March 31st, 2010
08:27 AM ET

Inside a Marine's Javelin missile mission

Editor's Note: CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers accompanied a U.S. Marine Corps unit on Operation Moshtarak in Marjah from its preparations into the first few weeks. A veteran of warzone reporting, she has filmed in places such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Iraq, Chechnya, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Here is her behind-the-scenes look on filming a firefight involving the Javvelin missile.

Seven days into Operation Moshtarak and Taliban snipers continue to be the bane of the Marines' existence. Just the day before, the Marines had engaged in a ferocious firefight that starts in the late afternoon and goes well into night. On this day they take casualties. One Marine dies.

Expensive ordinance is brought in to play. We see JDAM (guided) bombs dropped from F-16s, Hellfire missiles rocketing off Cobra helicopter gunships and hear the low drone of the A-10 Warthog at night. It's hard to describe this sound. Imagine a lawnmower from hell, mowing down everything in its path. The A-10, with its 30mm canons, can fire thousands of rounds a minute.

Then - time to try the Javelin missile. This is a shoulder-mounted weapon with a sophisticated guidance system, and a six-figure price tag.

Lance Cpl. Brian Willet, a blue-eyed, baby-faced Marine, will launch the Javelin. And who is in charge of this mission? The Gunny! (aka Gunnery Sgt. Brian Wallgren). A group of Marines come for reinforcement. Finding the right location to launch the missile is key. Willet must have a good line of sight to the compound where one of the snipers hides.

Not those uneven, furrowed farm fields again!! We run through them to find the right location. So very hard for me to do. This is not flat land. I am sweating in my flak-jacket, cursing myself for not discarding my long underwear, which is seriously sliding off my waist! ( I have lost weight on this operation courtesy the flak jacket diet - even when I am at my normal weight, my friends still refer to me as a "bag of bones.")

The video I shoot looks like something from the movie "Blair Witch Project" – jumpy enough to guarantee viewer nausea. We pause beside a walled mud compound. Willet, lugging the Javelin, is sweating buckets. "How much does that weigh?" I ask him. "About 60 pounds," he tells me.

Then off again ... more running through fields, over canals and snaking alongside mud compounds for cover. (Sometimes we are in the snipers line of sight.) A good location for the launch is found. The Marines run into an abandoned mud compound for cover nearby.

Gunny Wallgren lays out the plan to Willett.. "OK, so we are going to shoot you from this road right here. Remember a lot of f****ng people are going to be back here. We are going to have you suppressed in your hot position."

Willet replies, "It's going to take me a little bit to get this b**ch going, 30 to 45 seconds." Gunny suggests a location. Willet responds, "I can't take the shot from there because the backblast will come back and fry me." Gunny: "Yea, you have to get a closer position - what I'm saying, what I'm telling you is if you get on that road and try to lock in on him you might have some issues! We can suppress…but you never know."

Outside the compound, more Marines arrive for reinforcement. Now it's time to go. A Marine to Gunny: "We move on the burst right?" Gunny: "Yeah, stand by for the burst. Everybody, he [Willet] is going to get directly on this f***ing road, that's his shot, that's his hot position. Most of us are going to have to spread over the canal into these f***ing fields. Some of us on the road beside him. Reporters don't get in his backblast area. Stay online with us."

Huge bursts of suppression fire from Marines outside, and the Javelin missile team is off and running. I stumble a bit, and the camera rolls wildly as I make my way

to the location of the launch. The Marines lay down a barrage of fire. Bullet casings from the Marine firing beside me eject around my legs. I struggle to find my position to shoot video. I am in a ditch, wanting to get on the road for a steadier shot.

"Back up!" Gunny yells. "Back up." We are in line of sight of the sniper. Gunny: "He's shooting back at us" More heavy fire from the Marines. Willet is not on the road. He is in the farm field. "When are you shooting?" Gunny asks him. "I've got to back it up," he replies. "Hey, give me a warning before you shoot," yells Gunny.

I lock on to Willet rolling away. "Fire in the hole!" someone yells. Then ... WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH! The Javelin is off. I hear "Get That b**ch! Whooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

Then: "GO GO GO!" We run back to the mud compound. "That went right through the main f***ing window!" says Gunny. "Last man in" a Marine yells. The compound door closes. Time for a smoke.

"Is this the first time you fired one of those?" I ask Willet. "Yes," he replies with a huge smile on his face. "How do you feel now?" "Alright!" The smile gets wider. "He ain't gonna be shooting at us anymore," jokes another Marine about the sniper. "Do you think he survived that?" I ask him. "I don't know ... after that," he laughs, "I don't know!" Just another day at the office for Gunny Wallgren and the men. They head back to base. It's coffee and Rip It time.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Hip Hop Mens Jewelry

    Like the site. One quibble is that I have not been able to get the RSS feed to work so I have to do the email subscription, which is fine, but RSS is much more user friendly.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Don Brandos

    Mary

    Keep your head down.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  3. used cars in 50 states

    Thanks for posting.

    September 8, 2010 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. dan bright

    lets hope our men come home soon
    semper fi

    June 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. steve

    As someone who tests bullets to see which ones expand or yaw/turn in the target medium. rest assured that our 5.56 and 7.62 ammo is very stable and causes very little tissue disruption compared to what the insurgents use, those being ex-soviet or chiniese supplies.
    The law of land warfare is very clear that advseraies need to wear distinctive clothing or markings to seperate combants from civilians. So in theory U.S forces could carry the same bullets as U.S police use as the anti-coalition forces are not following the rules, and fall into the classification of outlaws/bandits. U.S forces don't use "police" type ammo due to logistic issues and the international media would vilify the U.S. for using "destructive/killer" ammo. When will the wester world wake up and face the facts that these islam boys are 100% worse than the Nazi's.

    May 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    @ A. Smith

    Then every time a bomb is dropped on a building and people are killed, must be breaking a rule right? Not to mention you didn't even answer the man's question on where such rules can be found.

    Another thing, how about you try flying a plane and see if you can hit even a "crowd" of people with the A10's cannon. I am sure they weren't firing it at the enemy but an enemies position... such as a house. It is the terrorist fault if they stayed in one position to long. Fire and Movement is how battles are won. America seems to be doing a better job.

    You mention the .50 cal sniper rifle. Do you even know it's main purpose? It is to disable lightly armored vehicles or shoot through concrete walls where enemies might be hiding. That is why it was built. Nothing that you have mentioned has been a broken law. Get your facts straight before you start posting your Anti-War and Anti-Bush propaganda please.

    No one has even mentioned anything about Bush in this article yet you have the audacity to make it a part of it. Take the article for what it is and be happy people still know how to fight wars and you are not part of them. Get off the ferris wheel and look around.

    April 24, 2010 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    All it comes down to is, Our MARINES are coming home and the sniper is not.

    HOOAH!

    April 14, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tim Pearce

    Larisa

    ref "Lcpl. Brian Willett is my husband! I'm so proud of him as is his entire family back at home. He and the rest of the Marines are doing a great job. Thank you for this story it's so great to see him and how great of a job he is doing. – Larisa"

    We're all proud of him

    Tim

    April 14, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. Tim Pearce

    Ref the comment "Actually when the Nazi Troops increasingly began using 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons on advancing American and Allied troops, the Geneva Convention was updated to BAN and OUTLAW the use of heavy cannon solid rounds on individual enemy combatants"

    I believe this is incorrect. The convention applies a) to nations and b) to non-combatants eg civilians, prisoners, wounded etc

    Even protocl 1 only mentions excessive suffering (seems like an A-10 finishes the job quickly) and unnecessary environmental damage – and it is arguable that this is not excessive

    Note that the taliban breaks virtuall all the convention continuously e.g. not discriminating civilian from military, using under 15 year olds, attacks on places of worship, recognizability of combatants, protection of humanitarian groups, wilful killing of prisoners and civilians, hostage taking, prevention of murder and mutilation and so on

    It is horrifying that you should even attempt to use the convention to condemn use of these weapons when you fail to consider a) your accuracy and b) the many heinous deliberate breaches by the taliban.

    I suggest trying to put your bigotted prejudices down for once and actually thinking about the situation. Ask yourself how an RPG, used in a town by the Taliban, would count in this case.

    April 14, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. D. Slavens

    A. Smith you are totally incorrect. We use large 105 mm and 155mm cannons on tabilian fighters on a regular basis. By your definition then that is illegal, but it is not. We have AC-130U's that fire the 25mm and 105mm rounds on enemy postions all the time. We have A-10's that do fire the 30mm on enemy postions all the time and it is LEGAL. In fact the use of heavy artillery on enmy troops has been legal long before the Geneva convention was thought of. It was used in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm. Want me to continue? Those Marines were being supressed with sniper fire and they returned fire to silence the sniper and eliminate the fighting position he was using. All perfectly legal.

    April 13, 2010 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • dan bright

      how about spectre . theres some ordinance comin down like love from above. i am all for the G.C. but when the enemy is not following it makes it easy for our men to question the efaciousness of following outmoded and unrealistic rules of war.
      semper fi jarheads ,
      most here who do not support this war(as i do not ) love you respect you support you and want you home.

      June 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Susan Lee

    A.Smith,
    While as an American who completely supports our Constitution and The Bill of Rights; I understand your need to be issue specific. However, where were you and your Geneva conventions when over 3000 people, including defenseless children were annihilated because of persons, non-americans, who decided that their religious beliefs superceded all of the above proven Democratic documents?

    Now these self-proclaimed agents of destruction, want to claim American rights and trials but do not want to admit that in any and every religion; the senseless, needless taking of innocent lives is not condoned.

    Being the person I am, I simply don't know if you are just a confused historian with too much time on your hands or someone who does not know the wretched, heart -wrenching feeling of losing a child and the smell of burned flesh in the air for months.

    Do the words, pursuit of happiness and liberty ring a bell with you? An eye for an eye?
    I will be praying for you to receive some clarity in your thoughts.

    It is other Americans' (not terrorists) right to believe as they will, however,, others' beliefs stop at my property line; at the taking of innocent lives, including my family. That is an issue I will defend to the death; using whatever means necessary. It is not the size of the missile or mortor that should be questioned.

    I find it very ironic that you would not feel the same way about protecting your family, rather than focusing on the defense of terrorists' Geneva's rights? Perhaps you have not lost or seen enough lost to learn about the value and sanctity of life? Put down your documentation and take a look at the real world out side.

    All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. (Quote)

    Semper Fi – God Bless the U.S.A. and the men and women who protect and serve everyday.
    S. Lee

    April 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J. Gentry

    after thought,

    w
    Why don't you go over there and teach them about the Geneva Convention? The world will be a better place.

    April 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. J. Gentry

    A. Smith, while I respect your rights as an American for freedom of speech – thanks to our brave and underappreciated since the creation of our country, I believe that you are living in a world where you believe that people will respect the Geneva Convention. Oregon is a beautiful, peaceful state. Living in NYC during 9/11, I cannot describe the distruction, both physically and mentally which will never be erased, that people inflicted on this country that don't even know or care what the Geneva Convention is about. This is not a brave new world. It is one of cowardly actions that seek to destroy the priviledges that we have had as Americans. God bless our country and those that defend and support it.

    April 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • dan bright

      too bad were killing the wrong people for 911
      semper fi marines kick ass

      June 5, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Larisa Willett

    Lcpl. Brian Willett is my husband! I'm so proud of him as is his entire family back at home. He and the rest of the Marines are doing a great job. Thank you for this story it's so great to see him and how great of a job he is doing.

    Larisa

    April 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. A. Smith, Oregon

    @ Mark Rogers, the military tank armor has greatly been upgraded since the Geneva Conventions were largely written. The anti-tank 20mm cannons that were used and cited by US military lawyers against German soldiers during the Nazi war crime trials as taboo or banned for use on individual soldiers or 'crowd control' is seen as rather archaic on today's battlefields. Not because human bodys withstand 20,30 or 40mm cannon shells any better but I suspect the winners of war's (USA), only observe rule violations against those that lose the wars.

    Nonetheless, South Africa now has a 20mm sniper rifle. While 50 caliber sniper rifles and the M2 50 caliber machine gun are accepted and widely against individual soldiers as well as crowds of individual soldiers.

    One well documented rule in the Geneva Convention is that of only full metal jacketed bullets to be used against individual enemy soldiers vs fragmenting rounds and those also include dum-dum and hollow point ammunition. Depleted Uranium is unique in its ability to flash into a consuming pyrophoric flash upon impact which moves into a grey area in regards to the rule on full metal jacketed rounds. Tungsten tipped rounds which some US forces have now employed to move away from the inherently dangerous depleted Uranium rounds have the same characteristics as hollow point rounds. Which in the spirit as well as the writing of the Geneva Convention would be a war crime to use against individual enemy combatants or as crowd control.

    I find it very ironic that Bush sr. brought up the issue of the spirit and laws of the Geneva Convention when Iraq shot down a US fighter jet and captured the pilot. And yet it was his very son, Bush jr. that appears to have directly bypassed the spirit and laws of the Geneva Convention in his later treatment of enemy combatants who were whisked to one of many secret prisons around the world at that time and brutally tortured.

    April 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Jennifer Adams

    One last thank you for all y'all have done for the parents, spouses, girlfriends & loved ones here at home. I do hope Obama sees this and would spend just one night with these fine young men. I love them all and am so proud to call my son "Mr. Hollywood" a United States Marine! Stay safe & good luck in your future endeavors!
    Semper Fi,
    Jennifer Adams

    April 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Mark Rogers

    A. Smith please show me where we can find the rules in the Geneva Convention banning the use of AT rounds against individual troops. I am not doubting you, but trust but verify is better.

    April 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  18. kim learish

    Mary thank you for such great candid writting. To our Marines thank you for all the sacrifices you have endured. To our Marine son and brother , may God keep you safe each and every day and bring you home soon.
    Semper Fi,
    Proud Marine Family

    April 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  19. A. Smith, Oregon

    @ Jay, thank-you for not trashing me over my objection. You are certainly correct in your observation that the enemy combatants (Taliban freedom fighters) certainly do not appear in any fashion to follow the Geneva Convention on conducting warfare.

    Just as I did when Janet Reno OK'd the use of tear gas on a locked building filled with children in Wacko, TX., I had my arms up telling them that was against the Geneva Convention and against State and Federal laws which prevent the use of Tear Gas against prisoners in a locked down area, including a prisoner locked in his/her cell. Of course Tear Gas is expressly banned on children who would suffer severe respiratory problems.

    Nonetheless, being the person that I am, I simply pointed out using anti-tank cannon's on individual troops or as crowd control is against the Geneva Convention.

    April 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skyus

      "taliban freedom fighters"

      I live in oregon so I'm used to the left wing political talk. But man calling these people freedom fighters is an insult to real revolutionaries throughout history. I don't remember Che throwing acid in the face of young schoolgirls, Washington beating children for marriage refusal, even lenin attempted to abide by the articles of warfare.

      mercenaries, terrorists, insurgents, anti-democracy fighters, terrorists even the lowly conscripts are applicable.

      as for the Hague (not geneva) conventions articles concerning the use of weaponry their are exceptions for situations where troops are under direct fire.

      oh and before you quote either convention, remember we didn't sign every article.

      June 15, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  20. Jay

    These guys go out and do things that humble and awe a simple civilian like myself on an almost daily basis. I'm glad to know that they're kicking @$$ and taking names out in the field. Stay safe and keep low, Marines. With the exception of the nutjobs, America's behind you, rooting for your safe return stateside.

    As for the depleted uranium rounds...forget the Geneva Convention. You guys do what you need to in order to stay alive; if that means shredding some hostiles with anti-tank rounds, so be it. The Geneva Convention has yet to actually do anything to help our troops, and everything to hinder them. Besides, do any of our enemies adhere to it? Thought not. The moral high ground is great when people aren't shooting at you.

    April 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Enid Reichert

    That's my baby faced Marine son! So proud of him and all his fellow Marines. CNN, thanks for bringing this to us. Every time I get to see him or hear about what they're doing is a great comfort.

    April 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  22. American Supporter, SF

    All over the world our women and men in uniform are to us- unkown soldiers. We have an idea of their objectives as a force but as individuals they remain anonymous.

    I appreciate having names, faces and details of rain, mud, ditches and boots on dirt. It allows me to bring my admiration, appreciation and gratitude down to a personal level.

    Afganistan, Iraq, here in the US and throughout the world -here's an individual thanks to each and everyone of you.

    April 1, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  23. Adelaide

    She does rock! This is just one of the many times that she has been in a precarious place, just to bring us the news! Thank God for the US Marines and the spirit that they have, never give up and never give in.

    April 1, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  24. A. Smith, Oregon

    Actually when the Nazi Troops increasingly began using 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons on advancing American and Allied troops, the Geneva Convention was updated to BAN and OUTLAW the use of heavy cannon solid rounds on individual enemy combatants.

    Using the A-10 depleted Uranium 30 mm cannon's on vehicles is perfectly legal, mowing down naked troops on the ground would be ILLEGAL.

    Other than mass overkill and pouring ton's of depleted Uranium into the battle-zone, incinerating the body's of the Taliban as the cannon bullets impacted around them, it appears to be a breach of the Geneva Convention to be used in that manner.

    April 1, 2010 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Semper5501

      Why do you people continually try to put "rules" on warfare? The firstest with the mostest wins every time. I prefer Napalm in the morning anyway.

      May 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Proud Marine Dad MN

    These men are the best of the best, you cant help but to be so proud of them. This all starts at recruit training, you have to earn the title to be a United States Marine and it shows.

    March 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  26. miguel

    rip it!!

    March 31, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shifty P.

      Semper Fidelis !!!!! ( Always Faithful!! )

      July 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Proud Marine Dad

    Mary, you rock! Most people have no idea how much adversity these quite professionals are willing to put up with. You're doing an excellent job of capturing how they can laugh and joke about what would make most cry and collapse. I've had a difficult time describing how humbling it is to be around these extremely capable yet modest individuals. Not you. Keep up the good work... you may become an honorary Marine.

    Semper Fi,

    Dad

    March 31, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |