It was a cold morning that Thanksgiving Day in 2010 in South Helmand Provence, Afghanistan. I was in the Sangin Valley, deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Kilo Company, stationed out of Camp San Mateo, Camp Pendleton; Calif. Dark Horse was our battalion nickname. Our mission was to clear a three kilometer road of all insurgents, weapons, and improvised explosive devices (IED). My buddy and I were the lead sweepers and used metal detectors to locate and find IEDs. After we would find a bomb we would detonate it so nobody would be in danger of stepping on one of these destructive explosives.
I had the pleasure of clearing an alleyway. It was at that very moment I was about to realize that I was in for one heck of a deployment. Just before I reached the end of the alley and its intersection, a radio-controlled IED detonated 10 meters in front of me. I was blown back about 10 feet, spun around 180 degrees and left facing the opposite direction.
I was dazed from the blast and later learned that I suffered a concussion. My ears were ringing and there was shrapnel lodged in my magazines and the front of my flack-jacket. My squad leader sat me down and the corpsman tended to me until I could get my senses back and snap out of it. At that point my buddy, Beno, took over lead-sweeping duties and almost instantly stepped on a secondary IED that was less than 20 feet from the previous one. He was killed instantly and there was nothing anybody could do for him. His name was Arden Benagua and he was only 19 years old.
After that second explosion all hell broke loose. We were ambushed from two directions in an L-shape. These Taliban could fight and they were smart, not like Al Queida in Iraq who would point their AKs around the corner of a building and then spray and pray. We had to fight our way back the way we had come. We didn’t want to risk anybody else getting blown apart, so we bounded our way back to a compound with a building inside its perimeter. We had cleared it earlier, so we knew that it was safe. We had to evacuate the fallen Marines and the wounded. The second blast had torn off one Marine’s legs and left two others unconscious with severe concussions. In addition, two Marines and a couple Afghan National Army soldiers had gunshot wounds. After the wounded were evacuated and the fighting had stopped, we all ate some field rations and rested for about an hour.
Then, we were on our way again. Just because it was a holiday and we’d already experienced a fire fight, didn’t mean we are done fighting for the day. We are the leanest, meanest, baddest, fighting machines on this planet. We are United States Marines. So, the fight goes on we would say. All of this transpired when I had only been in Afghanistan for two weeks. It was hell on earth, but I would endure the experience all over again because I love this country and would do anything to protect it.