Story and photos by Cpl. Jeff Drew
NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand province – Afghan elders, local residents from the towns of Gawragi and Negari, and Marines with 1st Bn, met recently to discuss issues of security, education, and health within the district. Lines of leather-bound shoes and sandals met ornately made carpets, as the men shuffled under a canopy of vines and leaves, eager to sit and speak their minds. The district governor, Haji Manaf, opened the shura speaking of progress.
“There's a big difference from 10 years ago ‘till now; it’s a lot better,” said Manaf. “A lot of progress has been made. Since the Marine forces have been in Nawa, the security has gotten better and better. We've seen progress in building schools and clinics, and in security, and we're happy the progress has been made.”
A solid foundation of security has opened the door for improvements all over the district. Nawa has an ANA Bn. led by an experienced cmdr., Lt. Col. Ahmad, to oversee security. AUP walk the streets regularly, providing a feeling of safety for Nawa’s residents. “AUP training is going very well – they can get the job done, and they can easily identify an enemy in the area,” said Manaf. “They work well together with the other SecFor, and they are dedicated to bring peace and prosperity to Nawa.”
With security in place, the GoA, aided by CF, has begun making improvements throughout the district. A new health clinic in Haynak, Nawa district, is underway, as well as the construction of a road from Nawa to the city of Lash Kar Gah, opening lines of commerce in the area.
“Nawa is on the cusp of transition,” explained Wash. native Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski, the bn. cmdr. for 1/9. “We expect soon to hear that Nawa will change to Afghanistan control, and that's because of the progress that has been made in governance, security and development. The Afghan army is well trained and getting better every day. The ALP is getting training, and getting better every day. We'll continue to work with civil affairs to complete the projects that are so important to Nawa, like schools and clinics. I agree with the officials, the experts and the wise men you’ve heard from, that this is the key to change and peace within Afghanistan.”
As the Marines begin to take a step back, GoA is quickly filling the gap and increasing its capability to provide services, and meet the needs of Afghan citizens. Similarly, villagers are learning to trust in their govt officials and the support GoA can provide. “We're looking toward a bright future, and I’m sure we'll get there with the help of the CF and the Marine forces,” said Manaf. “We're always looking for better security and more progress.”
Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) stand outside of a shura, or meeting, for residents of nearby towns. Marines with 1st Bn, 9th Marine Regt, have been working closely with the AUP in anticipation of transferring security of the area over to the GoA in the future.
Local residents of the towns of Gawragi and Negari gather at a shura, or meeting, to discuss progress in the district. Several farmers and elders asked questions about current projects in the area.
Texas, native Sgt. Brian Behan, the plt. sgt, for the Personal Security Detachment with 1st Bn, provides security during a local shura. The Marines are working closely with local SecFor, helping to provide residents with security in the region.
Marine partnership makes progress in Musa Qal’eh
Story and photos by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde
Calif. native LCpl. Joseph Ramirez, 19, a rifleman with 3rd Plt., Fox Co, 2nd Bn., 4th Marine Regt, patrols through a field.
PATROL BASE MEHRAJ, Helmand province – AUP and Marines from 3rd Plt, have been conducting partnered patrols in Musa Qal’eh district, in recent weeks to show a strong presence in the platoon’s area of responsibility. Part of the Marines’ mission is to mentor ANSF, including the AUP, to ensure they can operate independently in the future.
“Afghan forces are going to need to know not only the inner workings of how to maintain govt, but how to maintain local security,” said Calif. native 1st Lt. Charlie Cordova, the comm. officer of 3rd Plt. “The security that Marines provide is obvious and direct, but without a presence of govt, the local residents can’t believe in their govt, and that’s what the AUP provide – a sense of stability in the govt itself, not just security.”
Marines are currently working with AUP and other ANSF elements throughout Helmand prov., and have been successful teaching their Afghan counterparts the necessary skills to be proficient patrolmen and soldiers. “The police, … they’re having mentors with them; their cmdrs. are having mentors with them,” said Naimatullah Sameen, the Governor of Musa Qal’eh district. “If they have mistakes or something happens, the Marines are trying to help them with their problems. In Musa Qal’eh district, the Marines have helped a lot.”
Together, the AUP and Marines have engaged local residents of the area, gaining intel about a variety of topics, such as asking about the local insurgency, addressing any concerns of the Afghans, trying to recruit for the AUP, and discouraging poppy growth in the area, which funds insurgent activities.
“I always take the senior AUP patrolman and keep him right with me so we can both interact with the people,” said Texas native Sgt. Joshua Pearce, 29, a squad leader with 3rd Plt. “We ask them if they’ve seen any insurgents recently, if they’ve been threatened, so we can get a broader spectrum of their situation. We can track who’s been threatened, so we can plan for future ops.”
“If we just go on all-Marine patrols, local residents think we’re the ones dictating the rules, and it’s hard to explain, for example, that they’re not allowed to grow poppy, and then explain that it’s not my rule, it’s their govt’s rule,” said Pearce. “It shows them that we’re working hand-in-hand with their govt.”
“The AUP, being from this area, are able to identify any outsiders,” said Cordova, a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in history. “They're able to detect dialect, dress, and actions. The local residents are able to speak to them more freely because they know them. They’re able to gain info that, ultimately, we can’t attain without them. The coalition has narrowed its focus in the hope of encouraging Afghans to return to the bazaar near the patrol base, which had been abandoned," according to Cordova.
“From what I’ve been seeing, most of the AUP are really happy to be working with us,” said Tenn native, Cpl. Kasey McDaniel, 23, an asst. patrol leader. “It’s hard for us to communicate, because of the language barrier, but they show us they want to communicate, and that means they want to be around us."
The future looks bright for the AUP and Marine partnership. Cordova believes the partnership is already paying dividends, as the coalition is gaining the trust of the area’s residents, slowly, because of the AUP’s presence. “More people have taken to coming and speaking with us, as opposed to being standoffish,” said Cordova.
Calif. native LCpl. Joseph Ramirez, a rifleman, crosses an irrigation ditch with some help from an AUP patrolman.
Sgt. Joshua Pearce checks his squad’s location with a map during a patrol.
Marines and police patrolmen patrol through a field.
Arizona native Petty Officer 3rd Class Cameron Mouer, 22, a corpsman, provides security while halted on a patrol.
Texas native Lance Cpl. Trey Woodward, 21, a machine-gunner with 3rd Plt, Fox Co, 2nd Bn, 4th Marine Regt, patrols through a field.
PATROL BASE MEHRAJ, Helmand province – The culture, landscape and austere conditions of Helmand prov., can be downright shocking to American troops deployed to the area for the first time. Life in Helmand is completely different from life in the U.S., and one can only begin to understand this exotic land after experiencing it first-hand.
Many Marines from 2nd Bn, 4th Marine Regt, are currently serving on their 1st combat tour as the bn. operates in Musa Qal’eh district, and have learned something new at each twist and turn of their journeys. LCpl. Trey Woodward and Cpl. Nicholas Hardesty of Neb., both from 3rd Plt., are among these Marines discovering the Afghan experience for the first time.
“Our 1st engagement with enemy forces was our 2nd or 3rd patrol,” said Woodward. “We came across this field, and off to our right was a compound, and we just started taking fire from there. We got down – I couldn’t shoot because another (friendly) element was off to our right, cutting off our sectors of fire, so I held rear security. That 1st round cracks by your head; you don’t realize you're doing it, but you’re getting down in a hurry and getting your gun up,” he said. “Your head’s on a swivel.”
The Marines have quickly learned that an area’s atmosphere typically takes on an ominous ambiance before insurgents strike, knowledge that has helped the Marines determine whether they're unlikely to receive enemy fire, or if danger is imminent. “You know certain areas where you’re pretty safe, and you know certain areas where something’s going to happen,” said Hardesty. “If there’s nobody around and nothing’s going on, or there’s everybody around, and then they leave; it’s never good.”
Woodward and the rest of 2/4 prepared for the deployment through in-depth training and hard work, prior to arriving in Afghanistan, as reflected in their performance during enemy engagements. They also received cultural training, but the Marines have nevertheless been surprised at some of the things they've witnessed during their surreal adventure.
“There were a few things I wasn’t expecting,” said Woodward. “People are living in mud huts, walking around barefoot most of the time, kids with scars and stuff on their faces from being sick – you don’t see this kind of stuff back home.”
The children, likewise, have responded with surprise at the appearance of the funny-looking Marines in their strange combat gear," according to Woodward.
“One patrol we went on, the kids, I don’t know, I guess they thought we were cyborgs or something. They looked at us like, ‘Are these guys humans or what?’” said Woodward. “They started hitting my helmet, and they were amazed by how tough it was.”
The Marines have noticed other obvious differences in Afghan culture too. Hardesty was shocked by the status of women in Afghanistan. “On patrol today I saw a woman pop out of a compound, and she saw me,” said Hardesty. “Immediately, she took off because she’s not supposed to be seen by us, and I know it’s bad for us to look at their women too. It was an accident.”
Afghanistan’s undeveloped landscape is also something that can only truly be appreciated through experience. The rocky terrain, endless fields, unpaved roads and numerous canals of Musa Qal’eh district, contribute to a picturesque setting for the squad’s patrols, but also provide obstacles the Marines must overcome. “The terrain affects me, but not to the point where I can’t do my job,” said Woodward. “You just hop over some canals and that’s it; you’re getting muddy and wet. It comes with the job.”
Being deployed to Afghanistan has left the Marines with an appreciation of how good life is for most Americans; something Hardesty took for granted, until he started his own Afghan experience with 2/4. “They don’t have the technology we do,” said Hardesty. “Many people don’t have electricity, running water – they use wells for everything; they go barefoot everywhere. Everything here, it’s different. Unless you’ve been here, you don’t know what to expect – it’s a culture shock.”
Perhaps the best experience of a combat tour is the camaraderie achieved through shared hardship between brothers going through a common trial. Many of the Marines in 3rd Plt. have become very close with each other. “Being an infantryman has its ups and downs,” said Woodward. “The best part is you get to spend time with your brothers.”
LCpl. Trey Woodward, a machine-gunner, patrols across a small canal.
LCpl. Woodward provides security while halted during a patrol.
Commandos Capture Insurgents, find Large Weapons Caches
NANGAHAR PROVINCE – The 1st ANA Commando Bn., partnered with coalition Special Operations Forces (SOF), during a clearing op in Lal’Pur district, Nov. 4. During the op, 5 insurgents were killed. Three insurgents taken into custody have been identified as Pakistani Taliban members. The detainees are currently being held by Afghan forces for further questioning.
The two large weapons caches contained significant amounts of weaponry and ammo, to include 61 grenades, 17 AK-47s, 18 81 mm mortar rounds, 6 RPG rounds, 5 30 mm anti-aircraft rounds, 2 RPG launchers, and a mortar bipod mount.
The caches also contained large amounts of IED making materials, including potassium chloride ammonium nitrate, detonation chord, mortar fuses, and IED timers. One cache, which was located inside a mosque, was moved to a secure location and destroyed, while the other cache was reduced in place.
ISAF Joint Command - Afghanistan
LOGAR PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader in Pul-e 'Alam district, yesterday. The leader directs roadside bomb and indirect fire attacks against Afghan and CF in the Khoshi and Pul-e 'Alam districts, as well as acquires weapons and IEDs for his network.
KANDAHAR PROVINCE -- In Kandahar district, a combined Afghan and coalition patrol discovered a VB-IED after receiving a tip from a local civilian, yesterday. The vehicle was packed with 500-lbs (227 kgs) of explosives, which were defused and confiscated by the patrol. The force also detained multiple suspected insurgents, while searching the surrounding area for additional explosive materials.
ZABUL PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and CF discovered a store of munitions, during a routine patrol in Qalat district, Nov. 4. The cache contained 220-lbs (100 kgs) of explosives, and other bomb-making materials.
Story by Staff Sgt. Mike Norris
BAGHDAD - As U.S. forces prepare to leave Iraq, there's a lot of talk among service members about deployments past. Many soldiers have spent years of their life in Iraq, and have seen the changes here firsthand. Spc. Yaareb Hassan, a petroleum supply specialist with the 123rd BSB, 4th AAB, 1st AR Div, may be on his 1st deployment, but he's no stranger to Iraq.
Hassan was born in Iraq, and for the 1st 28 years of his life, Iraq was not a place that he deployed to; it was home. He spent several years working with U.S. forces, before coming to America and joining the U.S. Army. After graduating from Baghdad University in 2003, Hassan worked as an interpreter for U.S. Forces in Iraq. Following this job, he joined the IA as a communications officer.
With new equipment coming in from American forces, his ability to read English was beneficial. The technical manuals for new equipment received by the IA from the U.S. were written in English. Hassan used his ability to read and comprehend English, to train other Iraqi soldiers on the use of communications equipment.
After he finished his 3-year term in the IA, Hassan went back to work with U.S. forces as an interpreter. This position helped him receive a U.S. visa in August 2009. When asked about his decision to move to the U.S., he stated that at the time, Iraq was not a safe place, and he wanted a good place to raise his children safely.
With the help of a fellow interpreter living in Utah, Hassan moved his wife and 2 children to the U.S. His friend was able to help him out until he got on his feet. “He helped me for a couple of months; then I picked it up from there,” he said.
Hassan was initially worried about whether or not he would be able to find a job, once he got to the U.S. With reports on the news about high unemployment, he thought it would be several months before he could find a job.
“The first thing on my mind back then was to get a job, but the situation was not as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. Hassan found that he had no problem finding work, and that he was able to find a job in just a few weeks after arriving. “I got a job as a driver, then as a medical interpreter, then as a refugee case mgr., for Catholic Community Services. I worked in that job for a year, then decided to join the Army.”
Although Hassan has years of experience as a translator for the U.S. military, he didn't want to be an interpreter when he enlisted in the Army. “My recruiter asked me to join the Army as a linguist,” he said. “I said, ‘Nope, I already did that for 6 years.’ I know how to do it, and I’m not going to go to school for it.’’
Hassan joined the Army to earn his citizenship and help plan for his future life in America. He plans on using his G.I Bill to pay for his wife to go to college. Soon after joining, Hassan found himself back in Iraq - this time wearing the uniform of an American solider. “When I left Baghdad, I wondered when I would see this place again, and 2 years later, here I am,” he said.
Hassan is conducting convoy ops to resupply bases all over Iraq. Although the army trained him to be a petroleum supply specialist, he's working as in interpreter assisting a convoy escort team. During convoy missions, the 123rd BSB often receives assistance from the Iraqi Federal Police (IFP), and Hassan assists his convoy cmdr., by translating during the coordination process.
The work he's doing now often takes him by many of the places that he worked at as an interpreter, and sometimes even close to his old home, where his mother and brother still live. “It’s hard being that close,” he said, “but I don’t want someone to harm them, because they're my relatives. I don’t want to put them in that situation.”