The Soldiers who qualified were presented with their official certificates and rifle badges. Lt. Col. Gorowski presented the badges. Eight Soldiers received the bronze badge, 11 the silver badge, and 4 the most-coveted gold badge.
Army Capt. Brent Kemp was 1 of the 4 Soldiers who received the gold badge. “This was a truly outstanding event that allowed us to do something we ordinarily wouldn’t have had the chance to do” he said. “We work alongside our Polish Army counterparts on missions, so it was a nice break to go out during some very rare down time, to fire their rifles, and qualify within their standards on their course.”
To reciprocate, Ghazni ADT-IV is planning a similar opportunity for the Polish soldiers to qualify on the M4 rifle in the spring.
“I tried to show the journalists how they can use a short sentence to draw the reader into the story, and then present the facts,” said Zuercher. “I told them that their initial sentence needs to be a grabber; it needs to grab the reader, and encourage them to read on.”
About 40 local Afghan journalists, including 8 women, attended the seminar. The training was organized by AF 1st Lt. Brittany Martin. “The Dir. of Info, Culture and Youth, Fazzinullah Patan, has been proactive in increasing the capability of Laghman’s media,” Martin said. “We're excited that he allowed us to work with his dept to conduct this training, and we look forward to holding follow-on sessions, to continue to improve the skills of the local journalists.”
On the first day of the seminar, Feb. 22, Mahtab Farid, a native of Calif., and U.S. State Dept public diplomacy officer, who has worked as a journalist in the U.S., discussed the elements of writing a solid lead, or introduction, to a news story. She also stressed that the most important factor in any story, is to present the truth with confirmed facts from reliable sources.
Zuercher built on this training the second day, and also featured tips on photography from other Ironman journalists. The journalists then separated into working groups, in which the Afghan journalists sat down with American military journalists from TF Ironman to discuss the leads they'd written. During the working group, the Afghans and Americans worked together to formulate questions for the seminar’s grand finale, an actual press conference by Laghman Prov. Dir. of Forestry, Haji Auhe.
“I thought of the reforestation program that the Kansas ADT is hosting, and it turned out to be a good story, and something that we could bring a subject matter expert in to speak on,” said Zuercher. That subject matter expert was Auhe, who spoke at length about the reforestation project, which has brought 35,000 new trees to the prov. already, and will bring about 125,000 by its completion. The journalists asked questions on all aspects of the project, from who will care for the new trees, to how long will it take the trees to produce fruit?
Atiquallah Qurashi, a writer for a Laghman Prov. weekly magazine, was one of the journalists who attended the seminar. “We learned to report the facts of our story in a concise manner,” Qurashi said. “The instructors showed us how to shorten our reports, and still get all the facts in. The best part of the seminar for me was that the Americans did not talk to us like students; they talked to us like friends. I will use the things I learned in this seminar every single day on the job.”
Col. Walt Colbert, 3-19th ADT cmdr, was quite passionate as he explained the importance of this project. “As we began to understand the enormity of linking the Afghan farmers to their govt, we circled back to education,” he said. “We've also discovered several key Afghan partners who share this vision, as the way ahead for the people of Afghanistan and, in particular, Khowst Prov.,” Colbert added.
In addition to linking provincial partners, FFA has a uniquely “Hoosier” flavor to it as well. Maj. Jeremy Gulley, the 3-19th education officer, who is also a high school principal in Hartford City, Ind., compiled dozens of agricultural lesson plans, that were submitted by several Indiana-based chapters of Future Farmers of America and were subsequently used to develop the SZU program.
Gulley first envisioned the FFA project while listening to a former U.S. Dept of Agriculture official, discuss the need for a development and leadership program, focused toward Afghan youths. ADT members began working with SZU in 2008, while the Indiana NG’s 1-19th ADT was on the ground in the Khowst area.
Three years and 3 teams later, the relationships have matured to a level that makes a project such as FFA possible. “The collaborative effort across multiple line directors has proven to be a successful technique for this area of ops,” said Colbert. “We were very fortunate to be able to share these successes with the leadership of the Indiana NG’s 4-19th ADT, which ensures continuity of effort moving forward.”
Photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Carson
Sgt. Maj. Brent Cook, 2/1, attributed most of the bn’s success to its NCOs, who he says have had to shoulder unusually high levels of responsibility, due to the bns' limited manpower. "Of the 4 Marine bns in Central Helmand province, 2/1 has the largest land area, the most combat positions, and, consequently, a need for NCOs to take charge of some billets, that staff NCOs would normally fill," explained Cook. The bn mans more than 50 positions along approx 60 kms of the Helmand River, beginning at the Garmsir District Center, and stretching south to Patrol Base Durzay.
For 2/1’s NCOs, the gravest part of their job is often the most tedious: staying on alert for an enemy that seldom surfaces. According to Cpl. Skylen Redmond, a team leader with Heavy Guns Plt, Weapons Co, the local threat is almost exclusively IEDs, and combating them is a constant process. It’s a matter of continuously watching for small irregularities – anything that could be used to make or disguise a bomb.
Typically, Redmond finds nothing. About once a day, he patrols nearby villages with a metal detector, but he spends much of that time interacting with local elders. In fact, Redmond, who is considered one of the best IED hunters in Weapons Co, has found a grand total of 3 after serving more than half of a 6-month deployment.
However, the Marines have learned that they don’t necessarily have to find the IEDs themselves. According to Sgt. Matt Reid, a squad leader with Redemption II, the locals have tipped the company off to most of the makeshift explosives discovered in Weapons’ Co’s area. He attributes 2/1’s strong community rapport to 2 things: 2/1’s continued efforts, and groundwork laid by 3/1, its predecessor. “We’ve just carried on the relationship they established,” Reid said.
Still, near disasters, such as Timm’s potentially fatal encounter with the faulty pressure plate, remind 2/1 to be ready for anything. Timms said that he and his Marines make sure they’re ready, by maintaining basic discipline: wearing the proper equipment, keeping their weapons clean and their eyes peeled.
“When they leave this patrol base,” said Cook, “they know there's an active enemy who wants to kill them.”
In the Marine Corps, practicing discipline is called being squared away. In Afghanistan, it’s called staying alive.
“The goal was to bring their local civilian leadership to them in their own village,” said Ghika. “This has the double advantage of showing them that the ASF and Afghan civilian leadership can operate wherever they want in Helmand prov., and also for them to see their leadership and put their grievances directly to the district gov.”
The op was designed to bring a stronger security presence in the area, which hasn't been focused on in the past. The increasing abilities of the ANA to provide this type of security allowed them to perform this task.
“This is an area that has been largely untouched by ISAF forces for a long time,” said Ghika. “When the combined force decided to conduct an op here, we considered it appropriate that it should be Afghans, so that the Afghan people see their own army bringing their governance to them.”
Army Cook Serves Up Smiles at Camp Ramadi
“You just never know what someone may be going through,” said Sgt. Cheryl Hamilton. Hamilton is responsible for collecting an accurate head-count at dinner and midnight meals, but said it's equally important that she includes a warm welcoming with her daily duties. “I greet everyone, even though I don't have to, because sometimes a simple 'Good evening' may be all that someone needs to help brighten up their day,” she said.
This is Hamilton's 3rd deployment to Iraq, but this time around she isn't cooking. “It's a little bit different from what I'm used to,” she said, “but now, instead of preparing food in the back, I get to see everyone's face, and watch them enjoy their meals. Hamiliton also said that now, as an NCO, her job also means taking care of her soldiers.
One such soldier is Spc. Ebony Hall who said that Hamilton is not only serving up smiles to fellow soldiers, but she's also a trusted source of strength for many troops who may encounter a lot of stress. “She's basically helped me to get through this deployment,” Hall said of her NCO, adding that Hamilton was there for her when her grandmother passed away a year ago. “She's helped me to get through a lot of things, and has taught me how to trust, and be more patient.”
Hamilton said she credits her ability to console others to her strong religious beliefs, and added that it's that same faith that helped her to overcome her own life struggles. “There's been a time when I seriously struggled,” she said. “I was even homeless at one point, and I even experienced racial prejudice in my own house. But, you just have to keep moving forward, and work for what you want to achieve.”
Hamilton said those hard times are now in her pas, and that she has known many more successes since joining the Army. That’s also one reason why she greets everyone with a smile. “There's nothing like with service with a smile,” she said.
"The micro-grant program is designed to stimulate the local economy by improving and expanding local businesses," said Maysan PRT economic advisor, Donna Carter. U.S. forces issue micro-grants in sums of up to $5,000 to Iraqi small business owners, who are chosen after a deliberate application process. Approx 30 days after the micro-grants are issued, U.S. troops will follow up to assess the business owners’ progress.
A micro-grant recipient and local car-repair shop owner said that he plans on using the new equipment, a car jack, tools, and a generator, from the grant, to improve his business and expand his shop.
According to Sgt. 1st Class William Riley, project mgr for Maysan, business owners who wish to receive a grant must first provide a plan of action of how the grant will be used. Businesses are then screened, according to how the grant will impact the individual business and the local economy.
"Many of these shops lack the essential equipment to efficiently conduct day-to-day ops. By providing tools to help make these shops viable economically, it provides an opportunity for them to grow and contribute to the overall economic health, and stability of the prov.,” said Riley.