FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ - Things are almost as good as they can get for 1st Sgt. Leo Marshall.
He’s in the Army. He’s in Iraq. He’s got a challenging job and seniority. He works with people he likes and has known for a long time and he can’t say enough good things about them. So what’s not to like?
Being away from his daughter Amanda, 17, son Sharpe, 10, and wife Kim, that’s what.
“I’ve got nothing to complain about outside separation from family,” he said Thursday during a 9.5-mile drive around the Marez guard houses. There are 11 guardhouses, elevated for a view of the perimeter. They are manned by two soldiers, an American and a Kurd, working two four-hour shifts a day.
Marshall, 46, a 20-year veteran, is a fulltime member of the guard. Normally he organizes monthly training sessions at the Gary Armory and acts as a liaison with Lt. Col. Richard Shatto, who lives in Columbus and works in Indianapolis. Now, as the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Combat Engineering Battalion headquarters staff sergeant, he deals with a variety of concerns ranging from support, maintenance, medics and communication to what are known as around here as “force protection issues.”
As we drove from guardhouse to guardhouse in a Polaris all-terrain vehicle, Marshall spoke of the camaraderie that grows among those in harm’s way. During Desert Storm, the 46-year-old Marshall was a supply sergeant responsible for logistical packages, or LOGPAKS in military speak. That meant he would be given map coordinates and a large truck or two loaded with everything an outlying unit needed - or at least was going to get - in the way of food, water, arms and shelter and head out across the desert.
Sometimes he made three or four runs a day. For six months it was mostly sponge baths, although occasionally the guys would set a large tin of water on a truck and poke holes in it for a shower. Baby wipes were a big deal. There were no barracks, no mess halls, no toilets and no showers. “You became real close,” he said. Coffee was made cowboy style: tossed into water boiling over a campfire, poured into a cup.
Not long ago his wife Kim, with whom he maintains frequent Internet contact, asked him what the troops wanted. He told her coffee, coffee filters and tobacco products. She told him she would send the coffee and filters, but not the nicotine.
During our drive he pointed to two villages near the edge of the base. He views them as the most likely sources of trouble. Both are within range of rocket-propelled grenades. Both have been cordoned off and searched. Another concern is the highway south toward Baghdad. It skirts FOB Marez. He thinks about drive-by shootings when he is on the part of base near the highway, especially when he is driving the ATV rather than an armored Humvee.
“Usually when I come out here in the morning I see sheperds and their sheep,” he said. “When I come out at 2 p.m. there’s nothing because it’s so hot.”
It doesn’t take much for Marshall to wax passionate about the men and women he directs. He wants their families to know what a fine job they are doing, and how much they appreciate those back home.
“This is the profession we have chosen,” he said. “I feel honored to be here.”
Editor’s note: W.S. Wilson is embedded with the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Combat Engineering Battalion, based out of northern Indiana and now deployed near Mosul, Iraq. Most of the 113th’s soldiers are from northern Indiana.