Face of Defense: Marine Leads Team to Safety

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Afghanistan — For much of their deploy­ment, Marines of the 3rd Light Armored Recon­nais­sance Bat­tal­ion have found an insur­gent force that was reluc­tant to fight them toe to toe. Rather, the ene­my has relied more on impro­vised explo­sive devices and indi­rect fire.
But on April 20, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jesse K. Knerr, sec­tion leader for the battalion’s 3rd Pla­toon, E Com­pa­ny, and a native of Port­land, Ore., found that when insur­gents have their backs against the wall, they are left with no choice but to fight.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jesse K. Knerr led a five-mem­ber fire team to safe­ty dur­ing an April 20, 2011, ambush in Afghanistan.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Cpl. Adam T. Leyen­deck­er
Click to enlarge

The mis­sion of the day was to search an area that had­n’t yet been explored by coali­tion forces but was sus­pect­ed of being a site for insur­gent fight­ing positions. 

When Knerr and his fire team patrolled the area, they found struc­tures made of rock that blend­ed into a moun­tain ridge. This dif­fered from the build­ings they were accus­tomed to see­ing, which main­ly were mud huts. 

Knerr sig­naled for his team to search the struc­tures, where they found bat­tery packs, rock­et-pro­pelled grenades, ene­my pro­pa­gan­da and half-eat­en meals that were still warm. After radio­ing in the intel­li­gence, Knerr and his team fol­lowed a trail that led up the ridge to a small cave with an even big­ger cave about 100 yards above it. 

As they walked up the ridge, the team found fight­ing posi­tions all along it. Sud­den­ly, they began tak­ing small-arms fire from insur­gents in the big­ger cave, only about a foot­ball field’s dis­tance away from their positions. 

The fire team imme­di­ate­ly found cov­er. At around 4:30 p.m., Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Yobani Teja­da, the pla­toon sergeant, got a radio call from Knerr stat­ing that his team was engaged by ene­my fire on the ridge. 

Teja­da, who was in a light armored vehi­cle at the bot­tom of the moun­tain, told the Marines to find cov­er so they could pro­vide fire from their tur­ret and call in air sup­port. Knerr real­ized he had to come up with a plan that would get his Marines out of there safe­ly. Spot­ting an area that sup­plied suf­fi­cient cov­er, Knerr direct­ed the Marines to sup­press the enemy’s fire while each of them advanced toward the area. 

After the Marines were clear, Knerr radioed back to Teja­da, who had two vehi­cles simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sup­press­ing the enemy’s fire. The insur­gents returned fire with rock­et-pro­pelled grenades, but came no clos­er than about 100 yards from the vehi­cles. Air sup­port arrived in the form of F‑18s, which destroyed the ene­my posi­tions. After­ward, Knerr said he was thank­ful that he and his fire team made it out safely. 

“I knew that we all had to come togeth­er at that very moment when we were under fire and exe­cute my plan per­fect­ly, or lives could be lost,” he said. “In a sit­u­a­tion like that, there is no room for error.” 

Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Joshua I. White, a corps­man who was with the fire team, said he and the oth­er fire team mem­bers cred­it Teja­da with prepar­ing them for the sit­u­a­tion. “He’s always told us to strength­en our mind, or we’ll lose it,” White said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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