U.S. Marine Sgt. Jared Carlson (far), a squad leader with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and 26-year-old native of Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Sgt. Mario Mendoza, a team leader with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and 25-year-old native of Seguin, Texas, plot the location of a compound on a map during Operation Highland Thunder here, Feb. 17. (Photo by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez)
SRE KALA, Helmand province, Afghanistan (February 23, 2012) — Through the sacrifice of Marines from 1st Marine Division, the islands of Palau were liberated from the grasp of over 25,000 Japanese troops during World War II.
Growing up on these islands, Sgt. Jared Carlson, a squad leader with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, had heard tales of the Marines who freed the land and its people from the grasp of Japanese troops since he was a boy.
“My grandmother told me stories when she was a little girl…she was 5 years old during the war,” said the 26-year-old, whose family now lives in Kaneohe, Hawaii. “She told me that they fled from the Japanese, who were persecuting the Palauan people…they fled into a swamp and ran into Marines, who fed them and took care of the family.”
“I grew up hearing incredible things about the Marines,” recalled Carlson. “You talk to older Palauans and they’ll tell you about the first time they had Coca Cola while watching movies with the Marines.”
Carlson was inspired to join the few and the proud because of the stories he had heard. While attending high school, a Marine Expeditionary Unit stopped in the islands, and Carlson’s first personal encounter with the Marines further fueled his drive.
“I remembered sitting on amtracks and playing with M16s,” said Carlson. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.”
Carlson moved to Alaska in 2003 to join his father and further his education. There, he met with a recruiter and enlisted in the Marine Corps to join the fight in Iraq.
“I’ve always felt obligated to join the Marine Corps…it’s always something I wanted to do,” explained Carlson. “I said [to myself], ‘Forget school’. The Iraq war was kicking off…I felt like I was going to miss it.”
His current deployment with 1st LAR is his fifth deployment and fourth combat tour. Carlson previously served in Kunar province, Afghanistan in 2005, Haditha, Iraq in 2006 and Khan Neshin in 2009. He also served in a Marine Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in 2007.
“It’s my third Afghanistan deployment, I’ve had a deployment to Iraq, and some time on a ship,” said Carlson. “It’s been a pretty fun career for me so far.”
Carlson currently serves as the chief scout infantryman and squad leader for his platoon in Alpha Co. One of his main tasks during patrols is to gather information from the area of Sre Kala, giving his command a better overview of the area and census of the local population.
“I prepare and plan for each mission,” said Carlson. “During the patrols, a lot of what we do is also gathering information to feed our combat operations center.”
“We go out there and talk to people, observe the area and conduct reconnaissance of routes,” explained Carlson. “No matter what we’re doing…going out to make contact the enemy or providing security…if we’re out there, we’re gathering information to develop the situation and support further operations.”
Since returning to Afghanistan in November 2011, Carlson has also led his squad on over 80 dismounted patrols.
During those missions, Carlson and his Marines have found and recovered 21 caches containing weapons, drugs and improvised explosive device components.
Among those caches were multiple AK-47s and RPK medium machine guns used against coalition forces and over 3000 7.62mm rounds for the weapons. The squad has also found hundreds of pounds of drugs in the muddy marshes and desert terrain of the area.
“We’re not finding something every day, but it’s pretty incredible,” said Carlson. “Any time we stop during a patrol, we’ll try to sweep something out.”
Sweeping for caches and IEDs with a combat metal detector requires a high level of stamina, dedication and attention to small details in the terrain. Carlson says that even though he is the squad leader, his Marines deserve the credit because it is their abilities that make the squad up to the task.
“Very few of our cache finds are on deliberate sweeps. Everything else is on my team doing the right thing,” explains Carlson. “They definitely put in the hard work. I have sweepers that do this because they want to perform at a high level of proficiency. They go out there and sweep for up to four or five hours.”
“We’ve sat on positions overnight waiting for explosive ordnance disposal during a mission,” tells Carlson. “My Marines would go and sweep during that time. They’ll refuse to give up the CMD because they don’t want to miss the opportunity to find something.”
Carlson’s leaders and fellow Marines attribute his unique ability to locate caches to his dedication and ability to see the terrain from the enemy’s point of view.
“I’ve been with Sgt. Carlson for my past two deployments,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Bayles, a point man with Carlson’s squad and native of Plainfield, Ill. “He knows everything about rifleman tactics and his leadership is beyond any sergeant I know.”
“Carlson has an uncanny ability to think like the enemy,” said 1st Lt. Gil Barndollar, Carlson’s platoon commander with Alpha Co., 1st LAR and 30-year-old native of Portsmouth, N.H. “He can put himself in the mind of an insurgent and think of the key places of where the enemy would hide his weapons.”
Like the Marines before him in Palau, whose stories inspired him to join the Corps, Carlson leads his Marines with the hope of bringing a better future to the people of southern Helmand.
“Being able to find the enemy’s tools of the trade is a great victory,” said Carlson. “Hopefully, it’s keeping this area safe and helping it progress.”