Marines Enjoy Pace of Nawa District’s Unique Countryside
Story and photos by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde
COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER – Cornfields, dirt paths, tree lines, and canals dominate the backcountry of Nawa district. This rugged, fertile community is quite the sight to see, a place where residents wear traditional attire, and live an agrarian lifestyle that may seem like a scene from the past.The AUP conduct routine partnered patrols in the area with Marines from Charlie Co, to maintain a security presence, and to train the AUP in patrolling, as they learn to operate more independently in the district. The Marines arrived to the area in early June to assist their Afghan partners, and some noted the area is not what they expected.
“There aren't really improved roads,” said Ga. native LCpl. Kevin Brakhage, an assaultman with Charlie Co. “A lot of them are gravel; half of them are hardly there. A lot of times, they just slap some sticks down to make bridges, with some branches and stuff over it. Sometimes it’s really thin, like just a stick that’s not even as wide as your foot, and we have to cross that.”
The landscape of Nawa has also surprised Brakhage. He was not expecting the area to be so lush and green, expecting it instead to be arid and mountainous. Others compare Nawa’s landscape to places back in the U.S. “Rural Pa., that’s kind of what it looks like, but it’s different, because you’re not going to see houses made of brick and mortar; you see them made of mud and straw, and 120 degrees,” said Nev. native LCpl. Daniel Wilson.The heat, agricultural focus, and lack of technology in Nawa promote a slow-paced lifestyle, as does the area’s increased stability. The area has seen a tremendous decline in insurgent activity, since the Afghan govt took control of the area in 2009, but the Marines must remain in a constant state of alert for potential dangers. “You’ve got to make sure everybody’s where they need to be, doing what they’re supposed to be doing, watching their sectors of fire,” said Wilson, 24. “I’m checking myself constantly, making sure I’m looking up, also looking down, and making sure I’m not stepping on a pressure plate.”The Marines maintain a security presence in the area, and focus on watching diligently for potential dangers, to set a good example as mentors for the AUP, so the AUP can learn proper patrolling techniques, and the importance of discipline.“We do a lot of presence and security patrols,” said Brakhage. “We’ll go out there and take the AUP with us, and show them how things are supposed to be going on, let them interact with the people. We teach those guys, and they do a really good job – they’re learning.”The AUP have taught the Marines as well, pointing out things on patrols the Marines otherwise wouldn’t think twice about. “As far as searching, they notice a lot of stuff Marines don’t,” said Brakhage. “They know their culture better, so if something’s going on over here, and that guy’s not wearing the right clothes, or because he’s not from this area or something, they'll notice and we’ll investigate. They’re really helpful. The people respond to them really well.”The people seem happy with the presence of the troops. Children approach the Marines, asking them for candy, while Afghan men come outside to relax at night. Marines and AUP offer food to the kids and greetings to the adults. “At night, usually the older men relax on a huge rug, and they’ll just chat about everything,” said Mass. native LCpl. Matt Callahan, a machine gunner. The slow pace serves as a testament to the hard work of CF in the area. The people no longer have to be afraid of insurgents and can live their lives for themselves and their families.
Marines with Charlie Co, reunite with the rest of their squad, during a patrol stop in Nawa district. These Marines returned to the rest of their squad after pushing further down the banks of the adjacent Helmand River.
An AUP patrolman overlooks the Helmand River. This area of Nawa district has a complex water system of canals and streams, allowing for agriculture and greenery to grow throughout.
Ariz. native LCpl. Ammon Carter, a combat cameraman attached to Charlie Co, looks back to check the rear of a patrol.
TF Leatherneck Forces Taliban out of Upper Sangin Valley
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province -- CF with TF Leatherneck have kicked off Op Tofan Sharq (Eastern Storm), a major offensive op to root out the Taliban-led insurgency, in the Upper Sangin Valley region of Kajaki. After 5 days of pushing north from Sangin along Route 611, Coalition and ANSF have pushed the insurgency out of Kajaki and secured the road leading to the once-terrorized village.“We are assisting the ANA’s 215th Corps to secure the main road between Sangin and Kajaki,” stated Brig. Gen. Lewis Craparotta, comm. gen., TF Leatherneck. “Senior Taliban cmdrs. have been killed or forced into the northern portion of Helmand. The conditions are being set to encourage families to move back to Kajaki, into their homes in order to allow life to get back to normal. We're giving the people an opportunity to live in peace, something they've not had in years.”The Taliban was well-anchored in the area surrounding the dam, creating a significant security threat for any contractors willing to work in the area, and local residents. Recent opposition by local tribal leaders had developed toward insurgent activities in the area. This dissension is believed to be from the heavy taxation the Taliban had imposed on local Afghans, who used the resources provided by the dam.The Kajaki Dam is the main power source for Sangin, and most of the Upper Sangin Valley. Originally constructed in 1953 as a result of an irrigation project by the USAID, recent reconstruction efforts have been slow and difficult. Security will enable repairs to existing power grids, as well as improvements to the irrigation system.“We have an opportunity to improve the irrigation system for the farmers with limited investment,” said Craparotta. “Security and overall quality of life will change in the coming months.”TF Leatherneck made many efforts to warn area insurgents through leaflet drops and radio messaging. These communication methods were used to give insurgents a chance to reintegrate with the GoA. “The insurgents knew we were coming, but they didn’t know when or how,“ said Craparotta. “The Marines in the field, fighting side-by-side with our Afghan partners overwhelmed the enemy. What is left of the insurgent force has probably withdrawn to the north.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Nathaniel Mullet, a Team Leader with RCT-8, watches the explosive charge detonate in Sangin. Marines clear obstructions in tree lines with explosives to gain better observation from their guard posts.
Georgia Marine Turns Hobby into Career
PATROL BASE WOLFPACK, Helmand province -- “There’s one thing my stepdad told me that I’ll never forget: ‘If you always have a trade, you'll never go hungry.’” Holmstrom found out at a young age that he loved working with his hands, and figuring out how things worked. As years passed, his curiosity for discovering how remote controlled cars and Robocop worked evolved into taking apart engines on vehicles, and putting them back together. Today, he continues his love for mechanics, working on 12-ton vehicles.“90% of my learning mechanics was self-taught,” explained Holmstrom. “I had always wanted to be a mechanic, and if you ever passed by my house, there’d be a good chance you’d catch me working on my vehicle.” When he wasn’t working as a mechanic, and practicing gymnastics as a secondary hobby on his time off, Holmstrom said he really had no direction as a young man, and didn’t make it easy on his parents. The troublesome teenager still wasn’t unruly enough, however, for his mother and stepfather to give up on him. Holmstrom explained with a smile that he wouldn’t be where he’s at today if it wasn’t for them.Holmstrom wasted no time putting his father’s advice to good use, after realizing the potential his parents saw in him. He wanted to make a change in his life to better himself, and to make his mother and father proud. From that point on the mechanical prodigy spent most of his free-time under a hood. He had finally found his trade, but he said he still wanted to accomplish something bigger. The 5-foot-10-inch Georgian decided to enlist and become one of 'The Few, The Proud.' “I joined because I wanted to make my parents proud,” said Holmstrom. “I had a lot of people disappointed in me growing up, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to become a better person.”
Holmstrom now finds himself on his 3rd deployment – his 2nd time in Afghanistan – nearly 5 years after joining. He’s still a mechanic, but now he works on Light Armored Vehicles, a pricey piece of equipment averaging $900,000 per vehicle. It’s Holmstrom’s job as an LAV mechanic to keep the 20-foot-long vehicle running. He’s changed, placed, and rebuilt more than 20 engines, since arriving in Afghanistan 6 months ago.His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the Marines around him recognize his dedication. One Marine called Holmstrom an important member of the team of LAV mechanics. “He’s a good mechanic, because he worked with all types of vehicles outside the Marine Corps,” said fellow LAV mechanic Cpl. Austin Lange of Wisc. “I mean he knows exactly how an engine works, and he suggests things that are really good. He's definitely a necessary asset to the team.”The team of a little more than a dozen Marines has learned a lot from Holmstrom, according to Lange. He said Holmstrom helped teach the rest of the mechanics as much as he could about the LAVs throughout the deployment. “I don’t just do it for myself, but for the Marines around me,” explained Holmstrom. “It’s like I said before; I do my best everyday to make my mom and dad proud. They believed in me even at my worst of times, and I just want to thank them for that. Mom, Dad, thank you.”
Agribusiness Development Team Trains Agricultural Agent on Demo Farm
The ADT’s farm crew also showed Nazifulla compost pits, test plots, trees, a wheat field, and a chicken coop, and answered questions he had throughout the training. “The work Staff Sgt. Hellmich and the farm crew have done the last 2 months has really paid off,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyron McNeal, the ADT’s farm crew supervisor from Ind. “The result of yesterday’s first AEA visit was a combination of American ingenuity and Afghan determination. We all look forward to future visits with other AEAs.”When the visit ended, Nazifulla received soil testing kits to distribute to farmers in his district. “I hope more extension agents show up for more training,” said Spc. Bradley Darling, an agricultural development specialist for the ADT from Ind. “I know it would make a difference.”
NIMROZ PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained 2 suspected insurgents, during an op to disrupt an insurgent network, as part of an ongoing op throughout the week in Khash Rod district, Oct. 25. The SecFor seized 88-lbs (40 kgs) of ammonium nitrate and other IED components.
ZABUL PROVINCE -- In Qalat district, a combined Afghan and coaltion SecFor detained 2 suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Taliban leader, yesterday. The leader coordinates the placement of roadside bombs throughout the area, and plans attacks against CF. Bomb making materials were confiscated.
KANDAHAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Taliban leader in Panjwa’i district, yesterday. The leader acquires heavy munitions for insurgents, and plans ambush vehicle attacks throughout the region.
PAKTIYA PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor killed one insurgent and detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Taliban leader in Zurmat district, Oct. 26. The leader constructs and stores roadside bombs and other weapons, and is also responsible for leading insurgent attacks against Afghan forces in both Zurmat and Gardez districts. Multiple rifles and grenades were confiscated.
----- In Sayyid Karam district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained 2 suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader, yesterday. The leader coordinates roadside bomb attacks in Gardez district.
LOGAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained several suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network facilitator in Pul-e ‘Alam district, yesterday. The facilitator plans attacks against CF in the district. The SecFor confiscated an RPG launcher, multiple RPGs, 2 AK-47 assault rifles, several ammo pouches, and 4 fragmentation grenades.
WARDAK PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor captured a Taliban leader and detained multiple suspected insurgents, during a security op in Chak-e Wardak district, yesterday. The leader conducted attacks against Afghan forces.
FARAH PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition patrol discovered a weapons cache during a security search in Bala Boluk district, yesterday. The cache contained 220-lbs (100 kgs) of explosives, a mortar system, a heavy machine gun, 4 RPGs, small arms ammo, and multiple IED components.
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