PATROL BASE ALCATRAZ, Afghanistan --
On a recent convoy in the Helmand River Valley to construct helicopter landing zones, Sgt. Eric Zauner, a native of Greendale, Wis., led the charge.
“Being the front truck, the lead truck, sometimes it can be a bit nerve-wracking,” Zauner admitted. “You just have to be on your game.”
Zauner, the light vehicle section head for Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, currently serves as the senior motor vehicle operator for a roughly 20-man team dubbed “Task Force Nomad.”
Like thousands of Marines in Afghanistan, Zauner must stay “on his game” despite missing family back home.
Zauner spent his fourth wedding anniversary away from his wife, Jill, living in a tent on Patrol Base Alcatraz.
“We met when I was stationed in Hawaii,” Zauner said sitting on his cot as a sandstorm raged outside. “She had just graduated from the University of Maryland, and decided to take a little vacation.
“I cherish the opportunities I have to talk to my wife,” Zauner said. “Even with the technologies we have out here, I’m old fashioned, I still handwrite letters.”
Zauner, who has been in the Marine Corps for more than five years, deployed to Iraq twice before his current tour in Afghanistan.
“He’s an integral part of the team,” said Master Sgt. Rex Coste, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the task force. “Not only is he very knowledgeable with motor transportation, which is huge, but he also understands the bigger part of the mission.”
Zauner said the counterinsurgency tactics that ended the Iraq War are succeeding in Afghanistan. “We’re seeing a big difference in how we integrate into the population and culture.”
Task Force Nomad is operating in a part of the Helmand River valley secured by 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion. The tasks force’s landing zones will help them receive speedier medical evacuations and facilitate resupplies.
“I think [1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion] have done a great job of getting this area cleared out and earning the trust of the people here,” Zauner said. “I think a lot of junior Marines get wrapped up in the mission and don’t see the big picture.”
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