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Running toward gunfire: Marines, British forces repel insurgents attacking Camp Bastion
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan - Sergeant Rasheem Thomas never thought his first night working on Camp Bastion would turn into a gun battle with 15 insurgents. When Thomas was told he was transferring from 1st Platoon to 2nd Platoon, the landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, thought nothing of it. Instead of working on Camp Leatherneck, Thomas would be working at the rotary wing Arrival Departure Airfield Control Group on Camp Bastion, an adjoining base ran by British Armed Forces. He would be responsible for getting coalition forces and cargo on helicopters departing Camp Bastion's airfield heading for remote forward operating bases throughout Regional Command Southwest's area of operations. Thomas' first night on Camp Bastion was Friday, Sept. 14. He and a fellow sergeant were driving through a checkpoint close to the airfield when they heard an explosion. "At first we didn't know if the explosion was on base or off," said Thomas, from Manhattan, N.Y. "We decided to go check on our Marines at the cargo lot and we saw an explosion by the (cryogenics) area. That's when we knew the base was under attack." Fifteen insurgents dressed in U.S. Army uniforms armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests breached the base's perimeter fence at approximately 10 p.m. The insurgents, who were organized into three teams, began to attack fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flightline, aircraft hangars and other buildings on Camp Bastion. "When I actually saw it was happening on (Camp) Bastion, I was in a bit of shock," Thomas said. "Then rounds began to impact close to our position, and I think everyone's training just immediately kicked in." When the attack began, the landing support specialists were in three different locations. Three Marines were at the A/DACG, four Marines where at the cargo lot and the remaining Marines were in their living spaces. "I started hearing explosions, so I went outside to see what was going on," said Staff Sgt. Justin Pauley, the landing support detachment chief. "I saw a RPG flying overhead, and I immediately told my Marines to get their (personal protective equipment) on." Despite small-arms fire and indirect fire impacting around his position, Pauley knew he had to make contact with his higher headquarters on Camp Leatherneck to inform them of the current situation he and his Marines were in. "I called the (Command Operations Center) and told them we were under attack and taking fire," said Pauley, from Sioux Falls, S.D. "I told them about the situation and what I saw." After relaying the information to his chain of command, Pauley ensured his three Marines and one civilian at the A/DACG had proper cover, and then he and his Marines began to provide security, ensuring no insurgents made it past their position. Support from the sky When the first explosion happened, Lt. Col. Stephen Lightfoot, the commanding officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, thought the blast was relatively close. Occasionally, friendly forces conduct controlled detonations outside the perimeter fence; however, this explosion seemed to be a little louder and closer. "I went outside after hearing the first explosion and within 15 seconds I heard another explosion," said Lightfoot. "That's when I saw the flames on the Harrier flightline. I yelled out for everyone to get to the (indirect fire) bunkers on our compound."