La Porte, Ind., native.
Kosnik explained that the company relies heavily on air support, in the forms of close-air-support for missions, troop insertions and extractions and supply deliveries.
“It’s a lot easier to get out here [by helicopter] than by convoy,” said Sgt. Joshua Wentzel, a heavy equipment operator with MWSS-273 and Grove City, Ohio, native. Wentzel spent the day directing the drivers of two Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated Steering, Multipurpose vehicles (TRAMs) as they laid out thousands of pounds of rock needed to form the new HLZ.
In soaring temperatures, the engineers worked diligently and efficiently to lay out the rock, while ensuring the landing pad remained level and sloped appropriately, explained Lance Cpl. Jordan Deraitus, a technical engineer specialist with MWSS-273 and Cornell, Wisc., native.
The brownouts that make helicopter landings and takeoffs dangerous also plagued the TRAM drivers, added Wentzel, making the work ever more difficult.
In approximately six hours - half the original time estimate - the Sweathogs finished their work and prepared to return to Camp Leatherneck. They transformed a patch of dirt into a neat square of gravel ready to safely receive and launch helicopters.
“From an aviation perspective, what you do on the LZ’s is a big deal,” said Brig. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the Commanding General of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), in an address to the convoy members. “It allows us to get the Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, the Afghans and the [special operations personnel] in and out safely.”
After the mission was complete, the Sweathogs returned to Camp Leatherneck and left the outpost personnel with a new tool to increase their combat effectiveness.