Face of Defense: Marine Locates Enemy Fighters

COMBAT OUTPOST SHUKVANI, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2011 — As a tor­rent of bul­lets whizzed past their heads, the Marines in Obser­va­tion Post 8 quick­ly dropped to the ground, nar­row­ly avoid­ing what could have been their deaths. As they lift­ed them­selves off of sand­bags cov­er­ing the bot­tom of the small bunker, they looked up to see Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christo­pher Sharp smil­ing down at them.

Musa Qalah district of Afghanistan's Helmand province
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christo­pher Sharp pre­pares for Oper­a­tion Black Sand in an obser­va­tion post in the south­ern por­tion of the Musa Qalah dis­trict of Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province, Aug. 5, 2011.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
Click to enlarge

“What are you duck­ing for?” Sharp asked with a chuck­le. “They’re not going to hit you. They’re too far away.” 

Sharp quick­ly turned around in his seat, a makeshift wood­en bench sit­u­at­ed toward the front of the bunker, and raised a pair of binoc­u­lars to his eyes. The small-arms fire that caused the Marines behind him to fall prone con­tin­ued to buzz past their heads. The Marines were at the post pro­vid­ing sup­port for Oper­a­tion Black Sand, a mis­sion designed to destroy a bazaar being used by insur­gents to man­u­fac­ture and dis­trib­ute impro­vised explo­sive devices. 

Sharp, a native of Mesa, Ariz., is the chief for Sup­port­ing Arms Liai­son Team Delta, 1st Air-Naval Gun­fire Liai­son Com­pa­ny, at this com­bat out­post on the west­ern side of the Hel­mand Riv­er, across from San­gin and on the south­ern tip of the Musa Qalah dis­trict of Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province. 

With five com­bat deploy­ments under his belt, Sharp is no stranger to being shot at. As a joint ter­mi­nal attack con­troller in a unit that spe­cial­izes in coor­di­nat­ing close air sup­port for ground forces, Sharp has had his share of close calls. 

“As a Marine I’m taught that once you take ground, you don’t give it back, so I’m not going to duck down,” Sharp said. “I’m going to try to [locate] where the ene­my is so that I can fire back or direct the fire back on to it.” 

Dur­ing Oper­a­tion Black Sand, while the 2nd Com­bat Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion used assault breach­ing vehi­cles to move into the bazaar, Sharp pri­mar­i­ly stayed inside the small, cubi­cle-sized sand­bag bunker that over­looked their posi­tion. His mis­sion was to be the liai­son between his team and the com­bat engi­neer battalion’s mis­sion com­man­der, Marine Corps Capt. John Shubeck. Through­out the oper­a­tion, Sharp and his Marines pro­vid­ed the engi­neers with sur­veil­lance, recon­nais­sance and close air support. 

“As long as the CEB com­man­der is up here, I’m up here,” Sharp said. “I’m sup­port­ing him. So what­ev­er sup­port he needs, I want to be right next to him to pro­vide it for him.” 

The oper­a­tion last­ed about a week. Sharp was busy about 20 hours each day, wear­ing a radio head­set and peer­ing through binoc­u­lars that seemed to be per­ma­nent­ly attached to his eyes. For hours on end, Sharp scanned for insur­gents fir­ing at the coali­tion forces, try­ing to get eyes on sus­pi­cious activity. 

“The real chal­leng­ing part about this oper­a­tion is try­ing to find where the ene­my is, which is kind of fun when they’re fir­ing at you,” he said. “The real hard part lies with [the com­bat engi­neers]. They’re the ones that have to destroy this bazaar and clear out all the IEDs. Those are the guys that are real­ly in dan­ger out there. I’m just here to sup­port those guys — mak­ing sure that the dan­ger they can’t see, I can see and [try­ing] to help mit­i­gate them from tak­ing small-arms fire through close air sup­port or artillery.” 

Dur­ing the oper­a­tion, the night offered no rest to Sharp. Late one night, intel­li­gence reports said insur­gents were approach­ing the coali­tion forces who were pro­tect­ing the engi­neers near the bazaar. Sharp got on his radio and ordered a pair of illu­mi­na­tion rounds to be fired. 

“It lets them know, ‘Hey, I see you. You bet­ter relax and not start any­thing,’ ” Sharp said. 

The rounds burst a cou­ple of hun­dred yards over the insur­gents’ heads, giv­ing away their posi­tion. The insur­gents quick­ly scat­tered. Once Sharp was con­vinced the threat was neu­tral­ized, he caught a few hours of shut­eye with his rifle, radio and binoc­u­lars by his side. 

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing fire sup­port, Sharp also coor­di­nat­ed casu­al­ty and med­ical evacuations. 

On the morn­ing of Aug. 6, a 2nd CEB Marine was hit by an IED and need­ed imme­di­ate evac­u­a­tion. In less than a halfhour, the wound­ed Marine was on a heli­copter and head­ed to a near­by trau­ma unit. 

Shubeck said he has had 29 Marines in his com­mand become casu­al­ties, and that he nev­er had seen a med­ical evac­u­a­tion exe­cut­ed so quickly. 

“Twen­ty min­utes from IED strike to the Marine being on the bird, … you don’t see that often,” said Shubeck, a native of Cen­ter­ville, S.D. “That’s just a tes­ta­ment to how well-versed [Sharp] is at his job.” 

“I’m glad we were able to get the air­craft in fast for him,” Sharp said. “That’s the only thing I was wor­ried about – mak­ing sure we we’re able to save his life. That’s the reward­ing part right there: know­ing that at least he sur­vived. … That, and harass­ing the [insur­gents].”

Ulti­mate­ly, Oper­a­tion Black Sand was deemed a suc­cess. The com­bat engi­neers lev­eled the Ladar Bazaar using line charges pack­ing more than 1,700 pounds of C4 explo­sives. While the line charges were being det­o­nat­ed, Afghans from sur­round­ing vil­lages came out to watch the fire­works show. Many of them were chil­dren. Sharp just shook his head. 

“The kids around here have to grow up in this kind of envi­ron­ment,” he said. “I’ve got two chil­dren of my own, and I’d nev­er want them in this kind of envi­ron­ment. I don’t even tell them what I real­ly do over here. I don’t tell my wife that stuff until I get home, because I don’t want her to worry. 

“As long as she thinks I’m safe and good to go,” he added, “then every­thing is kosher.” 

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

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