Camp Lejeune Marines taking brunt of Helmand casualties

Marines based in North Carolina have been taking the brunt lately of the most deadly winter of fighting in Afghanistan since the war began.

In little more than a week, nine of the 12 Marines killed in action in Helmand Province — the most dangerous place for U.S. troops — came from Camp Lejeune.

Tuesday morning, the Defense Department announced the two latest Lejeune casualties: Staff Sgt. Christopher W. Eckard, 30, of Hickory was killed Saturday, and Lance Cpl. Adam D. Peak, 25, of Florence, Ky., died Sunday.

Since Feb. 13, Marines there have been leading one of the biggest assaults since the war began, a drive to push Taliban fighters out of the canal-laced town of Marjah.

Since the war began, most hard-core Taliban fighters have retreated into Pakistan during the brutal winters, causing fighting to die down until spring. But this year, Pakistani military assaults against Taliban refuges in that country and the influx of thousands of Marines into Helmand has meant no lull in the fighting.

The 126 U.S. casualties in December, January and February are already more than four times greater than the same period in the first seven years of the war.

The other Marines from Lejeune killed recently are Sgt. Jeremy R. McQueary, 27, of Columbus, Ind.; Lance Cpl. Kielin T. Dunn, 19, of Chesapeake, Va.; Lance Cpl. Larry M. Johnson, 19, of Scranton, Pa.; Pfc. Kyle J. Coutu, 20, of Providence, R.I.; Pfc. Eric D. Currier, 21, of Londonderry, N.H.; Lance Cpl. Alejandro J. Yazzie, 23, of Rock Point, Ariz.; and Pfc. Jason H. Estopinal, 21, of Dallas, Ga.

Also among those killed in Helmand was a Marine from Charlotte who was stationed out of Hawaii, Lance Cpl. Noah M. Pier, 25. He died Feb.16.