COMBAT OUTPOST OUELLETTE, AFGHANISTAN -- “I will never forget who I am or what I represent. I will challenge myself to the limit and be ever attentive to duty.”
Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette lived and died by these words of the Non-commissioned Officers’ Creed, and now the Marines and sailors who served by his side as part of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment continue to honor his legacy.
Ouellette, of Manchester, N.H., was serving as the second squad leader for 1st Platoon, Lima Company, with 3/8 in Now Zad, Helmand province, Afghanistan. On March 22, 2009, while on a foot patrol, Ouellette was wounded by a blast from an improvised explosive device. With the lower half of his left leg severed and shrapnel wounds to other areas of his body, Ouellette continued to lead his platoon. While under enemy fire he applied a tourniquet to his leg while radioing in for air, mortar and evacuation support. It was not until an ambulance arrived to take him to the evacuation landing zone that he stopped giving directions to the Marines under him.
Ouellette later died of his wounds. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest award of valor bestowed by the Navy. Ouellette is one of 25 Marines to be awarded the medal, which is only second to the Medal of Honor, during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
Just over two years later, Marines and sailors with 3/8 are preparing to wrap up another tour to Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
When the Marines arrived in January they received their first mission: to build a combat outpost from the sand up. With nothing but just a few tools and Hesco barriers, the Marines decided to name the COP in honor of Ouellette.
“Naming the COP wasn’t much of a discussion, it was the commander’s decision,” said Capt. Douglas P. Krugman, Ouellette’s former company commander who is now the commander of 3/8 Weapons Company. “I don’t think there was much of a debate.
“I think he’d be proud to know the Marines are still fighting, and his squad was back out on patrol the next day,” added Krugman, from Newport, R.I.
Working hard to carry on the tradition of Marines such as Ouellette, 3/8 strove to accomplish their mission every day of their nine-month deployment.
“January 22 is when we came up here and took this battle space,” said Maj. Mike Hoffman, the 3/8 operations officer. “There was nothing here. It was just a baring hill top. The Seabees came in right after us and started building the COP. We built this place up. It took us about two weeks to get it operational, and about a month to get it fully operational.”
Hoffman, of Naperville, Ill., explained, “Our mission was to secure Route 611 for coalition traffic and to support village stability operations that were being conducted by [Special Operations Task Force] West.”
Wasting no time, the Marines and sailors disrupted the insurgency and assisted in relieving pressure in cities such as Sangin and Gereshk.
“When we got here, Route 611’s construction was basically halted due to security risks. The route was a no-go for coalition traffic,” Hoffman said. “There were a lot of [improvised explosive device] attacks on coalition convoys, as well as direct fire engagements against the road construction company and the village stability operations.”
After only two weeks in Afghanistan, 3/8 secured the route.
Before 3/8 secured Route 611, a round-trip convoy from Camp Leatherneck to Sangin typically took four to eight days, and would hit anywhere from three to four IEDs. After the route was cleared, round-trip convoys were cut down to two-day trips and IEDs are nearly non-existent.
“Coalition convoys have not hit an IED since we secured the route,” Hoffman added.
With the number of insurgent attacks minimized, Hoffman explained that the Marines and sailors of 3/8 have been able to focus their attention on the main mission of developing a relationship with the local Afghans and Afghan National Security Forces troops.
As the battalion prepares to head back to the U.S., they feel confident that an optimistic future is on the horizon for the Marines taking over for them with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.
“One of the things we have done is connect the district government in Gereshk to this area,” Hoffman said. “I’m very confident that 3/4 is going to be able to increase the security and bring the government of Afghanistan back to this area.”