helmand river

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Devil Dog stands for Bronze Star at retirement ceremony.

[1] U.S. Marine Capt. Derek Herrera, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, is presented the Bronze Star Medal by Lt. Col. John J. Lynch, commanding officer of 1st MSOB, during his retirement ceremony.

[2] Capt. Derek Herrera was paralyzed on June 14, 2012, while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Herrera was able to walk again with the help of an exoskeleton at his retirement ceremony.

[3] Captain Derek Herrera with wife Maura and his therapy canine following his retirement ceremony.

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Scott A. Achtemeier, 21 NOV 2014.)

Marines with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, friends and family members gathered to witness Capt. Derek Herrera, a special operations officer, accept the Bronze Star with combat V for heroism and medically retire from the Marine Corps, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 21, 2014.

Herrera spent more than eight years in the Marine Corps serving first as an infantry officer and transitioning later to become a special operations officer with Marine Special Operations Command.

The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military award of the U.S. armed forces. It may be awarded for acts of heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” distinguishing device on the medal. The Bronze Star is the fifth-highest combat decoration and the 10th-highest U.S. military award.

Herrera was injured in June 2012 while serving as a special operations team commander in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was hit by enemy sniper fire causing injuries that paralyzed him from the chest down. 

The ambush occurred while Herrera and his team, along with 10 members of the Afghan National Army, were conducting a patrol on the western edge of the Helmand River Valley. 

“Shortly after sunrise, we found ourselves in a firefight with the enemy and surrounded. In the opening moments of that firefight, the sergeant next to me and I were shot,” said Herrera. 

After being shot, Herrera attempted to pick himself up and treat himself when he realized he was paralyzed and unable to move from the chest down. He then remained calm and waited for his teammates to arrive and provide medical assistance.

Herrera said he was confident in his team’s training and its ability to successfully evacuate him from the combat zone. 

“Going through that, there is so many different things that you feel; I actually think I felt a little scared because of what had happened, but shortly thereafter began to really feel just this eerie sense of calm come over me,” said Herrera. “I don’t know exactly why that was, but I think a lot of it had to do with the team I was there with, and that fact that although I had just been shot I had no doubt that my team would get me out of there.” 

Although he was told by doctors he wouldn’t walk again, Herrera was determined to make a difference and be a model of hope and inspiration for others.

“I’m happy to be here, and I think I can still have an impact and positively affect society, so that is what I am focusing my energy and time on.” His determination and proactivity towards his recovery drove him to find the resources that helped him stand and take steps again. 

With the help of the MARSOC Foundation and the generosity of the community, Herrera was able to obtain an Argo ReWalk ExoSkeleton. Herrera was the first person in the United States to use such a device. The ExoSkeleton is a bionic walking assistance system that uses powered leg attachments to enable paraplegics to stand upright, walk and climb stairs. The system has impacted Herrera’s life and he believes it will do the same for others.

“If you don’t do something for weeks and months on end you start to forget what it is like,” said Herrera. “I forgot what it was like to stand and to take steps and to walk, so being able to do that with this device was incredible.”

The system allowed Herrera to stand during the ceremony to receive his award, which was a goal he had set for himself. “I realized my retirement ceremony was coming up and figured that it would be nice if I could stand and walk and leave the Marine Corps in a similar fashion to the way that I entered the Marine Corps,” said Herrera. “I feel very lucky to have that opportunity.” 

As Herrera retires from the Marine Corps, he said he takes with him some of the most gratifying memories as a Marine. “Leading Marines in [combat] environments is very rewarding,” said Herrera. 

Herrera was also deployed to Iraq and several other countries around the Middle East during his time in the Marine Corps. The Bronze Star Medal recipient continues to focus on impacting society and being a model of hope for others as he leaves the military and attacks his next objective.

How A British Sniper Killed 6 Taliban with One Bullet.

Helmand Province, Afghanistan: A British sniper in Afghanistan killed six insurgents with a single bullet after hitting the trigger switch of a suicide bomber whose device then exploded.

The 20-year-old marksman, a lance corporal in the Coldstream Guards, hit his target from 850 metres, killing the suicide bomber and five others around him caught in the blast, London’s Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The incident in Kakaran in southern Afghanistan happened in December but has only now been disclosed as Britain moves towards the withdrawal of all combat soldiers by the end of the year. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Slack, commanding officer of 9/12 Royal Lancers, said the unnamed sharpshooter prevented a major attack by the Taliban, as a second suicide vest packed with 20kg of explosives was found nearby.

The same sniper, with his first shot on the tour of duty, killed a Taliban machine-gunner from 1340m.

Several hundred British and Afghan soldiers were carrying out an operation in December when they were engaged in a gun battle with 15 to 20 insurgents.

“The guy was wearing a vest. He was identified by the sniper moving down a tree line and coming up over a ditch,” said Lieutenant Colonel Slack. “He had a shawl on. It rose up and the sniper saw he had a machine gun.

"They were in contact and he was moving to a firing position. The sniper engaged him and the guy exploded. There was a pause on the radio and the sniper said, ‘I think I’ve just shot a suicide bomber’. The rest of them were killed in the blast.”

It is understood the lance corporal was using an L115A3 gun, the Army’s most powerful sniper weapon.

The Armed Forces are gradually decreasing their presence in Helmand, handing over security of the country to the Afghan armed forces. Last month, three major bases were closed or handed over to Afghan control. At the height of the campaign, there were 137 bases across Helmand - now there is only one base outside Camp Bastion, Sterga 2, which is staffed by a company from 4 Scots and the 9/12 Royal Lancers.

The sniper incident was one of a dwindling number of gun battles between British forces and the insurgents. In total, 448 UK soldiers have died since 2001, but far fewer have been wounded in the most recent tour, with Afghan forces now leading 97 per cent of the security operations across the country.

On Monday at Sterga 2, soldiers said they were looking forward to returning home and hoped their work would help the Afghans achieve stability.

Sterga 2 stands on a plateau above the Helmand river, about 18 miles south-east (28 km) of Camp Bastion. Between Bastion and Sterga 2 is the “protected zone”, next to the river, where the local population is living under the protection of the Afghan armed forces.

The camp has only come under attack once, and that was when it was being built last August. “In my tour in 2007, I had seven guys injured while they were actually inside the base,” sad Lieutenant Colonel Slack. “We had rocket attacks every day. This base hasn’t been attacked since it was built. It feels like it is time to go.” Captain Ed Challis, who is in charge of Sterga 2, said he was hopeful about the future of Afghanistan.

The country has its first round of presidential elections this Saturday, with an increase in violence expected as voters go to the polls.

“I am an optimist,” said Captain Challis. “There are lots of things that have changed for the better. You would be a fool to think you can change a hundred years of culture fast, but have things improved? Yes. I believe they are able to take it forward.”

He added: “I’d imagine once I get back it’s something I’ll look back on and sort of realise the historical importance of it - but at the moment we’re just focusing on our primary role here.”

Highlander Paul Carr, 27, from Paisley, was on sentry duty in the watchtower above the river. He said he was enjoying the hot weather, after the camp was hit by snow in February. “When this base closes, we will go home,” he said. “I get a holiday feeling when I think about it.”

Highlander Carr was monitoring a small compound on the bank of the river. Camels and goats wandered around outside the farm, with small fields of onions growing in the sun. Poppies were also starting to flower, despite years of programmes to eradicate the poppy crops in Afghanistan.

Abandoned fortifications - Russian installations from the Eighties and older - dot the horizon.

Inside the camp, a company of servicemen and women were working to gather intelligence about the surrounding area.

The information is passed on to the Afghan security forces and intelligence from Sterga 2 aided the sniper attack in December.

Cameras mounted on balloons monitor the fields and compounds for several miles around, feeding into an operations room and providing protection for Bastion. The Taliban thought that the large balloon was a “white whale in the sky” when it was first launched Lt Col Slack lost one soldier, L/Cpl James Brynin, 22, of the Intelligence Corps, who was shot dead on patrol last October Lieutenant Colonel Slack said he had watched Afghanistan evolve dramatically over the years.

“The price has been heavy for the Army and in particular it has been heavy for the families of those nearly 450 [dead soldiers], and no one is under any illusion about that,” he said.

“I will finish my tour knowing one of our NCOs will not be coming home and that is a heavy price to pay.

"Has it been worth it? At my level when I look at security that is here and the way the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] have developed, I certainly think it’s been worth it.”