His job: accurate missiles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2011

Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Zamjahn (far right with gloves), gives a class on special ammunition to Pfc. Matthew Palmer and Lance Cpl. Kurt Kjornes. | Courtesy photo

Andalusia native and U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Geoffery Zamjahn is the man who ensures that the missile makes it from point A to point B. In a war, that’s a pretty important job for any person, including the 28-year-old who said he lived on the wrong side of U.S. Hwy. 29 to graduate from Straughn.

Instead, the people of Red Level get to call this hometown hero, who is on his third overseas tour, as one of their own.

“I left for basic on July 5, 2000 – one month after I graduated,” Zamjahn said. “My dad always told me growing up to do something with my life and get away from Gantt. So, I took his advice and joined the Marine Corps.”

Zamjahn, the son of Shelia and Darrell Zamjahn of Gantt, is two-and-a-half months into his first tour in Afghanistan after serving two previous tours in Iraq. A member of Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, Zamjahn is a field artillery operations chief, deployed to northern Helmand province, which is about 300 miles northwest of the nation’s capital, Kabul. He and his men perform a provisional infantry mission by guarding the Kajaki Dam that provides power to more than half the country.

He said he’s proud of his job in the military.

“When you sit down with the recruiter, he pulls out this book that tells you, based on your test scores, what you’re qualified to do,” he said. “The one that stuck out the most to me was fire direction control man, which means you shoot big cannons accurately.”

Specifically, Zamjahn’s “cannons” are 155-millimeter rounds.

“A simplified explanation is I calculate the data to make sure that round gets from point A to point B,” he said. “If you take the basic rifle, say a .308 round, multiple that by 600 or 700 times. These rounds stand 3-feet tall and weigh 120 pounds. We can accurately shoot it at 23 to 24 miles.”

Zamjahn said the nightly news doesn’t accurately depict the Afghanistan he sees on a daily basis.

“It’s not bad,” he said. “What you see on the news and what actually happens are two different things. What we do is provide the service for the greater good. The whole thing about being apart from the family for six or seven months weighs heavily on the mind.

“The area we’re in, it’s pretty populated with local Afghan individuals,” he said. “We do security patrols and show presence. We tell them, ‘We’re here to protect you from the bad people who are here to hurt you.’ And they get it. They hold ‘thumbs up’ to us. They smile, wave. They understand what we’re doing. They’re very receptive to us there.”

Zamjahn said he “wholeheartedly” believes in the military’s mission.

“It’s hard to say this without badmouthing the news,” he said. “But the stories you read or see, portray every bad thing that happens. But for every bad thing, there’s 600 good that they don’t report on.”

He said the support he receives from home is amazing.

“I can’t think of anything else to say, but thank you for the support.”

His mother, Shelia, said it wasn’t as hard as one might think to have a son serving overseas.

“Actually, we have two sons serving, both in Afghanistan,” she said. “Geoffery’s older brother, Thor, is a Marine and there, too. There wasn’t a lot for them do to here, career-wise. I’m proud of them for joining the military.

“You’d think it’d be really scary to have two sons serving at the same time,” she said. “But it’s a really proud feeling. I’m just proud.”

Thor will be returning home in a few weeks, she said. It will be November before Zamjahn makes it home.

“It’s hard to see them off, thinking about what can happen,” she said. “That lasts for a few days. You stay glued to the TV, but that gives away to just being proud of what they do.”