MARINE FORWARD OPERATING BASE, Southern Afghanistan -- The thunderous thumping of Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters ripped through the cold, black desert night signaling the start of Operation Swift Freedom as the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) seized a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan November 25, 2001.
Marines with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 15th MEU (SOC) charged down the helicopter ramps through clouds of dust and into the darkness sweeping across vast areas of deep sand, clearing buildings and establishing a secure airstrip for hundreds of follow-on forces who arrived before dawn.
The airstrip was setup less than an hour after the first helicopter stirred up the Afghan sand. Lights were added to the runway allowing KC-130 aircraft filled with Alpha Co. Marines and tactical vehicles to land here. Planes and helicopters continued the inflow of troops and gear non-stop through the night and early morning.
"It was exciting seeing the Marines going into action," Fascetti said. "You know there is a possibility that there could be enemy forces out there."
The raid force flew several hundred miles directly from the USS Peleliu to the desert strip aboard six Super Stallions. The long flight required tricky nighttime aerial refueling with the KC-130 Hercules aerial refueling and transport aircraft.
Hundreds of hours of planning, rehearsals and briefs preceded the mission back aboard the Peleliu in the North Arabian Sea. Terrain models were built. The raid force kept a special sleep schedule to prepare for the all-night mission. Fast attack vehicles, weapons and other gear were painted with desert camouflage patterns. Packs were put on pallets and flown in later to keep the force light on their feet.
The new chapter of the international war on terrorism began without contacting enemy forces. Not a single shot was fired during the raid.
A base camp was established and security positions were dug as the sun rapidly climbed above the Marines in occupied Afghan territory.
One the first platoons on the ground raised an American Flag high into the new dawn sky on a makeshift pole proudly marking the Marines' successful landing.
"This is for our great country, the United States, and the great city of New York," Staff Sgt. Norris, a platoon sergeant with Charlie Co. and Brooklyn, NY native. "Marines take pride in raising the flag, and pride doesn't begin to describe our feelings today. I hope these colors can be seen all the way across Afghanistan."
Marines overcame temperatures that dipped below freezing and howling winds kicking up cyclones of sand that engulfed aircraft and blasted marching troops.
"It's cold," said 1st Sgt. Phil Fascetti, Charlie Co. 1st Sgt and Spokane, Wash. native. "You're disoriented by the dust blowing all around you."
Marines used ingenuity to combat nature's wrath. They stripped cardboard boxes from numerous pallets being offloaded and erected walls around the combat operations center shielding them from blowing sand and maintaining light discipline. Adrenalin and constant movement kept Marines warm throughout their first sleepless night.