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Philadelphia Inquirer | Jan 07, 2014 | by Edward Colimore

In Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a squad of Marines and Afghan soldiers had just crossed what they call the “trigger line” — an invisible point that sets off an ambush by Taliban fighters.

They were quickly pinned down and radioed for help.

More than a mile away, Lt. Mark Bodrog and other Marines and Afghans donned 70- to 80-pound packs of gear and ran through the 125-degree heat toward battle, hoping to avoid IEDs along the way.

“As if the gates of hell had opened, they fired hundreds of machine-gun rounds [on the enemy] and opened up with a barrage of 40mm grenades and light antitank weapon rockets,” Bodrog said. “I thought, Please, God, just don’t let one of my Marines get shot” during the fight.

An hour and a half later, the Taliban attackers were outflanked and decimated.

The fierce encounter in October 2010 was one of several during Bodrog’s deployment with a so-called combined action company — two platoons of Marines serving side by side with two platoons of Afghan soldiers.

Bodrog, of Camden, a Rutgers graduate student in criminal justice, describes the latest counterinsurgency tactics in a memoir spotlighting Marines and their Afghan partners during a war that he says is often forgotten by the news media.

“My Marines embodied the American dream,” said the former platoon commander. “They were the hardworking guys that you never read about.”

In the memoir, Second Platoon — Call Sign Hades: A Memoir of the Marines of the Combined Action Company, available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Bodrog describes a partnering strategy “designed to win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

Similar “combined action” efforts were implemented during the Vietnam War when Marines were embedded with locals.

But Bodrog’s unit and others took the tactic to the next level, teaming Marines and sailors with Afghan soldiers in a one-to-one ratio.

“We did everything together, including eating, shaving, sleeping, fighting, and even taking classes together,” he said. “We became one fighting force against the Taliban.”

Before that could happen, though, relationships had to be nurtured.

“It was very frustrating. There was a lot of mistrust, and we went through a lot of friction,” said Bodrog, 29, who has also lived in Mount Laurel and Roebling.

“It was a lot of trial and error, but we learned what worked and what didn’t,” he said. “If we are ever in that counterinsurgency position again, it might help to save lives.”

Though the war is America’s longest, it’s also one of its least talked about, Bodrog said. “Less than 1 percent of the nation answered the call to join the military after 9/11, and even fewer made the life choice to become United States Marines.

“I want people to know about these Marines and sailors who embrace the can-do attitude and spirit of America,” he said. “What they have done should not be a lost chapter. Their stories renew the faith of people in America.”

The conditions in Afghanistan are challenging, even for toughened Marines. Between June and August, in Helmand province, the high temperature is about 120 degrees, Bodrog said. It’s so hot the Taliban usually does its fighting around dusk or dawn, when it’s cooler.

“It’s so hot in the day that you can’t sleep, but you can’t sleep at night, either, because you have to patrol, so you catch an hour here or there when you can,” Bodrog said. “You always have to be vigilant.”

In one week, his unit discovered 19 IEDs and 300 pounds of raw opium, poppy seeds, and hashish. At the same time, Taliban infiltration was a constant threat.

“There’s a culture of greed and mistrust” in Afghanistan, Bodrog said. “You never know who will turn on you.”

Some Afghans have no choice. Shortly before the October 2010 ambush, Taliban fighters took over the private walled compounds of residents and used them as shields during their attack.

“They hold people against their will and coerce them through murder and intimidation,” Bodrog said. “But we outflanked them and neutralized the threat.

“You rise to the level of your training and rely on yourself and Marines to do the right thing,” he said. “We’re there to win; that’s our job.”

Bodrog graduated from Lenape High School in 2002 and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Rutgers-Camden in 2007.

A year later, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He has served as platoon commander, executive officer, and company commander during two combat deployments to Helmand province in 2010 and from 2011 to 2012.

“We had a bunch of good Marines helping people there and defeating the enemy,” Bodrog said. “They’re the ones who motivated me to write the memoir.

“They are heroes in every aspect, and their stories should never be forgotten.”

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