U.S. Marine's life connects Afghanistan war, UND women's hockey
HUDSON, Wis. Lance Cpl. Taylor Kolls had an eventful 2010. He spent the first half of the year in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, where he participated in the Battle of Marja. After returning to the states in June, he married Gra...
Lance Cpl. Taylor Kolls had an eventful 2010.
He spent the first half of the year in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, where he participated in the Battle of Marja.
After returning to the states in June, he married Grand Forks' Monique Lamoureux, a UND women's hockey player and member of the U.S. women's Olympic hockey team.
As his future wife was participating in the Feb. 12 opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kolls was hunkered down in a gun line outside of Marja.
The young couple went into action for their country at the same time -- him on the battlefield and her on a hockey rink -- his mother notes proudly.
They stayed with his parents, Jay and Rebecca Kolls of Hudson, for part of his recent holiday leave.
Kolls' and Lamoureux's wedding took place July 9 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, home of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey teams.
Lamoureux and her twin sister, Jocelyne, skate for the Fighting Sioux when they aren't busy with the U.S. women's team. Kolls' sister, Madison, also is a member of the UND women's team and a roommate of the Lamoureux sisters.
Lance Cpl. Kolls talked to the Star-Observer about his service in an interview at his parents' house a couple of days after Christmas. Monique was away for the afternoon, scrimmaging with the U.S. women's team at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn.
The 21-year-old Kolls has been at the 1/3 Marines' base in Hawaii since returning from Afghanistan and 30 days of leave that followed the deployment.
After being in combat, the paperwork he's assigned to on the base is boring.
He's looking forward to a second tour in Afghanistan starting in May -- if for no other reason than to make the time go faster. He'll have six months left on his four-year obligation when the tour ends.
"I'm doing my four and I'm getting out," he said.
Kolls plans to attend the University of North Dakota after leaving the Marine Corps. He's interested in a career in sports marketing or management, or possibly emergency services -- as a paramedic or firefighter.
He signed up for the Corps during his senior year at Hudson High School. He graduated in 2008.
In a November 2009 interview, shortly before his deployment to Afghanistan, Kolls said the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States made him want to do his part to defend his country. He had "9.11.01" tattooed on his side as a high school senior.
Kolls arrived in the country where the terrorist attacks are thought to have been planned in late November or early December of 2009.
Initially, his armored convoy team was assigned to reconnaissance missions, route clearance and escorting military brass and government officials.
He and two buddies -- Lance Cpls. Creed Taylor of Texas and Zach Tutt of Illinois -- operated an ISS Cougar. Kolls described it as "a Suburban on steroids, with a gun on top of it."
The three traded off driving, being the dismount Marine and manning the Mark 19 grenade launcher on the roof.
Battle of Marja
Kolls was part of an advance group of 165 Marines that was flown to the outskirts of Marja under the cover of night three days ahead of the battle for the city.
Their mission was to seize an important crossroads and draw the Taliban who were controlling the city toward them.
Marja, a city of around 100,000 people in volatile Helmand Province, had been under the control of the Taliban for two years. During that time, TV and beard-shaving were banned, civil liberties were suspended, schools were closed, and farmers were allowed to grow poppies used in making opium.
The city was a center of the drug trade the Taliban uses to finance its war effort.
Some 15,000 coalition troops, including the Afghan army and British and American soldiers, were involved in pushing an estimated 400 to 1,000 Taliban fighters from the city over a period of a couple of weeks.
Sixty-one coalition troops, 45 Americans and 13 Brits, died in the fighting. More than 120 Taliban fighters were killed and another 56 were captured, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Kolls fired the first shots of the battle, although he is quick to say that it wasn't in combat.
After the Marines took control of the intersection the Taliban used for transporting drugs and weapons, area farmers and civilians began piling into vans and onto wagons to leave the area in advance of the fighting.
Two vans loaded with people came driving down the road toward the intersection the Marines were holding.
Kolls was ordered to fire a burst of warning shots over the vehicles. The vehicles quickly turned around and sped the other way.
The officer told Kolls he had just made history by firing the first shots of the Battle of Marja.
"Technically, they were the first shots, but it wasn't like it was combat," Kolls said. "...But all my buddies kind of celebrated like it was some big event. It was kind of fun."
The next seven days was more intense. The strategy of using Kolls' group to draw out the Taliban worked.
"For a week straight, everyone was getting in fire fights," he said. "...We built up these positions and we held them. We would get attacked every day towards dusk. It was all about, hey, we're here. We're not leaving. Come get us."
He had two fighting experiences on patrol.
While his four-member team was providing cover for a foot patrol on a mission to blow up two bridges, they got word that they had been spotted.
The report came over their radio, "Be advised, Taliban see Marines in a compound by a canal."
"Me and my buddies were like, oh, dang. There's four of us in a compound," Kolls related. "Then I looked out a huge hole in the wall and there's a canal that ran right by us."
Five minutes later, a group of 30 military-age males was walking toward them. One of the men was carrying a military radio.
Moments later, there was a huge explosion from the second bridge being blown up. The Taliban fighters celebrated and disappeared, thinking the Marines had tripped an improvised explosive device (IED).
"I don't know what would have happened if we didn't blow up that bridges," Kolls said. "That was the only real situation where you were scared -- like, this might be it."
In Marine fashion, he wrote three letters to be delivered to Monique, his parents and his sister, should he be killed.
On another patrol, Lance Cpl. Tutt, in the lead, disappeared around a corner and a big explosion went off. Kolls thought he had stepped on an IED.
He was trying to prepare himself to see Tutt horribly injured when the Marine popped back around the corner and asked, "Did you guys hear that explosion?"
"I was ready to punch him," Kolls said, "like, you gave me a heart attack."
A civilian truck had hit an IED on a nearby road.
"It was weird going on patrol not knowing what was going to happen every time you left your base," he admitted. "There's some times over there when it gets a little hairy."
Men who buy goats
Jay Kolls was co-hosting the morning show on Twin Cities radio station KSTP-AM (now 1500 ESPN) with Patrick Reusse while Taylor was in Afghanistan.
Hearing that the Marines in Taylor's unit were tired of MREs (meals ready to eat) and wanted to buy a goat to roast from a local market, the senior Kolls and Reusse, also a Star Tribune newspaper columnist, encouraged their listeners to send money to the Marines so they could make the purchase.
The radio hosts called the effort "Men Who Buy Goats," a take-off on the movie "Men Who Stare at Goats."
The effort was successful and the Marines bought their already-skinned goat, which they roasted and ate.
Rebecca said Lance Cpl. Kolls also learned to butcher and cook chickens purchased from local farmers.
Ignoring the politics
Kolls says he tries to tune out the talk about whether the United States' goal of establishing a stable, friendly government in Afghanistan is possible.
"When you get over there, politics is gone," he said. "It doesn't matter if you think we should be there, or if you think it's right. You're over there so you might as well do as you're told. When you start second-guessing stuff, that's when accidents happen."
"We're helping them, that's for sure," he also said. "Is it worth the time and the money that we're spending over there? That's a little above my pay grade. I'm not really sure. I'm a grunt. I do what I'm told and I go where I'm told. That's just how it is."
Kolls said the greatest realization he came away from Afghanistan with is how fortunate we are to be Americans.
"People have no clue how good they have it here. When I say no clue, they don't have an idea," he said with passion.
He saw families of 12 children, parents and grandparents all living in a single room with no running water or toilet facilities -- bathing and cooking with water from unsanitary canals.
"It just makes you appreciate a lot what you have over here."
The Hudson Star-Observer and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.