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.

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