The words read like something out of a well-crafted action thriller. But make no mistake, for 1st Lt. Mark A. Bodrog, the images are still real, the memories still fresh.
“As if the gates of hell had opened up, my Marines and Afghan soldiers started to pick up their rates of fire, sending hundreds of machine gun rounds down range at the enemy compounds,” writes Bodrog in his gripping new memoir, Second Platoon: Call Sign Hades: A Memoir of the Marines of the Combined Action Company. “They opened up with a barrage of 40mm grenades from their grenade launchers and rocked even more compounds with their Light Anti-Tank Weapon rockets.”
A former first lieutenant and infantry officer in the U.S. Marines, the Rutgers–Camden alumnus and graduate student looks back at the critical role his unit played supporting Operation Enduring Freedom 10.1, in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in his new book published by iUniverse.
Bodrog’s platoon of Marines and sailors was one of two selected by his battalion to integrate fully with the Afghanistan National Army Soldiers, in order to create a combined action company (CAC) capable of conducting counterinsurgency operations throughout their area of operations and adjacent battle spaces. As he recalls, the two platoons of U.S. Marines lived in a camp side by side with two platoons of Afghan soldiers in a one-to-one ratio.
“We did everything together, including eating, shaving, sleeping, fighting, and even taking classes together,” recalls Bodrog. “We became one fighting force against the Taliban.”
Bodrog’s platoon would carry out a variety of missions, including combat engagements and rescue situations, during the formation of the CAC. He felt that it was his duty and obligation to document the accounts of his men and these missions in order for the general public – along with the families of these Marines – to understand what life was like for these young servicemen in Afghanistan.
As he recalls, much of what he saw reported in the media did not match the reality on the ground, and typically focused on negative aspects of the war, rather than the selfless acts of heroism that he saw on a daily basis.
“My Marines embodied the American dream; they were the hardworking guys that you never read about,” says Bodrog, a longtime resident of Mount Laurel who now resides in Camden. “As a platoon commander, it was my honor, duty, and privilege to write this memoir for my men. They are heroes in every aspect, and their stories should never be forgotten.”
Bodrog is quick to point out that the memoir not only immortalizes his men, but the bold few who, in the wake of 9/11, fought to preserve America and the American way of life, and asked for nothing in return.
“The war in Afghanistan is considered to be America’s longest and least talked-about war,” shares Bodrog. “Less than one percent of America’s population answered our country’s call after 9/11 and even fewer made the life choice to become United States Marines.”
Bodrog adds that the memoir also has practical applications for the future of combined action companies. He explains that the counterinsurgency strategy was “designed to win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. Combined action programs had been earlier implemented by the Marines during the Vietnam War, which consisted of embedding Marines with local Vietnamese citizens. However, Bodrog says, his battalion took the tactic to the next level by creating a combined company of marines, sailors and Afghan soldiers. He maintains that the U.S. military can now benefit from the stories, training techniques and lessons learned during his battalion’s partnership with the Afghans.
“It was very frustrating, there was a lot of mistrust, and we went through a lot of friction, which I detail in the memoir,” he says. “It was a lot of trial and error, but we learned what worked and what didn’t. If we are ever in that counterinsurgency position again, it might help to save lives.”
Bodrog earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Rutgers–Camden in 2007. A year later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. He has held the billets of platoon commander, weapons platoon commander, assistant operations officer, executive officer and company commander. He served two combat deployments to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom 10.1 and 11.2.
His personal awards include a Letter of Appreciation, a Certificate of Commendation, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, the NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, two Afghanistan Campaign Medals, and the National Defense Service Medal.