Dear Interested Reader,
We honor and give thanks to all our Veterans, who have served our great country, and remember those who gave their all. Today's vets have stories to tell: Nawa Victory Walk - Day 2. Marine partnership brings progress to Garmsir. Marine Corps sqdrn. flies last tour with Vietnam-era helicopter. Range time for Laghman PRT bonds teammates. Signal Soldier helps others stay connected on FOB Andar.
Iraq: Soldiers enjoy desert fishing at COB Adder.
Nawa Victory Walk - Day 2
Story and photos by Cpl. Jeff Drew
District Gov. Manaf (left) and Wash. native Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski, the bn. cmdr. for 1st Bn, 9th Marine Regt, enjoy a light evening meal, outside of Patrol Base Jaker. An interpreter sits with them to help facilitate conversation.
Editor’s note: This is the 2nd installment in a 4-part series chronicling a trek across Nawa district called the Nawa Victory Walk, a 4-day, 30-mile patrol by U.S. Marines and ANA soldiers.
NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand province – Sunlight crept silently through the windows lining the walls of the Loy Kolay precinct, an ANA security outpost, as the Marines and sailors awoke, each nudging the soundly sleeping service member next to him. Their legs sore from the previous day’s hike of more than 14 kms., their shoulders strained from the weight of their body armor, the service members of 1st Bn, prepared for another day of patrolling across the district with their Afghan counterparts.
The patrol joined Afghan Lt. Col. Ahmad, comm. officer of 1st Kandak (Bn), 1st Bde, 215th Corps, and Marine Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski. The patrol demonstrated the safety and security achieved in the area, and allowed the leaders to speak with local residents and key leaders, assessing problems and celebrating successes along the way. The second day of the Nawa Victory Walk would be a proposed 12 kms.
The day began with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hayanak Health Clinic, outside the gates of the precinct. The Marines and Afghan soldiers joined together to provide security during the ceremony. “The building of the health clinic is one of the many reasons Nawa is ready for transition,” said Zagurski.
The day’s patrol began after the ceremony concluded, and officials ate an early lunch at the Loy Kolay precinct. The ANA soldiers and Marines patrolled 5 kms to their first stop at Patrol Base Wrightsman. The road along the way held many conversations with local police patrolmen and area residents.
“One of the successes of our patrol is to see the local residents of Nawa accept ANSF leadership,” said Zagurski. “As Marines take a step back in security responsibilities, we’ve seen a strong bond between the local population, ANSF and GoA leadership, which is one of the key indicators that they're ready for transition.”
The patrolling party continued along a deep canal, past corn fields and distant mud compounds. Children ran to the advancing group in wonder, greeting the combined forces. “The people have been waving all day at us,” mentioned Colo. native Seaman Ian White, a corpsman with 1/9.
The troupe made its 2nd stop at PB Sopar Dostan, 9 kms into the day’s patrol. Afghan Local Police (ALP) offered chai tea, and were very welcoming to the visiting soldiers and Marines. After a quick repose from the rigorous patrolling, the Afghan and American security detachments were on their feet ready to finish the day with a final 3-km movement.
It was a short patrol, yet it took the troops from cornfields as far as the eye could see and sparse mud compounds, to a bustling marketplace. The town of Khalaj, comprised of many closely knit, single-story buildings, enveloped the patrolling group. Motorbikes and bicycles raced between stands filled with fruit, and intricately-woven cloth for sale. Eyes turned toward the ANSF–led patrol as it moved through the town, and many local residents gathered to speak to the advancing party.
PB Jaker stood on the far side of the town. The patrol made its way to the entrance and filed in through the gates. ‘Doc' White was on them within moments, checking their feet and making sure everyone was in good health to continue the patrol through the Nawa district the next few days.
In the evening, when little more than moonlight lit the base’s walkways, the district gov. hosted a dinner for several of the visiting Marines. Chicken, rice and bread graced the plates of those in attendance, and Zagurski, accompanied by the kandak cmdr., spoke with the gov. on the day’s successes and the needs of Nawa.
“Education and the rule of law are the most important thing for the community,” said Manaf, his hands passionately gesturing in the air. “We have to be able to serve justice by having good prosecutors and legislators. Overall, the men and women of Nawa are happy.”
Seaman Ian White, corpsman, provides security during a groundbreaking ceremony for a local health clinic.
District Gov. Manaf (left) holds the ceremonial ribbon for the groundbreaking of a health clinic, outside the Loy Kolay precinct, an ANA security outpost.
Troops cross a footbridge outside of the Loy Kolay precinct. The combined SecFor demonstrate the strides in security the GoA has made.
Troops patrol past an ornately decorated grave.
Afghan, Marine Partnership Brings Progress to Garmsir
Story and photos by Cpl. Colby Brown
Marines from 1st Bn, 3rd Marine Regt, greet a local man recently released from custody, under a pending investigation, Nov. 2. The bn. staff escorted him to the district center, and were in-turn invited on a walk around the local bazaar and to stay for dinner. The work the bn. has done to build relationships with govt officials and local residents, has ultimately helped build Garmsir into one to the most secure districts in Helmand prov.
GAMRSIR DISTRICT -- Walking down the street of a local bazaar, without a flak jacket or Kevlar seemed a little risky. I hustled past the group of local Afghan govt officials, took a knee and snapped another photo. A local man involved in a pending investigation was released from custody, and the district leaders wanted to celebrate his return.
A little more than 3 years ago the same bazaar was considered "hot," with daily mortar explosions and small arms fire; thus the anxious feeling when walking around "slick," or with no body armor. “In 2008, the Hazar Joft bazaar was a haven for insurgents,” said Lt. Col. Sean Riordan, bn. cmdr. of 1/3, and a native of Va.
“The walk through was important as a demonstration of the progress,” Riordan added. “Now, you can walk through at night and it’s just a normal, sleepy, country Afghan town. You could have never have done that before, even a year ago.”
The dinner meal featured staples of the local cuisine – pomegranates, lamb, chicken, rice and bread. The food was delicious and fresh, unlike generic military rations. We stayed at the district center another hour and returned to base well past dusk.
“My role as the bn. cmdr. with senior reps of the Afghan govt, local leaders, and tribal leaders in Garmsir is unique,” Riordan said. “Where they may have very good relationships with other people, they’re focused heavily on the leaders and cmdrs. of Marine units, because we represent a rough equivalent to their tribal elder system. They know the points of influence are through guys like bn. cmdrs., company and platoon cmdrs.
“That’s why I walk through the bazaars with no body armor,” Riordan added. “You’ve got to accept some level of risk, and you also need to be mindful that everything we do sends a signal. You hope it's sending the right signal to the people that things are returning to normal.”
“You need to have personal relationships across the whole district, with every aspect of the population. With elders, govt officials, key influencers who may not be in the govt, mullahs and businessmen … with everybody. You have to know them, and they have to know you. We maintain really good relationships with people we don’t trust, because we have to, regardless,” Riordan added. “This is a place where the old adage, ‘keep your friend close and keep your enemies closer,’ really applies.”
“What I've found over the course of 7 months, and being an advisor to 2 foreign armies for more than 3 years, is that you've got to have a mix of firmness and accommodation,” Riordan added. “I'm the anomaly; I'm the outsider, so I need to know when, where, and how to apply being firm and direct. I've 1,300 Marines in the battle space with guns; I'm the strongest individual in the district, but I need to conduct myself appropriately so we continue to have good relationships.”
Garmsir has the most permanent school building projects in Helmand. ANSF in the district are as prepared as any in Helmand to transition authority of security. Further evidence of infrastructure development can be found in bazaars across Garmsir, many with electric street lamps, and newly christened shops opening daily.
“My personal experience has been great,” Riordan said. “Any area of the district I go to, I know people and people know me. It’s not everybody, but I think that's a good example of the success the battalion has had. The way I do things as bn. cmdr., is not unlike the way I did things when I was an adviser… by, with and through Afghan counterparts,” Riordan added. “It’s being flexible enough to understand that their culture is stronger than the way I want to do business. You have to go with the local solution, and reinforce the local power brokers or local decision makers. Then, when you're patient, have good relationships, and you need to emphasize something or disagree with something, you do that from a position of being a friend.”
The atmosphere of personal and professional relationships with elders, district council members, and other local govt officials is dynamic. Often meetings, or shuras, last for hours. The language and cultural barrier make every aspect of communication that much more difficult.
Meeting local expectations of what Marine forces can provide, while pushing district leaders to independently provide for their people is also a challenge. However, during the past 7 months, the relationships made between Marines of 1/3 and the people of Garmsir have been instrumental in overcoming these difficulties.
Lt. Col. Sean Riordan speaks with National Directorate of Security, Provincial Director Nazar Ali, on a walk through a local bazaar.
Lt. Col. Riordan joins local men in greeting a local man recently released from custody.
Marine Corps Squadron Flies Last Tour with Vietnam-era Helicopter
Story and photos by Cpl. Justin Boling
Cpl. Aaron Byard watches the Afghan landscape behind a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the CH-53D Sea Stallion, Nov. 2. Byard, native of Ohio, works as an aerial observer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Sqdn 363, currently deployed to Camp Bastion.
CAMP BASTION -- The CH-53D Sea Stallion has been serving the Marine Corps since the Vietnam War. Today, Marines still rely on this gray, school bus-sized helicopter. One of the last sqdns. to use them, MHHS 363, began flying the Sea Stallion in January 1969. In Afghanistan, the sqdn. flies these aircraft with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd).
“It's a good aircraft that has performed very well,” said Lt. Col. Mark Revor, the comm. officer of MHHS 363. “Our mission out here is assault support,” added Revor, from Minn. “Our aircraft support the movement of equipment, cargo and combat troops throughout the battlefield.”
"Many of the CH-53D Sea Stallions flying Afghanistan today also flew in Vietnam," said Master Sgt. Jason Vernam. Vernam, from Va., said he has 15 years experience in the CH-53D Sea Stallion community, and is currently serving as an advisor for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)’s maintenance ops.
“There's nothing that out flies it,” said GnySgt. Travis Riddick, the sqdn’s quality assurance chief, and a CH-53D Sea Stallion crew chief. “For everything the Marine Corps has put into this helicopter, we've gotten ten times out of it.”
“As a conventional helicopter, its mission is well suited for this environment,” said Revor. “The short leg flights to lots of FOBs, carrying a fair amount of cargo is no problem with the engines on this thing. It's still a 40-year-old airframe though, and I've had a lot of good memories flying it,” said Revor. “But, it's about time for me to move on to a more modern aircraft.”
The Marine Corps is phasing out the aging CH-53D platform. Some Sea Stallion sqdns. will begin flying the newer, more powerful CH-53E Super Stallion, while others will transfer to the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. “Knowing this is our last deployment with our aircraft, and as a sqdn, gives it a historical perspective,” said Revor. “We're working hard regardless if it's the first time or the last time we fly this aircraft.”
Cpl. Zach Hughes mans the .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the rear gate of a CH-53D Sea Stallion. Hughes, of Ohio, is a crew chief.
AF Sr. Airman Lauren Russell, a communications specialist, fires the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, Nov. 7, near FOB Mehtar Lam, as Army Spc. Adam Supino looks on. Supino, a R.I. native with the R.I. N.G. works alongside Russell, as part of the Laghman PRT.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE — Known simply as Black Hills, the area just north of FOB Mehtar Lam is a frequent training site for U.S. forces. Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Laghman PRT had the chance to test their weapon system proficiency. “The 2-fold mission is to allow Soldiers to gain valuable trigger time, and Airmen to gain much-needed experience on new weapons system,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Lancey, of Conn. “If the PRT is about to conduct a mission to a higher threat area, a quick stop to Black Hills for a weapons function check is also common.”
This is the first chance the Joint Expeditionary Tasking Airmen of Laghman PRT have fired a weapon, since combat skills training in May. Others are completely new. “Anyone can pull a trigger,” said Lancey. “In order to be proficient at a particular weapons system, Soldiers need to practice as often as possible. It's also important to allow AF personnel an opportunity to feel more comfortable with these weapons, should they ever need to use them.”
“It's a fairly relaxed atmosphere where Soldiers and Airmen can fire the weapons systems, without worrying about qualifying on the weapon,” said Lancey. “It also gives junior enlisted Soldiers an opportunity to teach their AF counterparts.”
For AF Staff Sgt. Abner Cornell, of Fla., a supply specialist, getting to work closely with the Army, on his first deployment since joining the AF in 2006, has given him a unique perspective that comes with being an Airman. “Today helped me shift my mindset, and gave me the confidence to know that if I need to use any of these weapons in a real situation, I'm ready for all of it,” he said.
On her 3rd deployment and 2nd go-round with the Army, this is AF Sr. Airman Lauren Russell’s first time in a combat environment, where she was able to travel outside of the FOB. “It’s great to break out of the routine of office work that my job usually entails, and get out to gain confidence on these weapons,” said Russell. “It makes me feel like if I'm ever needed to fight, I won’t let my fellow Soldiers and Airmen down.”
Sgt. Lucas Simmons (left), a sniper from R.I., observes as AF Staff Sgt. Abner Cornell fires the M24 Sniper Rifle.
RC-East, Bagram Media Center
Signal Soldier Helps Others Stay Connected on FOB Andar
Story and photo by Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
Spc. Luis Torres, a satellite communication systems operator from Texas, positions a satellite dish for maximum efficiency on FOB Andar, Nov. 4.
GHAZNI PROVINCE – Spc. Luis Torres enlisted less than 3 years ago, but he’s indispensible to fellow Soldiers.
“Everybody will say that lodging, chow and mail are the most important things about deployment, but if you don’t have internet they’re upset about it,” said Torres.
On his 1st deployment with 3rd BCT, 1st ID, TF Duke, he joined the Army for patriotic reasons, but enlisting in his late 30’s also provided additional motivation. “I joined the Army because I wanted to serve my country, and because I knew that I could maintain the standard as well as younger Soldiers,” he said.
He’s long been interested in signal technology, largely because of its importance in connecting all deployed units across theater. All phone and computer messages are combined into one signal before any message is sent elsewhere.
“He’s an outstanding Soldier. Torres is one of those Soldiers who are going to do a job until it’s done,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ebony Likely, from N.Y., Torres’ supervisor. Separated from his family has presented its challenges for Torres. Married for 16 years, the couple has 4 sons and 2 daughters. Despite the large family and joining the Army later than most, Torres is looking for more than just a taste of military life.
“I’m looking to make the Army a career,” he said. Signal and technical proficiency aren’t his only skills. A jack of all trades in carpentry and maintenance, he’s frequently asked to pitch in. “Give him a task to do, and before you even get a chance to follow-up, it’s already done,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Renau, from Va.
Recent special projects have included modernizing benches used in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center and building a new MWR satellite dish platform that will almost double the amount of internet stations available to Soldiers.
According to Likely, Torres sets a good example for the younger Soldiers, but his most valuable lesson to those under his supervision, may be how to deal with the day-to-day routine of a long deployment.
“Take each day as it comes and be aware of your surroundings,” said Torres. “Constantly stay busy, look for ways to improve your surroundings and yourself.” When he gets together with friends, playing dominos, spades, and watching movies help to pass the time. No matter how many off-duty activities he participates in, however, "it’s easy to think about what’s really important," he said.
He looks forward to seeing his wife and kids at the end of the deployment, not to mention “a good home cooked meal.” He’s grateful to the Family Readiness Group at Fort Knox for the help they’ve shown his family during the deployment.
A career in the Army, perhaps with an assignment to a strategic military signal location, showcasing his technical skills is his goal, not to mention a chance to join the ranks of NCOs.
It’s a career path that many who know him best say he’s well-suited for. “His leadership and the ability to get things done set him apart. He’ll be a fine addition to the NCO Corps,” said Renau.
Soldiers Enjoy Desert Fishing at COB Adder
Story and photos by Spc. Anthony Zane
Spc. Kenneth Russell, III, multi-channels transmission systems operator and maintainer, Bravo Co, 3rd BSTB, 1st Cav Div, from Mich., ties a lure to his fishing line on COB Adder, Nov. 6.
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER – When soldiers in Iraq get some down time, fishing may not come to mind while considering a list of things to do, but the recreational activity is alive and well on COB Adder.
Thanks to one soldier’s efforts, service members on COB Adder have been able to cast lines in the middle of the desert, in hopes of catching some fish. Spc. Kenneth Russell, III, made it possible for soldiers to enjoy some fishing on deployment.
Russell has been involved in building soldier’s morale since before his deployment to Iraq. He has been involved with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS), a program designed by the U.S. Army, dedicated to boosting the morale and well being of single soldiers.
“I’m the Bravo Co. BOSS rep,” said Russell. “I did a lot of stuff back at Fort Hood for the soldiers, and I was trying to figure out what I could do to boost morale here. I Googled the top 100 fishing companies in the U.S.,” said Russell. He contacted several of the companies through email, explaining that some of the soldiers here enjoy fishing, and asked if they were willing to donate some equipment.
The response Russell received to his emails was a success; "one company donated 11 fishing poles, another sent 15, and he received 3-1/2 cases of lures," he said. However, in order for soldiers to fish, there needs to be a water source, and that water source is an artificial pond located a short distance from the soldier’s living area.
“It’s a man-made pond,” said Russell. “It’s called Z Pond, named after the Ziggurat.” While fishing at Z Pond, soldiers have a view of the Ziggurat of Ur located just outside the COB Adder perimeter. “There are a lot of weeds in the lake too, that makes it a good fishing hole,” said Russell. “There’s a sign out there that says, ‘No swimming. No diving. No rafts,’ basically nothing but fishing.”
Soldiers fish for the sport, but they don't eat the fish from Z Pond. “They’re like a weird version of bass,” said Russell. “I think they’re called Gar. They look like a combination between a Karp and Bass. Then there’s another type of fish; It’s called a Mangar. Those can get pretty big.”
Although Russell hasn’t caught any fish himself, some of his fellow soldiers have, and that has made it worth his efforts.
“I enjoy knowing that the soldiers can go out there, and have a little bit of down time,” he said. “They’ve enjoyed it a lot, and the greatest thing is it’s free.”
Russell’s unit is getting ready to go home soon and he already has plans for all the fishing equipment he received in theater. “They’re heading back to Fort Hood right now in a ‘conex’ for a 3rd BSTB fishing competition when we get back,” he said. “We’re going to try to organize a family fishing day for the soldiers when we get back.”
Spc. Brett Pittsley, command post node operator, from N.Y., fishes at Z Pond.