The Marines also conducted partnered operations throughout Sangin and the upper Helmand River valley. The battalion operated during the summer fighting season, and the Marines saw plenty of action.
They were involved in more than 300 direct firefights and found approximately 300 improvised explosive devices. The battalion suffered 39 casualties and six fallen heroes.
“The hardest part is coping with the casualties and the heroes,” said Sgt. Major Coombs, battalion sergeant major, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
Coombs had Marines construct a memorial — what he calls an honor garden — to honor the previous battalions that served in Sangin and their fallen brothers.
“I wanted to make sure the Marines that came before us would always be remembered,” said Coombs.
The Marines faced a difficult situation when they arrived in the spring. Not only were they deploying at the start of the fighting season, but they were arriving fresh off of the heels of controversy involving the Marine Corps and Afghanistan.
“We came at a critical time,” said Coombs, from Noble, Okla. “We needed a unit to come in here and really do it right. The Marines knew they had to do it right. The Marine Corps needed them to do it right, and they did it right.”
The battalion knew their actions would be under intense scrutiny, and they couldn’t afford any slip-ups.
“Our non-commissioned officers made tough decisions with the rules of engagement and all the things that come with having to make on-the-spot calls during firefights,” said Coombs. “That impressed me the most. NCOs making the right call and wanting to do it right every single day.”
As the Marines strengthened the ANSF and helped rid the area of insurgent activity, the people of Sangin witnessed positive trends in their security and their economy.
“A lot of people thought that security in Sangin was unachievable,” said Coombs. “They said Sangin couldn’t be tamed. The security couldn’t be good because it was always too kinetic in the area.”