Bronze Star recipient recalls Afghan firefights

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Veterans Day carries a whole different meaning for Marine Sgt. Philip Krein. The former Rocklin resident was recently awarded the Bronze Star for valor in combat for a battle in Afghanistan that occurred last November. “When I look at the star I’ll remember Nick,” Krein said. Nick Hand, 20, went through boot camp with Krein and last year the two went into battle together. Krein remembers it was a pain to carry his light anti-armor rocket launcher through the rugged terrain of Afghanistan but it became invaluable. He was serving an eight-month deployment when, on Nov. 22, his section was ambushed twice in one day near the village of Laguryan in Helmand province. “When we first got there, we were some of the first coalition forces they’ve seen there since the war began,” Krein said. “They were sketchy about us. They would all run away and hide in their houses.” Krein and his men admitted they got a bad vibe from the situation and very soon bullets began to rain down on them. “It was a pretty heavy firefight,” Krein said. “That’s when I shot my first rocket and destroyed a machine gun bunker.” The Marines were wildly successful taking the enemy position with no casualties and two enemy fighters were killed. Krein and Lance Cpl. Hand made it out of the gun-battle unscathed, but hours later it would be a different story. “We were low on ammo and water,” Krein said. “We were on our way back to the patrol base when we were flanked by 35 or 40 insurgents.” The opening barrage of bullets killed Hand instantly. Another marine in his section faced a deadly wound. “He was unable to move,” Krein said. “It hit him right in the shin and shattered his leg. We were pinned down.” While the situation might have looked hopeless, Krein said he had to get the upper hand. He said he jumped up and sprinted about 100 meters to the high ground where he could see the insurgents. “I fired two rockets and hit with both of them,” Krein said. “Then I pulled up the rest of the guys from my section behind me and we fired four or five more rockets.” Krein and his fellow marines were quickly able to take three enemy positions and call in air support. “After that we were able to push the enemy back so we could get the casualties evacuated,” Krein said. Krein said he found out they killed about a dozen enemy fighters. After the battle he sat down and reflected on the battle. “As soon as the rounds go off, you have so much adrenaline going,” Krein said. “You really don’t realize how great the situation is until later. You definitely think someone is looking out for you.” His unit would face 25 more heavy firefights before the end of his deployment. “I don’t know how I got back alive and a lot of other guys feel the same way,” Krein said. “We lost nine guys from our unit and I lost two really good friends. These firefights will live with me forever.” Krein was struck by a bizarre find. Two weeks after the incident he was on patrol and ran across Nick’s dog tag laying on the ground. “I picked it up and carried it with me the whole deployment,” Krein said. “Then I gave it to his mom.” It frustrated Krein to come home and experience an apathy in the media and in young people who seem to be oblivious about the war or the sacrifices veterans made. “It hurt, we don’t expect recognition but I’d like people to know what’s going on,” Krein said. “ A lot of my generation don’t even know we’re still at war.” Krein said care packages made a big difference during his deployment and recommends people get involved and stay informed so that the veterans’ contributions are not forgotten. Krein, a former Breen Elementary and Rocklin High School student, is now a combat instructor at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. He said he expects to be redeployed to Afghanistan within the next three years. In 2008, Krein also spent 8 months in Anbar Providence in Iraq.