« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

July 31, 2009

Warship honors heroic Marine

Destroyer will be christened Saturday

The name of a brave young man from Scio forever will be remembered by the sailors and Marines who set foot on a warship about to be christened.


By Maki Becker
July 31, 2009

Saturday, at a ceremony at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine, a 500-foot guided-missile destroyer officially will be named for Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who gave his life saving two fellow Marines.

On April 14, 2005, Dunham’s unit went to the aid of a Marine convoy under attack in Husaybah, a town in western Iraq. An insurgent in one of the vehicles stopped while trying to flee, pulled out a grenade and attacked Dunham.

Dunham, just 22 and on his second tour in Iraq, put his helmet over the grenade and then jumped on top of the helmet to try to absorb the blast.

The grenade detonated, mortally wounding Dunham. He died 10 days later in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, with his parents, Dan and Deb Dunham, at his side.

In 2006, President George W. Bush announced that Dunham would be honored with the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor. He was the first Marine to receive the medal in the Iraq War.

Saturday, Dunham’s parents

and their three other children are expected to be on hand at the christening ceremony.

Deb Dunham will do the honors by smashing a bottle of champagne against the brand new ship.

“We’re totally amazed that this happened,” Deb Dunham told The Buffalo News in March 2007 when the decision to name the warship after her late son was announced. “We thought it was very appropriate.”

She was not only touched by the gesture, but also surprised at how quickly it came about. “I anticipated that it would be 10 or 20 years before we saw this.”

Communications: Critical to Marines on the Battlefield

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – A squad of Marines is patrolling through the Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan, and suddenly machinegun fire rings out from a nearby compound filled with insurgents. The Marines immediately attain a grid coordinate for the exact location and radio for a fire mission. Within minutes, a precision round lands directly on the target and neutralizes the threat.


Story by 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl
Date: 07.31.2009
Posted: 07.31.2009 12:56

This exact scenario occurred, July 28, and it's just one of many real-life combat missions that would not be successful without the work of communications Marines within Regimental Combat Team 3.

Communications, or "S-6," Marines support the entire framework of operations here – from field radios to secure e-mail.

There are about 140 Marines operating under the RCT-3 S-6, all of which have various backgrounds from radio and satellite communications to information assurance and data. The Marines are primarily from 3rd Marine Regiment's home in Hawaii, but a sizeable amount are augmenting the RCT from units stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

Each one of the services S-6 provides is vital to the regiment's ability to execute its mission. In the case of a call-for-fire mission or casualty evacuation, the Marines on the ground utilize field radios to communicate back to their combat operations center, which has multiple communications assets available to coordinate the support request.

The regiment has field radio operators that constantly monitor radio traffic and process important messages when needed. Cpl. Ray Wimmer, an S-6 Marine based out of Okinawa, does exactly that.

"We call in medical and casualty evacuations, air drops, air support – anything the guys on the ground need," said Wimmer, who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and graduated from Turner High School. "We communicate regularly with the battalions, and as the regiment, we report to the Marine Expeditionary Brigade."

In a fire-mission scenario like the one on the morning of July 28, communications Marines like Wimmer play a crucial role.

"When requesting a fire mission, the battalions contact us for approval. The grid coordinates are passed over the radio with a thorough description of the surrounding environment," Wimmer said. "We send the message back once the decision is made."

While radio assets are crucial capabilities to Marines, the communications architecture is much more intricate and requires numerous specialized areas of expertise.

The first step in building communications capabilities is establishing a link to a standardized tactical entry point, where services can be pulled to a control facility and distributed to forward units, according to 1st Lt. Christopher Wurinaris, a communications officer with RCT-3.

"We provide both secure and unsecured networks, which provide the respective types of phone, e-mail and Internet service," added the 33-year-old officer from Tinley Park, Ill. "S-6 also provides what is essentially a secure chat room that enables multiple Marines to pass important messages in real time."

These capabilities facilitate the timely flow of information between units that are spread across the regiment's vast area of operations.

"The services provided by S-6 enable our commander here and commanders forward to get the most up-to-date picture of the battlefield," according to Wurinaris.

The Marines of the RCT-3 S-6 do not all stay with the regiment headquarters the entire time. Several of them have been dispatched to forward locations in order to help the battalions set up their communications architecture.

"Throughout the time we have been here, we have pushed out contact teams to support the battalions in getting their services up," Wurinaris said.

"When we go out to a FOB [forward operating base], we set up a SWAN [support wide area network system], which provides the battalion the ability to have both secured and unsecured connectivity for e-mail, Internet and phones," explained Cpl. Tyler Springer, 20, a satellite communications Marine from Waukomis, Okla.

These assets can help save lives when units are in urgent situations.

"During Operation Khanjar, we provided communication services to the battalions, enabling them to relay any important information," said Cpl. Brint Gurung, 20, a multi-channel radio operator with RCT-3 who spent time forward at multiple combat outposts. "We erected antennas at each site, programmed radios and helped troubleshoot any issues that came up."

Whether it is establishing satellite feeds or passing urgent radio traffic from Marines in contact, RCT-3 communications Marines are an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle in supporting the regiment's operations here in southern Afghanistan.

July 30, 2009

A Day Like Any Other for Marine Truckers

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The Marines showed up for work at 2 a.m. to make sure their vehicles and the cargo loaded on them were ready for the long day ahead, July 28.



Story by Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox
Date: 07.28.2009
Posted: 07.31.2009

The sky starts getting light here shortly after 4:30 a.m., so they made their way to the chow hall in the dark for their pre-convoy brief.

Roll call, convoy brief, a prayer by the chaplain, grab some quick chow and they were on their way back in the pre-dawn light to the 19 vehicles staged a half mile away. One late addition to the cargo was a 73,000-pound, John Deere combat excavator that needed to be loaded onto a flatbed trailer and hauled to Combat Outpost Geronimo – the day's destination. This particular route was new for this platoon, and dangerous, as rumor had it – rumors spread by Marines in other sections who had made this trip. The rumors were true.

"I didn't know if it was a tire or an IED. These tires make a big boom when they go," said Cpl. Baldemar Flores, who was driving the logistics vehicle system, towing the excavator. "Then I looked back and saw the trailer got hit and a little bit farther was the hole."

After only 90 minutes on the road – and a distance of less than five miles – Combat Logistics Battalion 8's Transportation Support Platoon had triggered an IED and delayed the convoy for a short time. Fortunately, no one was injured.

TSP hauls almost all of the cargo carried from Camp Dwyer to all of Regimental Combat Team 3's combat outposts and forward operating bases throughout Helmand province. Unlike civilian truckers on highways in the States, part of the work involved in ferrying passengers, equipment and supplies around this country is simply maintaining situational awareness. From the turret gunners who man .50 caliber, 7.62mm and 40mm machine guns to the drivers themselves who follow in the tracks of the vehicle in front of them, being able to tell when something is not right is a very important ability.

"You never know what to expect," said 1st Lt. Charles Lamb, the convoy commander on this route. "I knew on this one there was a good chance we'd get blown up. This is a dangerous route."

Since Lamb's Marines were on this route for the first time, he and they had spoken with others who had made this trip before. The information that they received painted a clear enough picture of what might happen.

In a unit that faces potential danger regularly – even the danger of the unknown – they develop a bond that goes beyond professional requirements. The younger Marines become little brothers and sisters, and the lieutenant becomes dad.

"When they hit the IED, I was a nervous wreck," Lamb recalled. "I've been with these guys for a year. Our platoon is very much like a family."

Meanwhile, Flores's feelings after experiencing the blast from inside the cab were much different. For a few critical moments, his radio wouldn't work. Oblivious to the fact that the rest of the convoy was waiting for any news about him, he was focused on the inconvenience of being slowed down by an irritating explosion.

"The whole day – the whole truck issue – I was mad," he said. "We'd been working on that truck all day long. I was just hoping it didn't get blown up."

Waiting to hear from his potentially injured Marine, Lamb wrestled with his own feelings in his vehicle farther ahead in the convoy. After a few tense moments listening to the radio, good news put the Colorado City, Texan back into action.

"When I heard Cpl. Flores's voice over the radio, that shifted my gears from 'they're ok' to 'how do I get us out of this mess? I gotta get these guys out of here,'" said Lamb. "I was worried about secondary IEDs. Usually where there's one, there's two."

While the convoy was moving to a safe stand-off distance, one of Flores's best friends was moving to assist him from his vehicle immediately behind.

"All I remember was a huge cloud of smoke and dirt, like four or five stories high," explained Lance Cpl. Eric Valdez from Houston. "My job is security/sweeper. As I was sweeping up to the vic [vehicle], that's when our Doc, Doc Brawner [Petty Officer 3rd Class Donnell Brawner, hospital corpsman], came up. I was sweeping up and he was close behind. We were about 10 feet behind the trailer when I heard my first solid ping."

Marine mine sweepers use modified metal detectors to identify unexploded IEDs. Usually when the detector lets out a certain tone, it's time to be careful. Valdez calmly continued to thoroughly sweep the area and proceeded to the vehicle's cab.

"At the time I was very nervous. I knew I might get hurt myself, but I just had to get it done to get to my corporal," he said. "Finally after me and the doc swept up there safely, we got to the vehicle doors and found them safe."

All of this took place before 10 a.m. Later, the quick reaction force arrived to provide additional security and investigate a white van that had been acting suspiciously until it got stuck in the sand within sight of the convoy. The QRF arrived with a retrieval vehicle, a new trailer and a heavy equipment operator to transfer the combat excavator and help the convoy roll on to its destination – still three hours away.

In addition to transferring the heavy equipment to the new trailer, it also took several hours to make repairs to the LVS' hydraulics system so the new trailer could be coupled to it.

Even with the delay in the middle of nowhere, the convoy still made it to a safe place just as night was falling. The Marines stopped at a weigh point – Fire Base Fiddler's Green – in order to get some rest and push the rest of the way with the next day's early light.

The next morning, Flores received plenty of friendly comments and remarks about his adventure – another sign of a family taking care of its own.

"These guys are giving Cpl. Flores a hard time, and he's joking back with them, which is good," Lamb said shortly before the convoy rolled out of COP Geronimo on its way back to Camp Dwyer. "They're making sure he's ok, and they're coming together to protect him."

"One good thing about this is no one got hurt," he said. "This just re-affirms IEDs are out there and they're dangerous, but chances are in these vehicles, you're going to walk away from it."

Confidence is another thing that is required in this job. When service members are driving nearly every day in an environment where the enemy's primary tactic is to mine the roads and supply routes, being good at one's job is only half of it. Marines have to have faith in themselves and those around them, but, like the lieutenant says, they also have to be a family.

Helmand Province governor visits local leaders, Marines in Nawa District

NAWA DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan —
More than 200 local Afghans gathered for a shura here with July 23, 2009. A shura serves as a meeting for locals to voice their opinions and concerns to leaders who have the power to change things.


By Staff Sgt. William Greeson,
Regimental Combat Team 3

The provincial governor attended along with the district governor, district administrator and high-ranking officials from the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and U.S. Marine Corps.

“The fact that he (the provincial governor) was interested to come to Nawa is a big deal,” said Capt. Frank Biggio, the civil affairs team leader for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and a 38-year-old, Washington D.C. native. “It shows that it’s safe enough for him to come here and that people from all around this area with different backgrounds and views are interested to hear what he has to say.”

Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, Marine Expeditionary Brigade - Afghanistan commanding general, also attended the shura and addressed the local Afghans.

“Things are getting better, and we’re seeing more progress. It’s been a pretty incredible turn around,” said Nicholson. “The ANA is having success wherever they go. I think if we work together, we could be more effective.”

Lt. Col. William McCollough, commanding officer of 1/5, also addressed the crowd, commenting on the positive changes that have taken place in Nawa District.

“Less than a month ago, we could not have flown a helicopter in during the day. This base and this district center were subject to fire,” McCollough said. “If we tried to hold a meeting, maybe one or two elders would come. It’s been a striking difference that we hope to continue.”

With enemy contact almost nonexistent, IEDs are the enemy’s weapon of choice for disrupting the battalion’s efforts.

“The enemy is being driven out of the area, and as they go, they are leaving IEDs behind. It’s mostly affecting the people. It’s not really affecting us,” Nicholson explained. “Three children died this week because of this threat. Using all our assets, I think we can eliminate the problem.”

Members of the Taliban continue to intimidate and sometimes harm the local citizens.

“The Taliban have killed 25 people in this area. They are killing their own,” Nicholson said.

Nawa District is preparing to hold elections. This will be a major step in extending the authority of the legitimate government in the region. Many locals might think Marines will leave once the elections are over.

“They will be very surprised after the election to see that we’re still here,” Nicholson said. “The next 30 days is going to be very interesting.”

With positive changes already taking place, 1/5 believes they will be closer to completely securing Nawa District in the coming months.

July 28, 2009

Navy Christens New Guided Missile Destroyer Jason Dunham

The Navy will christen the newest Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, Jason Dunham, Aug. 1, 2009, during a 10 a.m. EDT ceremony at Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine.


No. 559-09
July 28, 2009

Designated DDG 109, the new destroyer honors Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Dunham was born in Scio, N.Y., Nov. 10, 1981, sharing the same birthday as the U.S. Marine Corps.

On April 14, 2004, Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, when his battalion commander’s convoy was ambushed. When Dunham’s squad approached to provide fire support, an Iraqi insurgent leapt out of a vehicle and attacked Dunham. As Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground, he noticed that the enemy fighter had a grenade in his hand and immediately alerted his fellow Marines. When the enemy dropped the live grenade, Dunham took off his Kevlar helmet, covered the grenade, and threw himself on top to smother the blast. In an ultimate selfless act of courage, in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of two fellow Marines.

Retired Gen. Michael W. Hagee, former commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps, will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Debra Dunham will serve as sponsor of the ship named for her late son. In accordance with Navy tradition, she will break a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow and christen the ship.

Jason Dunham, the 59th Arleigh Burke class destroyer, will be able to conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection. Jason Dunham will be capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously and contains a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime warfare in keeping with “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” the new maritime strategy that postures the sea services to apply maritime power to protect U.S. vital interests in an increasingly interconnected and uncertain world.

Cmdr. M. Scott Sciretta, born in South Amboy, N.J., is the prospective commanding officer of the ship and will lead the crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel. The 9,200-ton Jason Dunham is being built by Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics company. The ship is 509 feet in length, has a waterline beam of 59 feet, and a navigational draft of 31 feet. Four gas turbine engines will power the ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.

Additional information on Arleigh Burke class destroyers is available online at http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid;=900&ct;=4.

How We’ll Win in Afghanistan

Gen. Petraeus knows how to defeat an insurgency. But he will need congressional support.

More coalition soldiers have died in July than in any previous month in the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Last week, the soldier who slept on the cot next to me was killed. A rocket-propelled grenade fired from a snow-capped mountain in remote Nuristan Province killed Staff Sgt. Eric Lindstrom, a father of twin baby girls and the best squad leader in the platoon.


July 28, 2009
Bing West, Wall Street Journal

Strangely, our military leaders rarely talk about the battles here. They urge shooting less and drinking more cups of tea with village elders. This is the new face of war—counterinsurgency defined as nation-building, an idealistic blend of development aid and John Locke philosophy. Our generals say that the war is “80% non-kinetic.”

Although they welcome the largess provided by coalition forces, the village elders with whom our soldiers drink tea are intimidated by an enemy that prowls at night when our forces return to their bases. The Taliban is a highly mobile, amorphous force, with little popular support. But it is very willing to fight. Firefights are infrequent during the harvest seasons for poppy, corn and wheat, indicating that most local guerrillas are poor kids raised in a culture of tribal feuds, brigandage and AK rifles. The enemy leaders, more sinister and gangster-like, slip back and forth across the 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.

While our Special Operations Forces launch raids that disrupt the Taliban, our conventional soldiers carry out the less-adventurous “framework” operations—mainly presence patrols. With 80 pounds on their back, day after day they slog through the heat, dust and mud, waiting for the enemy to initiate contact.

Overall, too few of the enemy are being killed or captured to sap their morale. It’s like fighting Apaches in the 19th century. The hidden guerillas shoot from tree lines or mountainsides, making accurate return fire impossible. And we rarely bomb a compound, despite press headlines to the contrary. A week ago, a Marine, a British adviser and I watched a man scurrying back and forth at one end of a long building while we were under fire from the other end. The man was carrying something, but the Marine couldn’t decide whether the rules permitted shooting him. No army has ever fought with the restraint of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

In 2002, American social engineers contrived a democratic model that placed the power of the purse inside the ministries in Kabul, believing that central control would stifle regional warlords. When the resulting corruption and favoritism deprived the villages and districts of funds, the U.S. military established Provincial Reconstruction Teams armed with millions of quick-spending dollars. The hugely popular PRTs have provided the funding lubricant that enables local government to operate.

On both fronts—development and fighting—the U.S. military has surged forward this summer, just as promised. Given the vast, harsh terrain and the immense open border, instead of 60,000 American soldiers we actually need 100,000—and many more helicopters. Infantrymen wear down after hundreds of grueling patrols. Instead of a 12-month tour, the U.S. Army should rotate its units on a seven-month basis and keep their brigades intact, as do the Marines.

Regardless of these shortcomings, there will be progress over the next year. Gen. David Petraeus, the theater commander, knows how to defeat an insurgency. In the north, we don’t have to occupy every remote valley. Tribal rebels who just plain like to fight can be isolated in the harsh mountains to enjoy their privations. In the south, the Marines and the British are cleansing Helmand Province of the toxic mixture of drug smuggling and insurgent dominance.

War is not complicated. You have to separate the guerrilla forces from the population and kill them until they no longer want to continue. Al Qaeda, dominated by Arabs, is finished inside Afghanistan. The Taliban are Afghans, to be dealt with by Afghans. As he did in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus wants to recruit local forces to protect their own villages. That will expand the Afghan forces to 300,000 and stabilize the situation. On patrols, Afghan soldiers spot the enemy 10 times more frequently than do coalition solders. Afghan soldiers are brave, hardy, ill-disciplined, individualistic, temperamental and trustworthy.

A year from now, coalition forces should be able to gradually withdraw, replaced by robust support and adviser units embedded in Afghan security forces. We shouldn’t make this a NATO war, allowing the Afghans to stand back. We’re outsiders, no matter how many schools we build or cups of tea we drink.

Staff Sgt. Eric Lindstrom was quiet the night before he died. His squad was going into the bottom of a “punch bowl” with mountains all around, not a good place to fight.

For things to turn out right for us—to keep faith with Eric—we have to gradually let the Afghans do their own fighting, while supporting them generously. Afghan forces will need $4 billion a year for another decade, with a like sum for development. The crunch in terms of American support for the war will come a year from now. The danger is that Congress, so generous in supporting our own forces today, may not support the aid needed for progress in Afghanistan tomorrow.

Mr. West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, reports regularly from Iraq and Afghanistan.

July 26, 2009

Marines target Afghan drug dens, not farmers

By Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Jul 26, 2009 11:58:32 EDT

KABUL — Marines and Afghan forces have found and destroyed hundreds of tons of poppy seeds, opium and heroin in southern Afghanistan this month in raids that a top American official said show the new U.S. counter narcotics strategy in Afghanistan is working.

To continue reading:


July 25, 2009

Local Marines holding ground in Helmand's Nawa District

No fatalities for Camp Pendleton's 1/5 during deadliest month in Afghanistan

"Shape, clear, hold and build."

Click above link for photos.

By MARK WALKER - [email protected] | Saturday, July 25, 2009

That's the mantra of Camp Pendleton's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, now firmly entrenched in the volatile southern Afghanistan province of Helmand some 7,700 miles from home.

The battalion's 1,000 Marines and sailors arrived in late May as part of the massive troop buildup ordered by President Barack Obama. And while July has proven to be the deadliest month of the nearly 8-year-old war, with 37 U.S. service members killed as of Friday, the locally based battalion has not suffered any fatalities.

"We've done the 'shape' and the 'clear,'" the battalion commander, Lt. Col. William McCollough, said during a telephone interview from his headquarters in Helmand on Thursday. "Now we're executing the 'hold.'"

In the military's counterinsurgency doctrine, "shape" is defined as the territorial objective. "Clear" means to rid the territory of insurgents, while "hold" means to maintain a presence. "Build" is defined as working with the local populace and government to strengthen governmental and security institutions so the insurgents will not return.

"We've overrun the Taliban that used to be in this district and we're beginning the 'hold' by training the army and police and building up the rule of law," McCollough said.

The troops are scattered in posts throughout the expansive Nawa District of Helmand, an agricultural region that supports a population of about 180,000.

"We estimated there were between 250 and 500 Taliban fighters here when we arrived," said McCollough, 40, a Minnesota native. "They were well-entrenched and had been running the district for over a year."

The Marines experienced their heaviest fighting in their first 10 days in the district, he said: "We would go out and have a good, solid firefight with the enemy."

The troops were dispatched to Nawa in waves, arriving at multiple locations by helicopters at night.

"For the first few days, all the Marines had was what they were able to carry on their backs," McCollough said. "They were completely dependent on having a resupply helicopter come in each night with food and fresh water."

Since clearing the area of insurgents, the most emergent threat is from roadside bombs, the improvised explosive devices that, as in Iraq, are now the favored weapon for anti-government fighters.

"It's an uncommon day when we don't find at least one or two IEDs," McCollough said. "We know the danger is out there, and it's constantly on our minds."

A contingent of British troops is working with the Marines, who are scattered among dozens of villages.

"We're working in a heavily canaled area where there really aren't many roads ---- many are just trails," McCollough said. "Not everyone is friendly, but there is a solid group of folks now enjoying freedom from violence.

"The Taliban would tax and threaten them, and in some cases brutalize people. I believe that family by family, they are learning to trust us and that we are here with all the best intentions."

Election looms

The surge of troops into Afghanistan that began in the spring is intended in part to stabilize the country in advance of the presidential election on Aug. 20. About 57,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan, and the number is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by the end of 2009.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai praises the role of foreign troops, but has said the rules governing their presence will change if he wins re-election.

Few expect the balloting to go smoothly in what will be only the second time in its history that Afghanistan has conducted a presidential election.

"Elections here will be imperfect," the Associated Press quoted U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, saying Friday. "But I am an American who lived through an imperfect election eight years ago. I am not going to hold Afghanistan to standards which even the United States does not achieve. What we want is an election that reflects the legitimate will of the Afghan people, and whoever wins, the international community will support."

John Pike at GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington military monitoring group, said the Afghan government needs the U.S. and NATO troops to reduce the violence and the Taliban's hold on the countryside.

But all the military might now in Afghanistan isn't enough to convert the entire country into a Western-style democracy, he said.

"I think our troops are going to face a very difficult time in making the security hold," Pike said.

The poppy crop

The Helmand Province is a key poppy-growing area, and the Taliban relies on its production to fuel the opium trade and fund the insurgency.

The U.S. and NATO are increasingly going after those crops and major traffickers, but McCollough's troops arrived just as the harvest in Nawa was completed.

"We are hoping our efforts convince the people not to grow poppy next year," he said. "A lot of the farmers we have talked to were under orders from the Taliban to grow it."

The U.S. has dispatched agricultural teams to work with Afghan farmers to produce cash crops other than the poppy, an effort that strategists say is an attempt to overcome more than a century of drug trade but is one of the keys to success in Afghanistan.

As part of the effort to win over local hearts and minds, McCollough and other U.S. commanders took part in a shura, or consultation, with Nawa tribal elders and other officials last week.

"We had more than 400 elders, and the provincial governor flew in," McCollough said. "Until now, the governor couldn't come here because of the Taliban, so this gave him and us a chance to speak to the elders near their homes."

Heat and hope

The Marines are operating in small groups in Nawa and have learned to cope with daytime temperatures that soar to 115 degrees and hotter.

"You feel the heat as it comes up," McCollough said. "It burns the skin, but the Marines have acclimatized well."

There is no electricity or running water, and the troops rely on satellite telephones to stay in contact with commanders. McCollough said he tries to give each Marine a chance to make a call home each week to stay in touch with family and loved ones.

The biggest surprise he's encountered, McCollough said, is the relative ease with which the troops have connected with the people of Nawa.

"The Marines have been very patient, and that's starting to pay off," he said. "They're learning how to judge when people are being honest with them, and what makes a particular community tick and what motivates its people."

McCollough said the villagers' needs are no different from our own.

"They want to feel safe where they live, and they don't want to have to confront violence," he said. "They have the same desires for their kids that we do. They also keep asking about schools. The Taliban wouldn't let them go to school, and they want to see the schools reopened."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.

Related Links

Camp Pendleton's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment

GlobalSecurity.org GlobalSecurity.org

Iraq Veterans Find Afghan Enemy Even Bolder

NAWA, Afghanistan — In three combat tours in Anbar Province, Marine Sgt. Jacob Tambunga fought the deadliest insurgents in Iraq.


Published: July 25, 2009

But he says he never encountered an enemy as tenacious as what he saw immediately after arriving at this outpost in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In his first days here in late June, he fought through three ambushes, each lasting as long as the most sustained fight he saw in Anbar.

Like other Anbar veterans here, Sergeant Tambunga was surprised to discover guerrillas who, if not as lethal, were bolder than those he fought in Iraq.

“They are two totally different worlds,” said Sergeant Tambunga, a squad leader in Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines.

“In Iraq, they’d hit you and run,” he said. “But these guys stick around and maneuver on you.”

They also have a keen sense of when to fight and when the odds against them are too great. Three weeks ago, the American military mounted a 4,000-man Marine offensive in Helmand — the largest since President Obama’s troop increase — and so far in many places, American commanders say, they have encountered less resistance than expected.

Yet it is also clear to many Marines and villagers here that Taliban fighters made a calculated decision: to retreat and regroup to fight where and when they choose. And in the view of troops here who fought intensely in the weeks before the offensive began, fierce battles probably lie ahead if they are to clear the Taliban from sanctuaries so far untouched.

“It was straight luck that we didn’t have a lot more guys hit,” said Sgt. Brandon Tritle, another squad leader in Company C, who cited the Taliban’s skill at laying down a base of fire to mount an attack.

“One force will put enough fire down so you have to keep your heads down, then another force will maneuver around to your side to try to kill you,” he said. “That’s the same thing we do.”

In other parts of Helmand the Taliban have been quick to mount counterattacks. Since the offensive began, 10 Marines have been killed, many of them south of Garmser in areas thick with roadside bombs. In addition, British forces in Helmand, who often travel in lightly armored vehicles, have lost 19 men, all but two from bombs.

All told, Western troops have died in greater numbers in Helmand this month than in any other province in Afghanistan over a similar period since the 2001 invasion.

It is unclear whether the level of casualties will remain this high. But the Taliban can ill afford to lose the Helmand River Valley, a strip of land made arable by a network of canals that nourish the nation’s center for poppy growing.

“This is what fuels the insurgency,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine brigade leading the offensive.

For now, the strategy of the Taliban who used to dominate this village, 15 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, is to watch and wait just outside, villagers and Marines here say.

“They all escaped,” said Sardar Gul, a shopkeeper at the Nawa bazaar. Mr. Gul and others who reopened stores after the Marines arrived estimate that 300 to 600 Taliban fled to Marjah, 15 miles to the west and not under American control, joining perhaps more than 1,000 fighters.

Marine commanders acknowledge that they could have focused more on cutting off escape routes early in the operation, an issue that often dogged offensives against insurgents in Iraq.

“I wish we had trapped a few more folks,” the commander of First Battalion, Fifth Marines, Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, told the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who visited Nawa. “I expected there to be more fighting.”

When the full battalion arrived in Nawa in early July, the Taliban “knew we were too powerful for them” and left, said Staff Sgt. Michael Placencia, a platoon sergeant in Company C.

But he predicted the Taliban would stand and fight if Marines were to assault Marjah, describing them as a “more efficient” foe than the insurgents he saw as a squad leader in Anbar in 2005 and 2006.

“They will come back, and they will try to take this back and pin us down,” said Maj. Rob Gallimore, a British officer who trains Afghan soldiers here. He hopes that the Marines do not spread themselves too thin and that they focus instead on building a deep bond with locals in places they occupy, a classic counterinsurgency tactic.

So Marines are bracing for a fight against guerrillas who, they discovered in June, are surprisingly proficient at tactics the Marines themselves learned in infantry school.

“They’d flank us, and we’d flank them, just like a chess match,” said Sgt. Jason Lynd, another squad leader in Company C.

In June the Marines ended up in sustained firefights the first four times they left their outpost. The Taliban were always overmatched — attacking the Marines with only one-third the number of men — but they pressed the fight, laying complex ambushes and then cutting off Marines as they made their way back to base.

One fight began after Marines stopped three vans, which they let go. Fifteen minutes later they took fire from two homes near where they had been pursuing a suspicious man they wanted to question. They cleared both buildings, but were then attacked by gunmen behind the homes, some of whom, the Marines believe, had been in the three vans, a few disguised in burqas.

Somehow, none of the Marines were hit in the secondary ambush. “They tried to suck us in, and their plan worked,” Sergeant Tritle said. “They just missed.”

No Marines were killed in the two weeks they were here in June.

In contrast to Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban do not seem to have access to large artillery shells and other powerful military munitions that Anbar fighters used to kill hundreds of Marines and soldiers. The bombs found so far have been largely homemade with fertilizer, though they have still killed more than 20 British soldiers and United States Marines to the north and south of Nawa.

“If they had better weapons, we’d be in real trouble,” said Lance Cpl. Vazgen Matevosyan.

What the Taliban lack in munitions they make up for in tactics, even practicing “information operations” and disinformation, Marines say. Knowing the Marines listen to their two-way communications, they say, the Taliban describe phony locations of ambushes and bombs.

“They’re not stupid,” said Lance Cpl. Frank Hegel. “You can tell they catch on to things, and they don’t make the same mistake twice.”

July 24, 2009

Wolfpack sees OIF from start to finish

From the Rumaylah oil fields in Operation Iraqi Freedom I to Operation Phantom Fury during the retaking of Fallujah to patrolling the western border of Iraq, and now providing security and training for the 11th Iraqi Army Brigade, the Wolfpack Marines have fought our country’s battles in light armored vehicles.


By Sgt. Eric C. Schwartz,
Regimental Combat Team 8

The Marines of Task Force 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion were one of the first LAR battalions to get their treads dirty with Iraqi soil and will be the last LAR battalion to do so during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The battalion has deployed five times throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom’s eight-year transformation, conducting varied operations from the initial invasion to fighting an insurgency, to rebuilding and training the Iraqi Security Forces.

“I see victory all over Iraq today,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Kassner, the battalion commanding officer.

However, Kassner has also witnessed a great deal of struggle during his previous deployments with TF 3rd LAR that show how it has taken many years for the people of Iraq to be victorious.

“There was a time when you wouldn’t see a kid in the street,” Kassner said. “The fact that kids are playing outside and you can see adults playing a soccer match is a victory.”

These small victories are from several years of sacrifice, given to sustain a strong Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces.

Kassner stepped on deck of the battalion in May 2004 and deployed soon thereafter as the battalion executive officer, constructing battleplans to retake Fallujah in Operation Phantom Fury. He also deployed with TF 3rd LAR to conduct counter-insurgency operations along the western Iraqi border the following year. Now he is back as the battalion commander.

“The ISF have a greater capability and willingness than ever before,” Kassner said.

Through his past deployments, he has been witness to the progress that has occurred Anbar andin the professionalization of the ISF

“The enemy was much more aggressive then,” Kassner said.

Using fear tactics and attacks against their own people, the insurgents tried stopping civilians from helping Coalition forces.

“There were people who wanted us here, but they couldn’t express their gratitude because of what would happen to them,” said Cpl. Aaron Garner, an LAV crewman with Headquarters and Service Company, TF 3rd LAR, originally attached to Delta Company, TF 3rd LAR, during Operation Phantom Fury.

“During their first [national] election, it was really creepy,” said Master Sgt. Bill Denman, the operations chief for Bravo Company, 3rd LAR. “Sometimes it would be really quiet and sometimes we would get shot at.”

With weakened security, Iraqi political officials had a hard time enforcing laws and governing their populace.

“Often times the local government was unwilling or unable to effectively govern,” Kassner said.

The Iraqis weren’t alone in the attacks. During the first half of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marines were repeatedly targeted by the same insurgents attacking the ISF and the government of Iraq.

“Even though the enemy was quite elusive, he would constantly attack Coalition forces with [improvised explosive devices] and indirect fire,” Kassner said.

During his first deployment to Iraq, Garner’s vehicle was struck by multiple IEDs, indirect fire and a rocket-propelled grenade.

“An RPG landed about 25 feet in front of my vehicle,” Garner said. “It knocked me off the vehicle and I sustained a class three concussion and a perforated eardrum.”

With help from 3rd LAR and many other Coalition force units, the ISF began to build a stronger force, protecting key leadership from terrorist attacks and allowing the rule of law to govern.

“Everything we do now is by, with and through the Iraqi government,” Denman said.

“Iraq has been made safer by the battalion doing its part fighting the insurgency and showing a strong presence during its deployments,” Garner said.

Kassner, Denman and Garner see a big difference in Iraq today.

“The differences I see now are enhanced ISF security, more effective local governments, increased willingness to work with Coalition forces and a significant decrease on Coalition-force dependence,” Kassner said.

“I go through a lot more water than ammunition now,” Denman said.

With time, the ISF have built a strong military and police force to combat insurgent activity. “We combine our efforts (with the ISF) to interdict and disrupt foreign fighters and smugglers,” Kassner said.

In the past few years, Coalition forces have given the roads back to the GOI and ISF. Now, Iraqis can be seen driving past Marine convoys with Iraqi children waving to the drivers in the tan, behemoth, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

Kassner said that for the past six years, all Iraqis knew about the rules of the road was to get out of the way of Marines driving along the roads. This was to prevent any attempts to attack Coalition forces with vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

“I remember driving on the other side of the road to not allow any VBIEDs to hide with the other [passing] vehicles,” Kassner said. “Our LAVs were attacked by them in the past.”

Kassner has seen the good and bad of Iraq. He’s seen the Iraqi people make the brave choice to help Coalition forces, knowing their lives and their family’s lives were in danger, and he’s seen the ISF put the citizens’ fears to rest.

Being able to see the beginning and the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has allowed Kassner and other Iraq veterans to contemplate the sacrifices their fellow brother and sister warriors have made to make Iraq what it is today.

To Kassner and the Wolfpack, those sacrifices were not made in vain and will be remembered as the legacy of LAR in Iraq comes to a close.

Niles Marine sole survivor of Afghanistan attack

July 24, 2009 (NILES, Ill.) (WLS) -- A Marine from the Chicago area was wounded this week in Afghanistan.


News Video:

By Evelyn Holmes

Now, the Niles-based family of Dominic Davila is trying raise money for a trip to Maryland where the Marine will be taken for treatment.

Supported by comforters, Elizabeth Davila cried tears of joy Friday, grateful that her son Dominic Davila was still alive.

"I thank God he's alive," she said tearfully.

The family of the Marine lance corporeal learned of his near demise Thursday afternoon when military headquarters in Virginia notified them his convoy fell prey to an insurgent's bomb in Afghanistan.

"As a result, he will have to have his right leg below the knee amputated. He [also] has a left-ankle dislocation fracture," said Cassie Bialas, the wounded soldier's cousin.

Davila sustained other injuries, as well. His family members say they haven't figured out how to tell him he was the only survivor of the attack.

Davila has already been transferred to Germany for further medical treatment and could soon be back in the United States for the first time since marrying his sweetheart back in February.
"It's hard. We thank God he's alive. We're not planning a funeral," the wounded soldier's aunt Rose Bialas said.

The 22-year-old was on his second tour of duty in the Afghanistan region after serving a seven-month stint in Iraq. Relatives say, after the military, Davila wanted to spend time with his family, including his dog Sonny, as he pursued his dream to become a Chicago police officer.
That has all changed now.

Although the military is providing plane tickets and lodging for the soldier's parents and wife, his sister, Michelle Davila, still struggles with how to pay for other relatives to go Maryland, where Davila will begin his long recovery.
"I feel like I need to be with him just so he knows that he has my support," she said.

Davila's family is hoping for some financial assistance. The soldier's father is the sole bread winner in the home. Relatives hope to gather enough donations to rotate various extended family members to the East Coast as Dominic Davila heals.

Marines ready as they prepare for Afghanistan

CAMP WILLIAMS -- As the United States intensifies its military mission in Afghanistan, Utah Marines prepare to deploy. We caught up with Charlie Company at the crack of dawn as the Marines trained for their mission.


July 24th, 2009 @ 10:00pm
By Jed Boal

One-hundred-fifty Marines of Company C Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion tune up and train at Camp Williams to take down the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most are Utahns.

Charlie Company is battle tested. Nearly all have been deployed at least once to Iraq, others are on their second or third deployments.

Company commander Capt. Lamar Breshears said, "Getting ready to go to a combat zone, and the Marines are definitely anxious to get over there and get it going with what we have to do in Afghanistan."

Sgt. William Black, of Provo, said, "I think every war is completely different, and we're preparing for this one as if it's a whole new scenario."

They leave for Camp Pendleton, Calif., in early August, then to Afghanistan in November.

Lance Cpl. Brandon Cochran, of Orem, said, "No anxiety yet. Just maybe worried about my wife a little bit. I love the men I work with, and trust them, so I'm not worried about that at all."

During the days and weeks ahead, the Marines are doing a lot of physical training for the mission, but they're also doing a lot of bonding and trust building as well.

Sgt. Ben Jones, of Salt Lake City, said, "All the preparatory stuff, once you get over there, you feel ready. You have the support of the Marines and your family back home, and it usually goes pretty smoothly."

The motorized infantry unit can cover a lot of ground quickly. In Afghanistan, the Marines will work with local people to prevent Taliban influence.

Capt. Breshears said, "If the Taliban show themselves, we'll deal with that when it comes."

When they signed up, these Marines knew they would go to war.

Cpl. Daniel Mayhew, of West Jordan, said, "I'm really excited to do it. I'm excited to learn more, and I'm motivated to help my Marines out that need the help."

It's a big commitment; the reservists among them have left their jobs and families for 400 days.

Cpl. David Reynolds, of Logan, said, "It's one of our core values as Marines -- honor, courage and commitment. So, we are committed to each other and to serving our country."

"We have a job to do. That's what we signed up to do. We're going to go over and do our best," Capt. Breshears said.

July has been the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the almost 8-year war; 34 have now died. Yet, the men of Charlie Company say they are motivated.

As Sgt. Black said, "The Marines are the few and the proud, sir."

The U.S. has nearly 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, a record number.

Marine earns Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for actions in Afghanistan

During the week of April 21, 2008, first platoon, Charlie company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine came under heavy fire from rockets, small arms and machineguns in southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan while serving in support of Operation Azada Wosa.


By Sgt. Alvaro Aro,
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Cpl. Victor H. Ramirez, who was a lance corporal and a team leader for the platoon during the firefight, rushed forward into the enemy fire to direct his team and ultimately formed an action which silenced the enemy fire and allowed his platoon to systematically destroy the enemy’s remaining positions.

For his display of bravery and courage, Ramirez, range coach, Edson range, was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat Distinguishing Device during a ceremony at Edson Range on Camp Pendleton, July 23.

Ramirez, who has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, dedicated his award to three fallen Marines he served with.

“During my first deployment, I lost three great friends who were all senior to me and they are the reason I know what I know now,” he said.

According to the citation, Ramirez saw a 30-meter-wide danger area that needed to be covered by members of his platoon.

Ramirez employed himself and two automatic riflemen to cover the danger area. Ramirez then coordinated the fires of the two automatic riflemen, and ensured that any Marines maneuvering across the ground had covering fire from friendly forces. He engaged the enemy with an anti-tank rocket after coordinating the suppression of his fire team.

“Ramirez’s actions have set an example for all Marines to follow,” said 1st Sgt. Joseph Rocha, Range company first sergeant. “This is a Marine whom junior Marines can look up to and emulate.”

Because of Ramirez’s instant initiative, his platoon was able to return fire and eliminate the enemy’s threat.

“I am happy to watch a deserving Marine get recognized for not only doing his job, but exceeding the standards,” Rocha said.

July 23, 2009

Marines one step closer to successful drawdown

The population of U.S. forces in Iraq is becoming less dispersed throughout the country as Marines and sailors from Combat Logistics Battalion 4 and Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), are packing up and heading out of Camp Baharia and Combat Outpost Rahwah, two bases in Iraq’s Al Anbar province that have been home to Marines since early 2004 and 2005, respectively.


By Lance Cpl. Melissa Latty,
2nd Marine Logistics Group

Services such as disbursing, postal and the Post Exchange are scheduled to close soon, as the number of Marines and sailors on these bases continues to dwindle, reducing the need for full-time services. Instead, the service members remaining at these bases will be supported by Warfighter Express Services teams, a group of three to four Marines who will be making regular visits to these locations to continue making the services available until all forces have left the base.

Prior to the kick-off of drawdown operations, the Marines were supporting around 5,000 service members at each base. With the drawdown of Marine Corps units continuing, the two bases now support about 1,500 personnel total.

As Marines and sailors departing Camp Baharia and COP Rahwah rush to mail their personal belongings home, the postal Marines continue to work hard to get all of the packages to their destinations.

“We extended our hours to give the Marines more time to come and mail their things home,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Felton, the CLB-4 postal chief in Baharia. “There is less mail coming in and more mail going out.”

Felton also said the Marines have been working after-hours in the shop in order to do their part in reducing the Marine Corps’ overall footprint in Al Anbar.

“Our mission is still to provide postal services to the Marines, however we have to focus on clearing this place out as well,” Felton said.

Aside from the long lines at postal, Marines are also standing in line to buy last minute items from the Post Exchange in preparation for their departure.

“Buying habits have changed as the retrograde process progresses,” said Gunnery Sgt. George A. Revenaugh, the CLB-4 retail staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge at Camp Baharia. “Marines are buying less luxury items, such as video games and systems, and are buying more consumable items - materials to mail things home and basic hygiene products.”

When the Post Exchange closes, the Marines left aboard Rahwah and Baharia will rely on a mobile PX lead by the WES teams for their purchases.

The service Marines’ overall missions are shifting focus as they close shops on the bases.

Sgt. David O. Caron, the CLB-4 disbursing chief at Camp Baharia, said the Marines at the disbursing shop are focused on getting accountability of their gear and equipment and setting up movement for their own gear and personnel out of Iraq. This added work load has left the disbursing office, as well as the other service shops, busier than usual.

“Tempo has picked up a great deal in the last month,” said Caron. “We have been going on more missions [lately] … but we won’t fully experience the change until we close shop."

The Marines of 2nd MLG (Fwd) are one step closer to completing the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq.

OCS Blog

Corps Offers Unparalleled Look Inside Officer Training

MARINE CORPS BASE, QUANTICO, Va. (July 23, 2009) – Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC) and Officer Candidate School (OCS) have joined forces to provide America with an inside look at the making of a Marine officer.


Marine Corps Recruiting Command Sgt. Vargas
3280 Russell Rd., 2nd Floor
Quantico, VA 22134

In an unprecedented initiative, the Corps has opened its doors to offer the public direct insight into the transformation men and women undergo to become Marine officers and learn what they go through to earn the right to lead Marines. This is the first time candidates, the term used for men and women attending OCS, have been engaged in an official effort to share their experiences with the public in a social networking forum.

Six candidates will provide blogs at http://our.marines.com/ocsblog to present the American people with a unique look at their journey. The candidates are attending OCS through the Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), a program that breaks up training into two, six-week sessions for college students to attend in the summer.

In addition, staff members at OCS will blog each week to provide insight from a command perspective on how training is going for the candidates.

The candidates providing the blogs come from areas all over the country.

Lawrence Miller describes himself as motivated, though others call it cocky or vain. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, “Zuko,” as his friends call him, is at Chattanooga State University (Tenn.) and is now following in his Marine father’s footsteps. His parents have mixed feelings about his decision to go to OCS, but he is determined.

Shannon Terrian is a New Hampshire girl who graduated from Saint Johns College in Maryland and began her journey at OCS last October. She is back for the second session to finish her training and see if she really has what it takes to lead Marines. Her parents didn’t like the idea of her trying to join the Marine Corps at first, but “Shannon the Cannon” was able to change their minds.

Andy Gomez’ real name is Andres, but he doesn’t tell anyone. He hails from the Dominican Republic, though his family moved all over the world following his father’s Navy career. The Liberty University (Va.) student wants to be an astronaut in the future, but for now, he is working to earn a commission as a pilot.

Friends call Joseph Michael Polakovic “Joe Po,” for which he considers himself lucky because it is only one letter away from “Joe Poo.” This former rugby player is a Colorado native attending the University of Colorado in Boulder. His family supports his decision to attend OCS, but he is nervous to see how he stacks up.

Jeff Neese is a farm boy from New Canton, Ill. – a very small town of about 300 people. Apparently, he was destined to try his hand at the Marine Corps, as he attends Western Illinois University, whose mascot is the Fighting Leathernecks (Marines are also called Leatherneck). He is also returning for the second session of his training and is excited about being back at OCS to finish the challenge.

Ulysses “OJ” Sosa is our final candidate. He is from San Diego and attends Cal State University Dominguez Hills in Carson, Calif. He hails from a military family that is supportive of his decision to go to OCS; in fact, his father just retired from the Marine Corps last October. Although he has been preparing for several months, he is anxious, nervous and excited about what awaits him at OCS.

To follow these candidates and share their journey to see if they have what it takes to lead Marines, visit http://our.marines.com/ocsblog

July 22, 2009

Marines, Afghan security forces meet with hundreds of village elders in Helmand

NAWA DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Key leaders with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, participated in a tribal shura July 19 at the Afghan police compound next to Patrol Base Jaker here.


By Lance Cpl. Daniel A. Flynn,
Regimental Combat Team 3

There were about 300 local elders representing the seven tribes in the Nawa District present at the shura. The Nawa District Chief of Police, Haji Mohammed Nafez Khan, and the Afghan National Army commander for the Nawa District, Captain Saki Dad, were also in attendance.

Lt. Col. William McCollough, commanding officer of 1/5, said, “This was the first time in over a year that this many elders felt safe enough to travel to the district center and make their concerns known.”

Many of the local Afghans used the shura to speak about the need to understand the difference between good and bad Taliban, which was a common topic from the locals who spoke.

Abdul Bari, a local national who spoke at the shura, stated that “Talib” means “student” and went on to say, being a religious student is not a bad thing.

The local nationals also expressed concern about the locations of check points, perceived unauthorized entry into local compounds and homes, respect for their religion and culture as well as the presence and intentions of the International Security Assistance Force personnel.

McCollough used the shura to reassure the elders, and everyone else in attendance, that the Marines are not enemies of Islam and that they also share the same security concerns.

Capt. Saki Dad also spoke at the meeting and stressed the importance of the joint effort between the ANA, the Afghan National Police and the Marines. He went on to voice the need for the local residents to trust and support them, while encouraging them to feel comfortable discussing any issues with them.

Khan spoke next, praising the fact that such a large group came to the Shura and noting that there were members of all the tribes present.

He also asked the locals to report any known improvised explosive devises to the ANA, ANP or ISAF personnel, appealing to their sense of Islamic principles in asking for their cooperation.

Capt. Frank Biggio, 1/5 civil affairs team leader, said, “it was reassuring to hear so many local leaders express confidence in the ANA and ANP partners to improve the security in Nawa.”

McCollough informed the group of elders that the Marines have been asked to introduce themselves to whoever they meet throughout Nawa, so they should expect the Marines to approach them in a friendly manner.

He added that the Marines are not acting alone, but rather in partnership with the ANA and the ANP. The battalion commander reassured the Afghan leaders that they would stay and assist their people until the Afghan forces are able to provide complete security on their own.

He said that the Marines will never prevent anyone from teaching religion and will always try to stop people from teaching bomb-making and other violent practices. McCollough added that people who say the Marines do not respect Islam are not being truthful.

He went on to say that the Marines understand it will take time to earn their trust, and he hopes that, given time, their actions will earn it.

After the shura came to a close, Ian Purves, the stability advisor for Nawa District, expressed his thoughts saying, “The fact that the chief of police could bring together over 300 elders, from seven tribal groups, to represent their communities on such issues as security and working with the Afghan national security forces and Marines, is a big step forward and another indicator of the progress being made in Nawa.”

Local Marine killed on 2nd Iraq tour

Since childhood, New Braunfels man's dream was to join the Marines.

Long before he hit Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Brandon Lara knew he wanted to be a Marine. Not even the outbreak of war in Iraq, when relatives tried to persuade him not to sign up, could shake his will.


By Jeremy Schwartz
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Ever since I can remember, he knew exactly what he wanted to do," his stepmother Gloria Lara said of Brandon Lara. "He's always wanted to be military. Since he was little, he was into guns and swords and knives."

Lance Cpl. Brandon Lara, 20, was killed Sunday in Iraq's Anbar Province while supporting combat operations, according to the Department of Defense. Gloria Lara said officials told her they are still investigating his death. It was Brandon Lara's second tour in Iraq. He was scheduled to return home in time for his birthday in October.

So strong was Lara's desire to join the Marines that he finished his credits at Canyon High a semester early, leaving for boot camp before his May 2006 graduation.

"Before he left on his first tour, he was ready to go," Gloria Lara said. "He knew (the war) was going on and that he would be sent over there, and he was OK with that."

The two communicated constantly on the MySpace social networking site. During their last phone conversation, Brandon Lara told her he was thinking of New Braunfels.

"He was kind of down, missing family," she said. "He wanted to come home."

Anbar, home to the former insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi, has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks after a period of relative peace. Last week, a suicide bomber killed six police officers and wounded 17 at a checkpoint in the province.

Lara was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised Lara on Monday.

"He fought with honor and courage," Schwarzenegger said. "We send our deepest condolences to Brandon's family, friends and fellow Marines as they mourn this terrible loss."

In New Braunfels, family members are trying to cope.

"Everybody's devastated," Gloria Lara said. "We keep looking at it on TV. ... It's just kind of hard to grasp."

Brandon Lara's grandmother, Sofia Torres, said she never imagined that last Christmas would be her last with her oldest grandson.

"Whatever God sends, we have to take it and hold it," Torres said. "But it's going to be hard on us."

[email protected]; 912-2942

July 21, 2009

Embassy group promises exciting career through program

To travel around the world in a diplomatic capacity to any of 148 posts and 133 countries, ensuring the safeguard of classified material is an opportunity Marines have but are not exploring.


By Wandoo Makurdi,
Marine Corps Base Quantico

The Marine Corps Security Embassy Group held a brief at Little Hall July 15, with the hope of educating Marines and enhancing their career opportunities.

With a recruiting tour scheduled across various bases in the United States, Japan and Iraq currently underway, Gunnery Sgt. James Von Dras, of the MCSEG recruiting and screening team, gave a briefing to Marines highlighting some of the benefits to joining the program.

MCESG, a program that has been in existence since 1948, was formed as part of an agreement between the Marine Corps and the State Department to help protect all classified materials, the staff and personnel of U.S. Embassies and Consulates in various countries.

“The school is set up in such a manner so that we can ensure that MSG students are trained to the levels needed for success at their posts,” Von Dras explained. “Our school is demanding, but Marines continually rise to the challenge and succeed.”

Video footage of two Marines stationed in Italy exploring the historical streets and monuments of Rome was shown to enhance the benefit of how living in foreign countries creates the experience of learning about a variety of cultures and improving on one’s foreign relations knowledge.

Von Dras also supported the video with a presentation detailing the expectations of a Marine security guard and other career enhancing benefits, such as opportunities to work with other government agencies and meritorious promotion prospects, the program provides.

However, the program is currently not meeting its expectations in number of Marines enrolled despite the enticing opportunities.

“The problem we’re faced is that individuals don’t know the primary duties of the Marine security guard,” said Von Dras. “That’s why these briefings are so important. It’s so that we can dispel any myths that they may have heard, and so they understand what the duties and functions of a Marine security guard are.”

Sergeants and below would serve three 12 month tours during their commitment, while staff noncommissioned officers serve two 18-month tours. Any Marine between private first class and master gunnery sergeant can apply to join the program, Von Dras said.

“Once a Marine usually hears about what our primary and secondary mission is, the lifestyle, the career enhancement opportunities and capabilities, we find them very eager to join our program,” he said.

To become qualified involves four phases, Von Dras explained to those in attendance; the first of which entails completing a screening package and getting your unit commanding officer and sergeant major to endorse their approval.

There are other stipulations that have to be met during the screening process before Marines are set up for the second phase: an interview with Von Dras. For example, Sergeants and below who are married cannot join the program, but SNCOs on the other hand may be married provided their spouses are non-military and U.S. citizens.

The chances of qualifying are very high, said Von Dras, who noted that about 75-80 percent of those who make it past the screening checklist usually get into the program. But more support for the Marines from their units and career planners on base will help spark more interest.

Most importantly, Von Dras advised that a security clearance should be obtained prior to applying to the program.

“What we’ve seen most often is everyone is qualified on paper until we get to ‘Do you have a security clearance, and they say no!’ and then everything stops,” said Von Dras. “The most important on the list is ensuring that they have a minimum adjudicated secret clearance with a completed phase one screening.”

For units interested in arranging special briefs or for more information on the MCESG program, contact Von Dras at [email protected] or call 703-784-4861.

Swine flu hits 13th MEU while visiting Hawaii

69 test positive for H1N1; crew members with flulike symptoms quarantined

By William Cole - Honolulu Advertiser
Posted : Tuesday Jul 21, 2009 13:45:01 EDT

At least 69 sailors and Marines tested positive for H1N1 swine flu within a Navy ship group now visiting Hawaii.

To continue reading:


Families Send Basics To Marines In Afghanistan

July 21, 2009 · For Marines serving in Afghanistan, mail call can be a little bit like Christmas in July. A package from home can supply everything from basic needs to small luxuries.


by Catherine Welch

One lance corporal summed it up for an NPR producer a couple of weeks ago, cheerfully listing some of the goodies as he unpacked them: "Frito Lay chips, Smart Balance peanut butter, Nutella spread — mmm. Gold Bond foot powder — that's gold, baby! Wipes, cookies and beef jerky — all the essentials."

Those packages are put together by friends and family back in the United States, doing what they can to send their Marines what they need most.

At a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in North Carolina, customers have been donating goods for Marines deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment out of nearby Camp Lejeune.

Assistant Manager Rosa Hamilton says some of the items catch shoppers off guard. "They were like, 'Clothes pins, huh? I never would have thought about that.' And we're like, 'Well, they don't have anywhere to hang their clothes,' " she says.

As she rummages through boxes of donations in a room at the back of the store, Hamilton says the gifts range from baby wipes and hand sanitizer to batteries.

Barbara Breeden organized the drive for donations. She is the wife of Sgt. Maj. Robert Breeden, the battalion's senior enlisted man. She says she knew it was going to be rough in Afghanistan, so the night before the unit left, she asked the men what they thought they might need there.

This is the 11th deployment for the Breedens, but Barbara says it has been different from the past few to Iraq, where Marines operated out of hotels or Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

"A lot of people think that Afghanistan is like Iraq right now, and it's not. They're two totally different things. Iraq is more set up with everything that the guys need," she says. "Afghanistan — they went in with nothing."

Breeden watches the supplies being loaded into the back of her SUV. She'll take them home to sort, box and send.

When her husband told her that the men were doing laundry inside boxes lined with trash bags, she sent vegetable scrubbers to scour shirts and pants. Then she shipped her husband a huge box filled with socks. "He e-mailed me and said, 'Oh, my feet love you,' " she says.

He sends e-mail messages about other things, too.

"They're out there doing their truckin' thing — looking for 'wabbits' as they call it," she says, recalling a story her husband recently related. "And up walks this calf, out of nowhere. This little cow comes up, and he's rubbing on everybody, and following them around and mooing at them, like a dog. So they don't think nothing of it, and they start to leave to go on patrol, and they're on patrol and there's this calf, this calf is following them."

"So they named him 'Burger,' " she says – which means the Marines have either a mascot or a meal. Her husband has already joked that he'll eventually need a care package full of hamburger buns and ketchup.

July 20, 2009

Marines Face Stiff Taliban Resistance

Logistical Difficulties Inhibit Troops During Clashes in Southern Afghan Province

GARMSIR, Afghanistan, July 19 -- Marines pushing deep into a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province battled insurgents in a day of firefights around a key bazaar Sunday, as an operation designed as a U.S. show of force confronted resistance from Taliban fighters as well as constraints on supplies and manpower.


News Video - Marines Raid Bazaar:

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

Insurgents at times showed unexpected boldness as they used machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to fight the advancing Marine forces. Although the Marines overpowered the Taliban with more sophisticated weapons, including attack helicopters, the clashes also indicated that the drive by about 4,500 Marines to dislodge the Taliban from its heartland in Helmand is running up against logistical hurdles.

The firefights erupted a day after the Marines raided Lakari Bazaar in Garmsir district, a market that the Taliban has long used to store and make weapons and drugs, as well as to levy taxes on civilians. The Taliban until now had free rein in the area because there had been virtually no Western or Afghan government presence.

"This has been their turf for a long time, and now we are in here, invading their space," said Capt. John Sun, Fox Company commander, at his makeshift headquarters in a fabric stall inside the bazaar. "The bazaar was a huge financial and logistics base for the Taliban, and they want to get that back."

The Marine advance began Friday when Fox Company, a unit of roughly 200 Marines, traveled in open-back trucks on a grueling, overnight journey east and south through the desert to avoid routes implanted with bombs. The Taliban has littered the main routes in Garmsir with roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices or IEDs, forcing U.S. commanders to bar most travel by military vehicles on those roads. The number of IED attacks in southern Afghanistan has surged 78 percent over the past year, with much of the increase in Helmand.

Arriving at Lakari Bazaar at daybreak Saturday for the raid, the Marines went door to door, using explosives, rifles and axes to break into each store.

"Breaching!" yelled Lance Cpl. Travis Koehler, 21, of Fountain Valley, Calif., as he shot off a lock with his MK-12 marksman's rifle and kicked open the door for a team of Marines to enter. "All clear!"

Afghan soldiers advised by British troops searched the market and together with the Marines uncovered mortars, grenades, ammunition, and thousands of 100-pound bags of opium poppy and bomb-making materials, as well as facilities where the bombs and drugs were produced. They found tax receipts and recruiting leaflets calling on young men to join the Taliban and kill British and U.S. troops.

"The bazaar has been used by the Taliban as a staging area, weapons cache and profit base," by taxing local vendors, Sun said.

The Taliban had left the market before the raid, however, and only a handful of shopkeepers were around, leaving it deserted but for a few cats and donkeys.

Late Saturday, Sun received word that the Taliban was regrouping in a nearby village across a canal to the west. At 3 a.m. Sunday, he launched 2nd Platoon, which includes dozens of Marines, on a foot patrol to investigate. At about 8, the patrol moved into an open field, where it was ambushed by Taliban fighters positioned in two tree lines to the south and east.

When Taliban fighters fired the first shot with an AK-47 assault rifle, Sgt. Benjamin Pratt thought one of his Marines had discharged a round accidentally, he recounted. "Hey, who shot?" he called back to his squad. But within seconds, the men realized they were under fire.

"Where is the . . . fire coming from?!" shouted Lance Cpl. James Faddis, 21, of Annapolis, Md. Faddis, in his first firefight, was the M-240 machine gunner for a weapons team that had advanced farther across the field than any other Marines and initially took the most direct fire from Taliban rifles and machine guns. Bullets were cracking around their heads and kicking up dust nearby.

"Get your gun up!" yelled Cpl. Jonathan Kowalski, 25, of Erie, Pa., ordering the Marines to fire toward the tree line to the south, where he saw muzzle flashes and Taliban fighters in dark dishdashas running between positions.

The insurgents began firing mortar rounds, honing their aim until one landed just 150 yards from the Marines. The Marines called in mortars of their own, which were fired from the bazaar onto the tree line, causing a few minutes' lull in the fighting.

Faddis and his team scrambled and crawled to a better position, but on the way Kowalski dropped his radio. So he and the other machine gunners had to shout to the infantrymen to indicate they could move forward.

Sgt. Deacon Holton bounded into the soggy field along with Cpl. Clayton Bowman and other Marines, running and slipping through knee-deep mud saturated from recent irrigation.

As the Marines maneuvered, a Huey and a Cobra attack helicopter flew in low overhead, circling above to spot the fighters. Capt. Brian Hill, the forward air controller, put on a bright orange panel and wore it like a cape to identify the Marine position.

Often Taliban fighters flee when helicopters arrive, Sun said, but this time they stayed, and attempted to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at one of the aircraft. The Huey made two strafing runs with its Gatling guns over the tree lines, while the Cobra fired missiles, finally ending the firefight. The helicopter crew spotted at least two dead Taliban fighters.

Although the Marines asked to pursue the Taliban fighters south, more senior commanders denied the request. Sun said he thinks the problem was a lack of helicopters to provide air power and to evacuate any possible casualties, as well as roads that had not been cleared of bombs.

"Due to the limited numbers of helicopters available, it would not have been in our best interest to get decisively engaged," Sun said. In addition, moving south would leave the bazaar open to attack, he said.

But some Marines voiced disappointment at not being able to track the Taliban, saying that decision may have allowed the insurgents to stage fresh attacks on the bazaar later in the afternoon. Faddis, Kowalski and their machine-gunning team were on guard duty in a mud-brick structure in the market that had a window facing fields to the south when shots broke out from a nearby compound. Faddis spotted a target and fired back. "They're moving out of the compound!" one Marine yelled, unleashing another volley of machine-gun fire.

The gun battle was complicated by the presence of women, children and shepherds in adjacent fields. Having staked out a claim in Lakari Bazaar, Sun said, the question remains whether his company should continue to hold this relatively strung-out position or pull back, knowing such a move would allow the Taliban to return, at least temporarily. "That's a dilemma," Sun said.

Vaccination Amendment Added to Defense Bill

(Springfield, MO) -- The U.S. Senate is in the middle of debating a comprehensive defense bill. A Springfield family has its own reasons for wanting a new amendment to the bill passed.

Click on above link for a news video.

Reported by: Jennifer Denman
Monday, Jul 20, 2009 @06:29pm CST

Marine Lance Corporal Josef Lopez nearly died after receiving a small pox vaccination before he was deployed. But, veterans who are injured from vaccinations aren't treated the same as someone shot on the front lines. The family wanted to change this and Senator Claire McCaskill took notice.

"When he went to Iraq, I was afraid he would get hurt, but I had not idea it would be anything like this," explains Barbara Lopez, Josef's mom.

Lopez was given a small pox vaccine before he deployed in 2006. Nine days later, he was in a hospital overseas in a coma, with not much hope for recovery.

"My immune system ate away at my spinal cord," explains Lance Corporal Lopez.

"I believe he was injured in the line of duty," adds Barbara.

But Lopez wasn't treated with the same benefits and did not qualify for the help given to veterans who suffer major injuries.

"We know several other people who had reactions to the vaccine and who are in the same boat. They apply, but they get denied because they say you were shot with a needle, but not with a bullet and it's kind of frustrating," says Lopez.

So Barbara Lopez took her fight to Washington and Claire McCaskill joined her on the front lines in the battle for military benefits.

"It's just a simple issue of not being fair. The way the system is set up currently and needing to fix that regardless of whether it's from a vaccine or from some other sort of injury," explains Maria Speiser, press secretary for Sen. McCaskill.

An amendment introduced to a defense bill would extend benefits of up to $100,000 for veterans like Lopez.

"Hopefully, it will get a vote before the legislation is finished at the end of the week," adds Speiser.

"There will be others and we would like to make it easier for others," adds Barbara Lopez.

"It really does make a difference when you write in and let people know your views," says Josef Lopez.

A view showing that even though his service was short, he still served and was injured because of it.

Senator McCaskill's office says a vote should take place on that bill by the end of the week.

Right now, Josef Lopez is doing much better. He was granted medical retirement from the military at the end of June and plans to attend MSU this fall. Barbara Lopez has written a book about his experience. It's called "First One Home" and it comes out this fall.

New marine recruits in the US are required to get a lot of vaccinations. They include measles, mumps, polio, rubella and yellow fever. They also get an influenza shot and are vaccinated against meningitis. The troops will also get boosters on down the road and they may get many more shots depending on where they will be deployed. For instance, small pox and anthrax vaccinations are given if the recruit is heading to a country where a biological threat is possible.

July 19, 2009

Essex, Australian Forecasters Work Together to Improve Meteorological Teamwork

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) worked closely with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) July 17 to improve combined meteorological efforts during exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09).


Story Number: NNS090719-07
Release Date: 7/19/2009 9:17:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taurean Alexander, USS Essex Public Affairs

Essex's aerographer's mates are working with a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) forecaster in Essex's Meteorology and Oceanography Center to provide up-to-date weather forecasts and maps to the fleet.

"We're basically taking our normal procedures and combining them with the Australians' knowledge of the area," said Aerographer's Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Aaron Wimberly. "Instead of just using our procedures, we have a joint forecast every day for TS09."

RAN Lt. Michael Jagger explained that Essex and RAN aerographer's mates perform similar duties to predict the forecast.

"There aren't many differences because what we do is pretty standard around the world," said Jagger. "We use the same satellites, internet and we all use computers; it just depends on what region of the world you happen to be in."

The Australians' knowledge of the area has been helpful in providing information to TS09 senior coordinators.

"Together, we have a joint website with weather updates, radar data and tides and currents to give to landing craft air cushion (LCAC) vehicles, landing craft utility (LCU) and pilots, so they have a better grip on where to land," said Wimberly.

To generate the daily forecast, aerographer's mates run a model forecast and compare it to real-time data to see how well the model aligns.

"We launch a weather balloon every night to get data to provide forecasts for TS09," said Wimberly. "Throughout the day, our guys go outside every 30 minutes and do a manual reading of weather, seas and the skies."

"The weather can change at the drop of a dime, or our radar might not pick up something, so we're on top of it to keep all exercises we do on track," said Wimberly. "Essex's radar tends to pick up major weather items, but with the Australians' help, we're able to locate smaller systems."

In addition to working together to forecast weather, Jagger is aboard Essex for other reasons.

"In 2013, our Navy will be receiving two new landing ships," said Jagger. "So I'm here to see how other ships run their METOC."

Aerographer's Mate Airman Bryan Boone said working with a different country's Navy has been a great experience.

"Mr. Jagger is a pleasure to work with; he has immense knowledge and is a joy to work with," said Boone. "I'm sure we'll miss him when he leaves."

TS09 is a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations, which will help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Brent Canady, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.

Effort To Give Every Injured Marine A Letter Showing America Cares.

ST. LOUIS MO ( KTVI-FOX2Now.com ) - There is an effort underway by moms of St. Louis area Marines to make sure no injured Marine is left without a letter showing them America cares.


News Video:

Teresa Woodard
4:03 PM CDT, July 19, 2009

"They really love the kids letters, the kids cards," says Connie Ploudre, smiling as she watches five year old Joey Patterson craft a card.

At first Joey couldn't figure out what to write. First came his name, then a drawing of a house, and to top if off, he placed a sticker of a star. To some Marine, somewhere, Joey's card could change everything.

"They write us back and say, 'That made me get through a day'," says Ploudre. "And each day is a day for them, they don't have the ability to think a month or two, because they just don't know."

Ploudre works through Operation PAL, which stands for prayers and letters. Marines injured in Iraq and Afghanistan will see the drawing from Joey and read notes from other Americans, thanks to Ploudre and other Marine moms like Judee Wilson. They set up a booth at the annual Woodson Terrace Days festival to solicit words from strangers.

"We try to go through and read every single one of them," says Ploudre. "It touches the heart so much."

Sunday morning's grim news from the war zone of the Taliban video of a captured American soldier was like a dagger through the heart of every military family, including the Ploudres and Wilsons.

"America should not forget that we have a man being captured, that's being held," says Ploudre. "He needs to know we're behind him, thinking of him, he won't know it till he comes in."

Ploudre's son is a not-yet-deployed marine and she knows it is when, not if. Wilson's son Matthew is in Iraq, but safe. So the notes they collect are thankfully not for their boys, but they are for someone's son. Someone who needs to hear a thank you.

"The encouragement," explains Ploudre when asked why she does it. "They need to know the US and and small towns..like Woodson Terrace, is behind them 100%, and we just want them to get better."

More information can be found at http://www.operationpal.com/ and http://www.marineparents.com/.

Assault Craft Unit 5, Beachmaster Unit 1 Conduct Successful Beach Landings

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors from Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5 and Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1 took a trip to the beach aboard a landing craft air cushion (LCAC) vehicle July 17.


Story Number: NNS090719-10
Release Date: 7/19/2009 11:05:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gabriel S. Weber, USS Essex Public Affairs

The LCAC transit was the initial wave of an amphibious assault launched from the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) as part of exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09).

Moving hundreds of Marines and dozens of vehicles from ship to shore in a timely fashion requires a great deal of teamwork from Sailors and Marines.

"We usually take the BMU guys in on the first run," said Senior Chief Sonar Technician (Surface) (SW/IUSS) Steven Wise, an ACU 5 LCAC craftmaster. "Then they set up the beach for the rest of the runs."

Once the beachmasters are ashore, their mission is to secure the beachhead and prepare a craft landing zone for the remaining waves of LCACs.

"We normally get in really early and conduct a foreign object debris walk-down on the staging area of the beach to make sure there is no debris that can damage the LCACs," said Quartermaster 1st Class (SW/AW) Melvin Cassidy, the senior ramp marshal for BMU 1.

The beachmaster Sailors are also responsible for the safety of personnel already on the beach, including local civilians.

"It's our beach," said Seaman Dominique Hagans, a BMU 1 ramp marshal. "We set it up; we control it. When we were in Cambodia, there were thousands of people surrounding us while LCACs were flying in and out on a small beach. We kept everybody back and brought the LCACs in safely."

Even as one LCAC is offloading personnel and machines to the beach, other ACU 5 crews are conducting their own runs to and from the ship.

"We've got three craft out here," said Wise. "So we're running loads non-stop. We're on the beach, in the water and in the ship's well deck all at the same time."

Coordinating simultaneous trips between Essex and the beach requires vigilant and accurate communications across the board.

"We need to have really good communications with the BMU guys, for their safety and ours," said Wise. "We also talk to well deck control and the ship's combat information center pretty much non-stop while we're flying."

ACU 5 and BMU 1 are embarked aboard USS Essex while participating in TS09, a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations, which will help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Brent Canady, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. amphibious ready group and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

1st female Marine One pilot reflects on tenure

By Darlene Superville - The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Jul 19, 2009 13:21:41 EDT

WASHINGTON — Jennifer Grieves wanted independence, exposure and something she could be proud of when she joined the Marine Corps. She got all that, and more — including a place in history as the first woman to ever pilot Marine One, the president’s helicopter.

To continue reading:


July 18, 2009

World’s oldest man, WWI vet, dies at 113

By Danica Kirka - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Jul 18, 2009 15:02:00 EDT

LONDON — Only death could silence Henry Allingham.

To continue reading:


July 17, 2009

Essex Conducts Amphibious Assault

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a full-scale amphibious assault off the coast of Australia as part of exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) July 15.


Story Number: NNS090717-11
Release Date: 7/17/2009 12:54:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs

The exercise utilized all of Essex' amphibious warfare capabilities and demonstrated acute teamwork and communication shipwide.

"Effective cooperation and communication are critical to the success of an amphibious assault," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex' commanding officer. "Today's exercise was an enormous challenge for everyone, but we hit every milestone and met that challenge together."

Throughout the day, Essex Sailors continually pushed the ship to her limits, offloading hundreds of battle-dressed Marines through waves of landing craft, air-cushioned (LCAC) vehicles and an ensemble of aircraft supplied by the 31st MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE).

The pieces were set in motion hours before dawn, as the first series of LCACs launched from the well deck. Sailors worked in Essex' well deck, coordinated the launch and recovery of numerous LCACs and maintained constant communications with the ship's debark control, combat cargo and engineering department.

"We never stop talking to each other," said Chief Damage Controlman (SW) Mark Magee, Essex' ballast control officer. "Every detail matters - where the vehicles are parked, how many troops are boarding, how much fuel is on the LCACs and the course and speed of the ship. All of these things come into play, and communication is 100 percent essential."

Superior communication also translated into success for the Sailors responsible for guiding the LCACs in and out of the well deck, said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Jeremiah Skriba, well deck ramp marshal.

"There's a lot to worry about out here if communications are poor," said Skriba. "When the craft isn't lining up with the stern, you have to make adjustments, and you need to be able to communicate that."

After cycling in and out of Essex' well deck to take on more Marines, vehicles and cargo, the LCACs stormed the beach in unison with support from 31st MEU Air Combat Elements (ACE) air power, as CH-46E Sea Knight, CH-53E Sea Stallion and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harriers soared overhead. Standing on the beach, at the heart of the activity, were the ramp marshals of Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1, Detachment Western Pacific, who were charged with organizing ground movements.

"It's our job to make sure the Marines and their cargo get on the beach safely," said Seaman Dominique Hagans, a ramp marshall with BMU-1. "Sometimes a craftmaster can lose control of a craft, and someone could get run over, so communication is important in preventing that kind of accident."

Aside from clear communications with the craftmasters, beachmasters must stay in contact with well deck control and a BMU-1 representative on the ship, said Hagans.

"It takes everyone working together to be successful," he said. "That's exactly what happened today."

Of course, a full-scale amphibious assault projecting simultaneous air and sea power wouldn't be possible without a cohesive effort from the Sailors in Essex' primary flight control tower and the amphibious air traffic control center (AATCC). It was their concerted effort that ensured flight operations went smoothly, as swarms of ACE helicopters and jets lifted off from the flight deck and touched down on the beach.

Essex' AATCC normally maintains radio communication with all military aircraft outside a five-mile radius of the ship. Once an aircraft comes within five miles, communications are transferred over to primary flight control. In addition, AATCC is also in constant contact with the bridge and debark control.

"We have to work very closely with primary flight control to make sure that we have a smooth handoff when an aircraft crosses that five mile marker," said Air Traffic Controlman 3rd Class Max Bridge, AATCC supervisor. "A loss of communications would mean stopping everything."

While Essex' air traffic controlmen tracked aircraft on radar screens from the AATCC, primary flight control Sailors kept an eye out for the safety of flight deck personnel and the success of the mission.

"We depend on AATCC to notify us of what's coming in," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Travis Trotter, primary flight control status board operator.
"We have to be on the same page. Say we have an aircraft due at a certain time but no communications. We might try to spot an aircraft for takeoff on the same spot that he's coming in to land on. We can't let something like that happen."

Essex Sailors managed to avoid all the potential perils of a communication breakdown, as they finished the exercise without missing a step, said Canady.

"I'm very proud of what we accomplished together today," he said. "It was a great example of how we can push our amphibious warfare capabilities to new levels by working together as a team."

TS09 is a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations, which will help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

President Obama's Historic First Female Helicopter Pilot

Maj. Jennifer Grieves Is the First Woman to Fly the President in Marine One Helicopter

Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female helicopter aircraft commander in the history of Marine One, the HMX-1 helicopter the president of the United States flies on.


July 17, 2009

Like Air Force One, the presidential plane, it is only called Marine One when the president is aboard.

"It's not really about being a female," said Grieves, 38. "It's about being a Marine and about being part of an organization that is exceptional."

There are only five Marine pilots selected at any one time to fly the president and his family.

"Of course, it's nerve wracking to fly the president of the United States," she said. "I think my most stressful days are when I fly Sasha and Malia."

Marines take no chances when flying, even on the simplest of flights. They follow the exact same protocol for every flight, no matter who is on board.

But sometimes more daunting than the passengers is the South Lawn of the White House. There are no runways to land on -- just landing disks the Marines call pucks.

"The pucks are very small that we have to land on, so it's certainly intimidating the first couple times you do it," Grieves said. "You have all the cameras on you."

Marine One has been landing on the South Lawn since 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower had to get back to the White House from Rhode Island in a hurry.

Grieves enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1990 -- almost 20 years ago. Growing up, she wanted to become a veterinarian, but once in the Marines, she was encouraged to go to college and then flight school. Grieves chose the Marine Corps because it had the most rigorous training program.

"It ended up being one of the best decisions I've ever made," she said.

Since May 2008, Grieves has traveled to seven countries, including Russia, Croatia and Great Britain, to assist the president. Most recently, she flew him in Italy.

"I went to Rome for the G-8," Grieves said. "We were there a couple weeks, and then we went directly from Rome to St. Louis so he could throw out the first pitch at the All-Star game. And then I flew my last flight the day I got back home.

"It's a very busy schedule," she added. "I would have to say I'd do it for free."

Grieves Flies With All-Female Crew
Grieves won't be earning her paycheck as a Marine One pilot any longer. Most Marine One pilots have the job for a year. She has been flying the president for the past 14 months and her last trip was this week.

To honor her, the Marines arranged for Grieves' last flight to have an all-female crew -- the first in history to ever fly the president.

"As far as the female crews go, I was so incredibly proud of both of them when we came and landed," she said. "Everything about [the flight] has probably made my Marine Corps career. And if I were to retire in six months, I would retire knowing that I've been part of an exceptional organization."

President Obama acknowledged the work she has done on behalf of her country. He came in to the cockpit of the helicopter and thanked her for her service. He also gave her a rare presidential coin.

"He told us that he was very proud of us -- and not in a condescending way, but as a military-members way, as a father-of-two-daughters way," she said. "And he just thanked us again, and it was a special moment for me."

Grieves may have been the president's pilot, but she's a Marine first.

"Obviously, meeting the president of the United States is an exceptional opportunity," she said. "But I think just being a Marine is far above that privilege."

July 16, 2009

Big homecoming for recovering Marine

DENVER - In a place where crowds are a given and homecomings happen every day, a couple of hundred people, most perfect strangers, gathered to surprise one man in a way that doesn't happen every day.

Please click above link for news video.


posted by: Jeffrey Wolf written by: Anastasiya Bolton
July 16, 2009

Sherra Basham has never met Lance Corporal John Thomas Doody or his family. She heard about him coming home and decided people needed to show up to honor the 26-year-old Marine.

"I'm here to show a Marine how much America cares for his sacrifice and everything he's done for us," Basham said. "For me it's every American in these United States taking a moment to say thank you Lance Corporal Doody."

Basham got about 75 of her friends to come celebrate the Marine's return.

J.T. as most people call him, was shot three times in the leg in Iraq in March 2007.

Then, the infection he got paralyzed him and put him in a coma. Wednesday, he arrived back in Denver, alive and able to talk, a miracle the way his family sees it.

"Makes me have goose bumps," said Cyndi Larson, Doody's cousin. "So excited. John's gonna love it. He deserves everything he gets."

About 30 members of Doody's family were at Denver International Airport for the homecoming. They hadn't seen him in more than two years.

When Doody's mother, Chris Ott, wheeled him out of the elevator at Denver International Airport, the crowd went wild with clapping and cheering.

"Oh my God, this is awesome, there are so many people here," Ott said.

Recently able to speak again, her son didn't say much, but what he did say, said it all.

"I love home," Doody said. "It's good to be back."

Representatives from each branch of the military were there to greet Doody, including the American Red Cross, USO, Patriot Guard, Leather Necks, Combat Vets, Veterans of Vietnam, Christain Motorcycle Association, Young Marines, Freedom Riders and American Legion Riders, American Legion family as well. Not to mention many other service organizations and groups as well as individual citizens.

Wounded Iraq War veteran receives hero's welcome at DIA

DENVER - Lance Corporal John T. Doody is finally back home in Colorado. But it wasn't an easy trip.


Jon Bowman KDVR Reporter
4:28 AM MDT, July 16, 2009

Doody was wounded in Iraq just three months after getting in-country. He was shot three times, one round shattering his leg another destroying the nerve to his foot.

But, that wasn't the worst of his injuries. While recovering at the San Diego Naval Hospital, Doody contracted a bacterial mass that wound up lining his heart. The flakes from the mass broke up and went to his brain which triggered strokes leaving his speechless, blind and paralyzed.

J.T.'s rehab is going well, he can speak and raise his arm and even move the fingers on his left hand. Great progress for sure.

J.T.'s mother, Chris, says her son's condition won't allow for him live in his home town, but his biggest wish was to come home and say thank you to all his friends and family for all their support. That's exactly what happened Wednesday night when around 200 friends, relatives, and fellow veterans greeted J.T. as he arrived at Denver International Airport.

"I am feeling much better now, in fact I feel like a million bucks," said the Marine. "I am alive and still think I can make a difference in this world!"

John, let me tell you one thing, your sacrifice and service has already made a difference my friend.

Stricken Marine spurs senator’s amendment

Gannett Washington Bureau - Gannett Washington Bureau
Posted : Thursday Jul 16, 2009 20:48:40 EDT

WASHINGTON — Marine Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez of Springfield has spent the last three years recovering from a smallpox vaccination that left him paralyzed and nearly took his life.

To continue reading:


Marines Waiting on Basic Supplies

U.S. Marines pushing deeper into Taliban territory in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley are short of basic equipment and supplies ranging from radios and vehicles to uniforms.

Click above link for news video.

By Ann Scott Tyson | July 16, 2009; 6:30 AM ET

Here in Garmsir District, critical supplies of food, water and ammunition are being dropped to troops by helicopters ferrying sling-loads to bypass roads implanted with bombs, leaving little room to carry other gear.

Several Marines from one company, for example, ripped their pants during an arduous foot march and are still waiting for replacements — some in boxer shorts, officers said.

“We’re short vehicles, we’re short frog-suits [uniforms] ... radios are trickling in,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Larosa of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Larosa said that the lack of basic gear is unprecedented in his experience, which includes seven other deployments. “This is a first,” he said.

Another logistical challenge is that Marine camps and outposts here are mainly being built from scratch because the Marines are the first coalition forces to move into southern Helmand in significant numbers, and the area lacks existing facilities to house them.
Many supplies did not begin to arrive until the Marines themselves deployed, Larosa said, and with intensive operations underway, their delivery is still lagging behind.

With such urgent demand for critical items, non-essentials such as mail, toiletries and tobacco have become rare luxuries at Marine outposts. “They either send chow and water or mail — I’d much rather have the water” in the 100-plus degree heat, said Larosa.

Still, the deprivation is taking a toll. “No mail, no PX. People are starting to get ornery,” said one officer. Mail has arrived about three times in the past month and a half.

Marines in the battalion are exploiting every possible opportunity to get supplies needed for the troops. For example, when Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson flew in for a commanders' meeting at Camp Delhi today, he was asked to bring with him a fresh supply of plastic "wag" bags that Marines use to dispose of human waste.

"Hey, did we get the wag bags?" Nicholson asked his staff before departing.

Earlier this week, Larosa decided to launch a one-man supply chain. Armed with orders from his men and a large plastic crate, he jumped on a helicopter to the nearest large base, Camp Leatherneck near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Once there, armed with $1,200 of his own money, he literally stripped the PX shelves of cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Larosa’s shopping spree irritated customers at Leatherneck, but, arriving back at the camp in Garmsir, he was greeted as a conquering hero.

“This is my craziest deployment yet,” he said. He is keeping the stash of tobacco at the foot of his cot until he can distribute it all to those who placed orders.

CO Soldier Receives Hero's Welcome

DENVER (CBS4) ― A wounded war veteran received a hero's welcome at Denver International Airport on Wednesday.


Jul 16, 2009 9:54 am US/Mountain
Jodi Brooks

Lance Corporal J.T. Doody was wounded in 2007 during a battle with insurgents in Fallujah.

Six months into his recovery, he suffered a brain infection that could have killed him.

Doody is now mostly paralyzed and is also blind.

He hasn't been home since he was injured, and the Denver native's mom, Chris Ott, wanted to create a homecoming he would always remember.

She thanked the hundreds who gathered to support her son, even those who did not know him.

Steve Marsh is with the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, and was one of the supporters at Doody's welcome that hadn't met him before.

"No, I've never met him, but he's a serviceman so therefore I feel that we need to honor him."

While Doody couldn't see the hundreds of people like Marsh waiting to greet him, he could hear them.

"I love home, it's good to be home," Doody said.

Doody lives in Tampa, Florida. His mother says he can't live in Colorado because of his medical condition.

Doody's family also plans to hold a reception this Saturday afternoon.
It will start at 2 p.m. at the Hampton Inn in Brighton.The reception is open to the public.

July 15, 2009

Expeditionary chaplain maintains battalion’s spiritual readiness

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Imagine having thousands of brothers and sisters. Imagine how worried you’d be about whether they’re comfortable, safe or taking care of themselves.


July 15th, 2009
Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox

Then imagine you could do something for each and every one of them.

Military chaplains do that.

“I served in the Marine Corps myself for about four years from ‘93 to ‘97,” said Lt. Ronald O’Dell, chaplain for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, currently deployed here. “I had a lot of opportunities to help guys with spiritual problems and it became something I really enjoyed.”

Between his days as a young enlisted Marine and wearing a Navy lieutenant’s rank as he does now, the man who calls Ware Shoals, S.C., his home had several opportunities that could have given him a completely different life. He got out and began preparing himself for his own ministry through local church involvement while he was working as a South Carolina state counselor. Before long, he was working as a full-time minister, even before he went to seminary school. With a pretty clear direction in life to follow, for the dark haired and easy going O’Dell there was still something missing in the career path puzzle.

That last piece was fit in by one of his seminary professors who was also a good friend. He spoke to his student about the life and responsibilities of military chaplains.

“One stark difference is you live and travel with your parishioners,” O’Dell explained. “The reason it appealed to me is you get to see what they see, do what they do and experience what they experience. You gain their respect and trust because of the sacrifice you’re making with them.”

The opportunity fit his personality and desires like a glove.

O’Dell went on to earn a commission in the Navy Chaplain Corps. He was offered the rank of lieutenant junior grade because of his experience and professional training. So with new, silver bars on his collar, he made his way to his first duty station as an officer, the Naval Consolidated Brig at Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C. From there, he transferred back into Marine green in May 2007, joining 1/5 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“We went with the 11th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit),” he said about his first deployment with his new Marines. “After that I was fortunate enough to stay on and deploy to Afghanistan.”

Where he is today.

Like most deployed service members, O’Dell has family back home. The difference between his family and most others is that O’Dell’s wife, Amy, is as important to his professional responsibilities as him physically being with his Marines. Not only is she active with the Family Readiness Team, she also works closely with local churches and veterans organizations to try and maintain family strength, motivation and a sense of community while the Marines are away.

“We just recently had a lot of births in our battalion,” explained O’Dell. “One of the churches offered to have a baby shower. She coordinated that.”

She coordinates events to bring families together, but Amy also keeps track of noteworthy events, like actual births, and makes sure O’Dell is informed about important family information.

“She’s good at keeping abreast of things,” O’Dell said. “I’m a chaplain for 1,200 Marines. Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up with things.”

After 18 years of marriage, the O’Dells have children and care about each other as much as they ever did. Only now, they also function together as a professional team that intimately understands every aspect of the service they provide.

“What I enjoy most about working with my husband is the fact that we can empathize with the families we serve,” Amy said from her home in California. “We know what it’s like to stand on a parade deck and wave goodbye or stand on a dock and wait until the ship becomes a tiny speck before leaving. You feel the same heartaches and joys as the men and women you serve.”

Caring for anything enough to dedicate your life to it is a calling few humans have the courage to undertake. To make a decision to serve those who serve their country in the most demanding conditions around the globe adds yet another dimension to a life of sacrifice. Nevertheless, there are a few perks to the job.

“It’s gratifying to have guys come up to me and ask, ‘When are you doing another service?’” O’Dell remarked. “It’s good to know the guys are not only interested in the service, but also to be a part of a service you are leading.

“To me it demonstrates they have a connection with their chaplain,” he continued.

From the outside looking at the unit, it is unmistakable that O’Dell feels a connection with the men of his battalion.

“There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing,” he said. “Although it is laborious, it’s much more satisfying than it is laborious. I feel like I’m contributing to something that will have a lasting effect.”

More than contributing to the unit’s overall effectiveness, which every chaplain does, O’Dell feels like his accomplishment is far more personal for each of his Marines.

“If they’re not spiritually ready, it definitely impacts their performance,” he said before the beginning of Operation Khanjar here earlier this month. “Our Marines are spiritually equipped.

“They’re brave, courageous men who give themselves sacrificially for the cause of freedom and the love of their country,” O’Dell said of his Marines.

Military chaplains care about their Marines. They take action to ensure their charges and their families are as comfortable as possible in an uncomfortable situation. But the O’Dell’s are different. They’ve been through what their Marines are going through as one of them. They’re more than the battalion chaplain and his wife. They’re also a Marine family whose job description happens to include, “Ensure your brothers and their families are cared for.”

1/5 is part of Regimental Combat Team 3 whose primary focus remains conducting counter-insurgency operations in southern Afghanistan alongside Afghan national security forces in order to allow the legitimate government to provide a secure environment for the people living here.

In the Heat of Afghanistan, Shades of Iraq

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Rising insurgency, rules of engagement, roadside bombs ... there’s something about Afghanistan that looks, sounds and feels like Iraq.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009
By Matt Sanchez

As Marines fight the Taliban in Helmand Province, there is no doubt that the lessons learned in Iraq are influencing the war in Afghanistan. Do the troops have enough supplies? Are there enough troops? Are the rules of engagement clear? For the Iraq retread, how can the military avoid past mistakes while moving forward?

“We are light; we’re not complaining about what we got,” Sgt. Major Robert L. Caldwell of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines told FOXNews.com at the Fiddler’s Green fire base.

“Everyone will always say they can use more, but there’s a difference between what you need and what you want,” Caldwell says in his South Carolina accent.

You go to war with what you have, but equipment saves lives, no matter how eager the Marines are to fight.

“We could use some more MRAPs,” Caldwell says.

The MRAP — the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — has earned mixed reviews among the troops in Afghanistan. Mechanics complain of springs that bust too frequently. The sheer weight of the vehicles gets them stuck in the dusty pathways that pass for roads here.

The military has placed orders for a lighter, smaller, all-terrain MRAP, but in the meantime the mammoth MRAP's higher blast protection is offset by a lack of spare parts.

“My vehicles and equipment are taking a beating,” says Lt. Col. Chris Braney, executive officer of Combat Logistics Battalion Eight, the Marine engineers tasked with building bases in hostile territory.

“I have 51 percent of the vehicles I’m allotted,” he says.

Transportation, equipment and supplies are all in high demand in Afghanistan, and vehicles come from wherever possible, including Iraq. “This stuff comes in gluts; everyone is aware of the situation,” Braney says.

Related StoriesAs Death Toll Rises, Marines Stay Focused in Afghanistan
'Incorruptible' Commandos Sign of Hope for Afghanistan's Future
Photo EssaysTaking Heat in Afghanistan
“When we come in, we come in big,” said Gunnery Sgt. Victor O. Marks, the utilities chief. The Miami, Fla., native sees supply scarcity as a natural growing pain.

“Supplies is always an issue,” he says. “My job is always about suspension or improvement. This is only going to get bigger.” He motions to a row of tents behind him, where a group of Marines are fanning themselves because the A/C has blown out.

The 120-degrees-and-climbing heat is not new for those who have patrolled in Iraq, but at 2,000 feet above sea level, the Helmand heat steals stamina and sends more Marines to the medical tent.

“We’ve seen a big increase in heat casualties,” says Navy MD Lt. Heather Hinshelwood.

The military tries to adapt. Flame Resistant Organizational Gear is standard issue, along with a higher grade of body armor and a 1-liter Kamelbak in place of the old canteen. “The FROG uniform is more comfortable and dries quicker,” says James Gray, an Amphibious Assault vehicle operator.

Caldwell singles out a young lance corporal and barks sternly: “You got sunblock on?” The temperature outside is over 120 degrees, and the young, beet-red Marine nods. Caldwell orders him to get some rest, a commodity in short supply.

“There’s no such thing as fuzzy commands here,” Caldwell says. “This is where the rubber meets the road, and the rule of engagement are clear.”

There are no illusions about the quiet. Iraq has taught the Marines in Afghanistan that insurgents may disappear ... but they will resurface.

A Soldier Comes Home

On July 5, The Post published a letter from Martha Gillis of Springfield, whose nephew, Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed in Afghanistan on June 25, the day that Michael Jackson died. The letter criticized the extensive media coverage of Jackson's death compared with the brief coverage of Lt. Bradshaw's death. Among the responses was the following letter, written July 9 by an Air National Guard pilot and a fellow member of the crew that flew Lt. Bradshaw's body from a forward base in Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base. Capt. James Adair, one of the plane's pilots, asked the editorial page staff to forward the letter to the Bradshaw family. He and Brian Bradshaw's parents then agreed to publication of these excerpts.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dear Bradshaw Family,

We were crew members on the C-130 that flew in to pick up Lt. Brian Bradshaw after he was killed. We are Georgia Air National Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. We support the front-line troops by flying them food, water, fuel, ammunition and just about anything they need to fight. On occasion we have the privilege to begin the final journey home for our fallen troops. Below are the details to the best of our memory about what happened after Brian's death.

We landed using night-vision goggles. Because of the blackout conditions, it seemed as if it was the darkest part of the night. As we turned off the runway to position our plane, we saw what appeared to be hundreds of soldiers from Brian's company standing in formation in the darkness. Once we were parked, members of his unit asked us to shut down our engines. This is not normal operating procedure for that location. We are to keep the aircraft's power on in case of maintenance or concerns about the hostile environment. The plane has an extremely loud self-contained power unit. Again, we were asked whether there was any way to turn that off for the ceremony that was going to take place. We readily complied after one of our crew members was able to find a power cart nearby. Another aircraft that landed after us was asked to do the same. We were able to shut down and keep lighting in the back of the aircraft, which was the only light in the surrounding area. We configured the back of the plane to receive Brian and hurried off to stand in the formation as he was carried aboard.

Brian's whole company had marched to the site with their colors flying prior to our arrival. His platoon lined both sides of our aircraft's ramp while the rest were standing behind them. As the ambulance approached, the formation was called to attention. As Brian passed the formation, members shouted "Present arms" and everyone saluted. The salute was held until he was placed inside the aircraft and then the senior commanders, the sergeant major and the chaplain spoke a few words.

Afterward, we prepared to take off and head back to our base. His death was so sudden that there was no time to complete the paperwork needed to transfer him. We were only given his name, Lt. Brian Bradshaw. With that we accepted the transfer. Members of Brian's unit approached us and thanked us for coming to get him and helping with the ceremony. They explained what happened and how much his loss was felt. Everyone we talked to spoke well of him -- his character, his accomplishments and how well they liked him. Before closing up the back of the aircraft, one of Brian's men, with tears running down his face, said, "That's my platoon leader, please take care of him."

We taxied back on the runway, and, as we began rolling for takeoff, I looked to my right. Brian's platoon had not moved from where they were standing in the darkness. As we rolled past, his men saluted him one more time; their way to honor him one last time as best they could. We will never forget this.

We completed the short flight back to Bagram Air Base. After landing, we began to gather our things. As they carried Brian to the waiting vehicle, the people in the area, unaware of our mission, stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention. Those of us on the aircraft did the same. Four soldiers who had flown back with us lined the ramp once again and saluted as he passed by. We went back to post-flight duties only after he was driven out of sight.

Later that day, there was another ceremony. It was Bagram's way to pay tribute. Senior leadership and other personnel from all branches lined the path that Brian was to take to be placed on the airplane flying him out of Afghanistan. A detail of soldiers, with their weapons, lined either side of the ramp just as his platoon did hours before. A band played as he was carried past the formation and onto the waiting aircraft. Again, men and women stood at attention and saluted as Brian passed by. Another service was performed after he was placed on the aircraft.

For one brief moment, the war stopped to honor Lt. Brian Bradshaw. This is the case for all of the fallen in Afghanistan. It is our way of recognizing the sacrifice and loss of our brothers and sisters in arms. Though there may not have been any media coverage, Brian's death did not go unnoticed. You are not alone with your grief. We mourn Brian's loss and celebrate his life with you. Brian is a true hero, and he will not be forgotten by those who served with him.

We hope knowing the events that happened after Brian's death can provide you some comfort.


Capt. James Adair

Master Sgt. Paul Riley

GA ANG 774 EAS Deployed

July 13, 2009

Afghans Unite to Maintain Lifeline

GARMSIR, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — The Helmand River is the one major source of water in this desert region, and when a portion of that supply is diverted, it causes problems for entire communities.


By 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl,
2nd MEB

This scenario is exactly what transpired as the high water levels of last winter changed the course of the river at crucial points, capturing the attention of the Afghan government leadership in the area and that of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The Garmsir District governor, Haji Abdullah Jan, called a shura, July 6, with about 50 village elders to discuss the matter and come up with a common solution. U.S. Marines with Regimental Combat Team 3 and the ISAF stability advisor for Garmsir were in attendance at the meeting and coordinated with the officials to help in the best way possible.

"It is very important for everyone to pitch in and help because the people down river are having problems," Jan said as he addressed the group of influential leaders.

As an agricultural district surrounded by a desert with temperatures reaching into the 120s during the summer months, water is crucial to the survival of the population and their livelihood in Garmsir.

"Aside from security, water is the number one concern in the region," said Lt. Col. Leonard DeFrancisci, 4th Civil Affairs Group detachment commander with RCT-3.

Various solutions were discussed at the shura, but the Marines were strictly present at the meeting as observers, according to the CAG commander.

In a side conversation with the district governor, ISAF offered to pay for the renting of the equipment required, but the Afghan locals were committed to the physical construction of the project.

"The civil affairs Marines did just enough to get the project going, and the Afghans here took advantage," DeFrancisci continued.

At the shura, a work plan was identified and the elders pitched in with village labor – about 100 locals joined the workforce. A local contractor who rents machinery was approached by the district governor, and he agreed to lease his equipment at basic rates, according to the Peter Chilvers, an ISAF stability advisor who works in conjunction with the British-lead Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand's capital.

The PRT takes the lead on issues relating to governance and infrastructure development in Helmand province. It encompasses military and civilian advisors and experts in a variety of specialized fields who work closely with the provincial government to coordinate efforts with ISAF.

"Afghan leaders recognize that ISAF cannot fix all of their problems, and they are best suited to fix their own issues," said Capt. Micajah Caskey, 2/8's civil affairs team leader.

Construction for the project in Garmsir started July 8 with the work of numerous local Afghans and Governor Jan himself joining in the effort.

"The district governor played a very active role in helping the people – very visible in the community," said DeFrancisci.

The work on the project is going well, according to Chilvers, and the district governor has been providing regular updates on the status of the project via Radio Garmsir.

"It all happened pretty quickly, and it is a great example of a joint community lead project being delivered by the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," the stability advisor said.

"The process of Afghans working with Afghans to solve problems will have positive and far-reaching effects on the peoples' confidence in the legitimate government," said Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. "I'm just glad we were able to support the local government in effectively and immediately addressing a pressing issue that affects the entire community."

The project should be completed before the end of July, according to Caskey. Equally as important as the project itself is the display of the local government's ability to bring together numerous community leaders for the benefit of the Afghan people.

2/8 entered Garmsir District when it turned over battle space with British forces last June. It expanded further into the district during Operation Khanjar, July 2, when nearly 4,000 U.S. Marines and more than 600 Afghan soldiers entered areas of southern Helmand Province previously under the influence of the Taliban in an effort to provide security for the Afghan people.

The U.S. Marines and Helmand-based PRT are part of the larger international force in Afghanistan, ISAF, which is committed to the security, reconstruction and extension of governance in Afghanistan.

Crooked Afghan police challenge Marines

By David Guttenfelder and Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jul 13, 2009 17:00:10 EDT

AYNAK, Afghanistan — Afghan villagers had complained to the Marines for days: The police are the problem, not the Taliban. They steal from villagers and beat them. Days later, the Marines learned firsthand what the villagers meant.

To continue reading:


2/3 NCO dies from blast wounds

Staff report
Posted : Monday Jul 13, 2009 16:15:02 EDT

A Hawaii-based Marine died Friday at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland from wounds suffered during a bombing late last month in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, according to reports.

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, Cpl. Matthew R. Lembke, of the 2/3:


July 12, 2009

A Fight for Ordinary Peace

U.S. Marines deployed across an Afghan river valley are waging war on insurgents not by targeting their bases but, rather, by protecting communities.

NAWA, Afghanistan -- Most of the mud-brick stalls that line the street in this sweltering town on the Helmand River closed down a year ago when Taliban fighters began swaggering through the bazaar, levying taxes on merchants and seeding the roads with homemade bombs. Shopkeepers placed their wares behind padlocked tin doors, teachers shuttered the school, the doctor abandoned the health clinic and residents with means fled to other parts of southern Afghanistan


Photo Gallery:

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 12, 2009

This town does not merit a dot on most maps of Afghanistan. But U.S. civilian and military officials believe what happens to the chockablock market here will be a key indicator of whether President Obama can salvage a war the United States has been losing.

About 4,000 troops -- most of them U.S. Marines -- descended upon Nawa and other towns along the lower Helmand River valley 10 days ago in a massive operation to root out the Taliban. Their aim is to combat the insurgency in a new way: Instead of targeting extremist strongholds, they will aim to protect communities from the Taliban.

In Nawa, that means getting life back to normal. If that occurs, military commanders reason, it will be much more difficult for the insurgents to hold sway here.

"We'll be successful when we can walk up and down that street and most shops will be open, there will be a flow of commerce, there will be a recognizable and functioning government, there will be kids in school and doctors in the clinic," said Capt. Frank "Gus" Biggio, a Marine reservist who is on leave from the Washington law firm Patton Boggs to lead a civil-affairs unit in Nawa.

But employing U.S. forces to restore a sense of normalcy in a country ravaged by 30 years of war involves a series of assumptions and a set of challenges that are already proving more complicated than mounting hunt-and-kill missions against the Taliban. Will residents want the Marines to stick around? Will those who do be convinced that the Americans will stay until security improves? Will residents trust the local leaders -- including the police chief, whom one Marine officer calls "the Tony Soprano of Nawa" -- to run the town better than the Taliban?

An affirmative answer to those questions is not at all certain, and it will not just require the Marines to wage a different sort of war. The United States will have to spend billions more dollars to expand training for Afghanistan's army and police forces. Ineffective development programs will have to be overhauled. State Department diplomats and Agriculture Department specialists will need to deploy in larger numbers. And if the approach being employed in the Helmand River valley is extended to other areas under Taliban control, it could well result in the need for thousands more U.S. troops.

Marines have been heartened by the initial indications in Nawa. A dozen stalls have reopened in the market. People have approached patrols to express support for the troop presence. And perhaps most significantly, the Taliban appears to have retreated -- for now.

"Thirty days from now, the people will say: 'Okay. Great. You've cleared the Taliban out. Now what's in it for me?' " said Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the comman der of Marine forces in southern Afghanistan. "We have a very narrow window to bring about change."

From his plywood-paneled office at Camp Leatherneck, a sprawling and dusty base in the desert northwest of here, Nicholson understands that the same urgency applies to Washington. Nicholson's superiors -- including National Security Adviser James L. Jones, who recently visited Leatherneck -- are making clear that the clock is ticking: The Obama White House wants results within a year.

Lessons From Anbar

Helmand, Marines here are fond of noting, is the Afghan equivalent of Anbar, the once-lawless province west of Baghdad that was the focus of Marine operations in Iraq. Both are vast desert regions bisected by a river. The populations are tribal and religiously conservative. Criminal activity -- smuggling in Iraq and drug-trafficking in Afghanistan -- is rampant. Cross-border infiltration of fighters and munitions from Syria was a massive problem in Anbar; Pakistan plays that role with Helmand.

Nicholson, a short, solid man with a weathered face and an intense gaze, gained his seminal military experience in Anbar. He was nearly killed there in 2004, when a rocket landed in his base near Fallujah. He returned in 2006 as a regimental commander and helped to implement a tribal outreach strategy that helped quell the violence.

Although he is now in a different country, with different traditions and a different insurgency, he nonetheless sees lessons from Anbar that can be applied to Helmand. At the top of his list is the need for more indigenous security forces.

Nicholson had wanted his troops to conduct every patrol and man every checkpoint with members of the Afghan National Army, largely because people here take less umbrage at being searched by fellow Afghans, and Afghan soldiers have a keener sense of who ought to be searched. But plans to partner with the Afghan army have been scaled back because the Marines have been allotted only about 400 Afghan soldiers instead of the several thousand Nicholson had sought.

He has been promised more troops, but they will not start rolling in until next year. In the interim, he has asked his superiors for permission to arm young men and train them to serve as a local protection force. It is similar to the Sons of Iraq initiative the Marines created in Anbar that resulted in locals turning against foreign fighters in the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

But senior commanders have shown no sign of approving the request. They feel Helmand has too many overlapping tribal rivalries. Arming groups of young men could exacerbate tensions and lead some factions to turn to the Taliban for protection.

With that option closing, Nicholson has turned to wringing out as many soldiers from the Afghan army as possible. When he heard that a new battalion would be deployed to the south -- but not to his part of Helmand -- he flew to the NATO base near Kandahar five days before the operation began to ask a senior Afghan general for 30 of the soldiers. Nicholson promised to train them to be commandos.

The general refused to commit and told Nicholson to talk to a lower-ranking general whose base adjoins Camp Leatherneck. So the next day, Nicholson dispatched three colonels to see the general for a lunch of goat stew and rice.

"General Nicholson wants to make sure we have an ANA [Afghan National Army] face wherever we go," Col. Barry Neulen said.

"I wish the same thing, but I cannot promise them to you right now," said Brig. Gen. Muhayadin Ghori, commander of the Afghan army's 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps.

The men then began to negotiate. Ghori wanted to send two of his officers to the United States for training. "They have to see the U.S.A., what it's all about," he said.

And the 30 troops? Ghori promised an answer.

That was a week ago. The Marines still had not received any men.

'Consolidating Our Gains'

The Marine headquarters in Nawa is a half-finished government office next to the market that looked like the bombed-out shell of a brick building. The window openings are covered with ammunition tins and sand bags. Pit latrines have been dug in the back. Marines sleep in the open, on cots or directly on the floor. A mangy dog named Izzy scampers about.

Within hours of the Marine landing, the town turned eerily quiet. Taliban attacks on the government office, which had been an almost nightly occurrence, ceased. So, too, did militant activity in other parts of town. Marines would later apprehend vehicles full of young men driving out of the district. In one car was a letter with instructions from a local Taliban leader to regroup in the town of Marjah, to the northwest.

Lt. Col. William McCollough, commander of the Marine battalion here, professes little concern that many insurgents have simply moved away. "While they're regrouping, we'll be consolidating our gains," he said. "By working with people here, we're seeing poison in the water. Every day they're away, it'll be harder for them to come back."

Because many Taliban fighters are disaffected Afghans who sign up in exchange for daily payments of $5 to $10, the Marines hope to lure some away with economic development projects. The Marines plan to offer day-labor work cleaning irrigation canals that snake along the farmland here, many of them built under a U.S. government program in the 1950s.

The Marines are drawing on the advice of a British civilian stabilization adviser who lives with them at the government office, and the assistance of a large reconstruction team in Helmand's capital. Experts from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will arrive in Nawa this summer to assist with longer-term reconstruction and governance initiatives, including a $300 million program to provide agricultural aid to 125,000 farmers through vouchers to purchase seeds and farm equipment. That program will also seek to employ 166,000 young men in projects for six months.

State and AID plan to have 20 Americans, and many more Afghans, working in Helmand by the fall. "The numbers may not look big when you compare them to the Marines . . . but it's not a [surge] that just goes in and leaves," said Valerie C. Fowler, head of the local governance office at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "It will be a sustained presence. We expect these positions to be filled year after year."

For now, the Marines are concentrating their efforts on helping the newly appointed district governor get to work and encouraging police chief Nafaz Khan to deploy his men, who typically loiter at the station, on key roads leading into town. The chief grudgingly agreed, but not before hectoring one of McCollough's officers for more uniforms and guns.

"I'm in the same clothes I've been wearing for the last 15 days," Capt. Brian Huysman replied.

"Shall we kill the Taliban with our arms?" Khan retorted.

"We'll take weapons from the Taliban and give them to you," Huysman said.

"You've only given us one gun," Khan said.

"We have to kill more Taliban," Huysman said.

Thirty minutes later, a loud boom almost knocked Huysman off his feet. When he went outside to investigate, he saw Khan's men lowering a Soviet-era antiaircraft gun from the roof of the schoolhouse, where they had been living. The chief ordered that the massive gun, which spits out bullets the size of Magic Markers, be taken to one of the checkpoints.

"This is crazy, but what can we do?" Huysman said. "He's the chief."

Marine commanders believe that working with police and local government officials will help their credibility among the residents of Nawa. But some in town do not share that view.

"We cannot trust the government or the Taliban," Zary Sahib, the leader of the town's mosque, told McCollough. "We can only trust you."

The Marines had stopped to talk to the cleric the day after the operation began. The following day, he said, his brother was approached by insurgents who demanded 50,000 Pakistani rupees -- about $610 -- or the imam would be killed.

McCollough reassured him. "I think those are the guys we saw running away," he said.

The Marines are hoping memories of U.S. development efforts here a half-century ago will result in a degree of goodwill toward their mission. For years, Afghans referred to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, as Little America. And many older residents still remember the American teachers who worked in schools along the river valley.

As a Marine patrol walked through the bazaar on a recent morning, its presence prompted a group of men sipping tea in front of a motorcycle repair shop to voice concern -- not that the Americans had arrived but that they might depart before the Taliban had been vanquished.

"If you leave, everything will be the same," a middle-aged man who called himself Sayed Gul told McCollough. "If you guys stay for a long time, everything will be fine."

Isolated US convoys in Afghanistan ambush targets

KOSHTAY, Afghanistan (AFP) — Stranded for three days on a single stretch of road in southern Afghanistan, the US Marines wondered why they had not been ambushed by the Taliban -- and then finally the attack came.

Click above link for photos.

By Ben Sheppard – July 12, 2009

Rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small-arms fire were directed at the convoy, which responded with shoulder-launched missiles, grenades and machinegun fire, an AFP reporter travelling with the Marines witnessed.

The strike at the troops late Friday came from a mud-walled compound 150 metres from the dirt road on which the US vehicles were stuck by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) planted both in front and behind them.

The 1st Combat Engineer Battalion were trying to open up the route into the south of Helmand province as part of President Barack Obama's new Afghan strategy, but they had been halted by a series of IED blasts since Wednesday.

IED damage to two vehicles left the convoy unable to advance and the Marines spent long days and nights either on guard or crammed into their armour-plated trucks, waiting for a Taliban ambush.

They observed all local residents through their gun sights, and fired flares to warn off approaching vehicles. An interpreter shouted at curious children to return to their homes.

The insurgents' attack started with small arms fire, followed by mortars and then two rockets that narrowly missed one of the convoy's trucks.

"We took contact from the compound," said Staff Sergeant Earl Hewett, covered in sweat and dust after the fight.

"One of their rockets landed near a truck and destroyed its tyre, but that was the only thing that was hit.

"We fired four rockets in all and several hundred grenade and machinegun rounds. It shows how thick the compound's walls must be as the building is still standing."

Marines took up positions on the ground around the vehicles as illumination flares were fired overhead from a nearby US base.

Shots from the compound triggered a barrage of return fire from gunners mounted on the trucks' roofs and from other soldiers on foot.

Huge explosions rocked the convoy and red tracer bullets flew through the air. One US rocket destroyed a wall of the compound, and Marines said they saw men pulling belongings out of the rubble.

The exchange of fire lasted about one hour, with the attackers then falling silent under the heavy US onslaught.

On Saturday morning, troops searched the sprawling mud compound but found little evidence of those involved in the battle beyond marks from mortar base plates.

"We had been expecting an attack and were asking ourselves why it hadn't happened," said Lieutenant Dan Jernigan, who heads the 30-man route clearance platoon.

"Women and children left the area just before dusk and we knew that we would soon come under fire, which is what happened. It is impossible to say if any Taliban were killed.

"These roads need to be opened for the people of Afghanistan and we will press on to achieve that."

The US's efforts to stabilise the Afghan government and defeat the Taliban rely on controlling Helmand, where much of the opium that funds the insurgency is grown and through which Taliban fighters travel to safe havens in Pakistan.

Obama launched a major operation in the province at the start of the month, sending 4,000 Marines into areas where British troops from the international coalition had failed to quell the Taliban.

British troops last month kicked off their own major operation further north in Helmand, suffering heavy casualties there and elsewhere in the province mostly from IEDs.

Eight British soldiers were killed within 24 hours on Friday, taking the British military death toll in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan higher than that for the conflict in Iraq.

The Afghan Islamist hardliners were ousted by the coalition and a local alliance in 2001 for refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda militants behind the September 11 attacks.

No Marines were injured in Friday's fighting near Koshtay, though one man was concussed in Wednesday's IED blast and evacuated by helicopter.

The battle started after two Marines using hand-held mine detectors moved a few hundred yards (metres) up the road ahead of the parked convoy.

An IED, apparently set off by a trigger man activating a command wire, exploded near them.

Other Marines charged into nearby woods and trees in search of the man, and the ambush began soon after they had returned to the convoy.

July 11, 2009

US military offensive bogged by Afghan road mines

KOSHTAY, Afghanistan (AFP) – For the route clearance team of US Marines, another tense night crammed inside their armoured vehicles was proof that winning control of Afghanistan's roads would not be easy.


by Ben Sheppard Ben Sheppard –
Sat Jul 11, 2:49 am ET

The 1st Combat Engineer Battalion's 10-vehicle convoy was trying to open up an important road into the south of Helmand province when a series of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) left them stranded for days.

With the route blocked -- and more IEDs apparently being laid every night -- badly needed supplies could not get through to infantry troops who had been air-lifted deep into Taliban-held territory more than a week ago (July 2).

The journey from Camp Delhi in Garmsir district to the infantry's position at Mian Poshteh was just 30 kilometres (19 miles), but the route clearance convoy was still far from its destination after 72 tough hours on the road.

At noon on Wednesday, the first IED destroyed an anti-mine roller being pushed by the convoy's lead vehicle, an AFP reporter travelling with the Marines witnessed.

It was the start of a series of bomb blasts and logistical setbacks that highlighted the US military's vulnerability to guerrilla tactics being deployed by Taliban insurgents in the difficult terrain of the Helmand River valley.

The explosion sent the roller's pieces flying into the air, and flipped the 17,000-kilogram MRAP (mine resistant, ambush protected) truck onto its side, nearly toppling it into a canal that ran beside the dirt road.

"Suddenly everything went black and we were falling towards the canal," said Private Donnie Hamiliton, the MRAP's driver. "I escaped through the gun turret."

The massively reinforced MRAP, a new addition to the US fleet, has been lauded for saving troops' lives but it is so heavy that specialist lifting equipment is needed to put it upright again.

At 04:00 am the next day, the rescue team finally arrived along the same route -- only to hit an IED that had appeared to have been planted overnight specifically to strike them.

The explosion wrecked another MRAP and caused hours more delays as Marines used hand-held mine-sweepers to check the road between the two blasts and burnt damaged equipment to stop it falling into Taliban hands.

The convoy finally got back on the road on Thursday evening, but within an hour was hit by a third IED that destroyed a "Husky" mine-detector vehicle.

It meant another long, hot night inside the convoy's remaining vehicles with gunners on constant alert for a likely ambush.

Since the first blast, just a couple of kilometres of road had been covered and seven further IEDs had been discovered and dismantled.

"We have got to go down this road, and there's a lot of problem solving involved," admitted Lieutenant Dan Jernigan.

"Right now, because we have such a focused effort (into south Helmand), it is easy for them to predict where we need to go.

"Vehicles are being blown apart but the Marines inside are being kept safe. Not to sound cavalier, but it is better we take the blast than Humvees or someone else such as villagers."

The US's efforts to stabilise the Afghan government and defeat the Taliban rely on controlling Helmand, where much of the opium that funds the insurgency is grown and through which Taliban fighters travel to safe havens in Pakistan.

President Barack Obama launched a major operation in the province at the start of the month, sending 4,000 Marines into areas where British troops from the international coalition had failed to quell the Taliban since 2001.

But mines set by the Taliban -- and detonated either by a trigger man with a command wire or by pressure plate -- threaten the US's plan to provide security for the region.

"We want to control these routes for the (August presidential) elections and open them up to the people," said Jernigan, who expressed surprise that no Taliban ambushes had yet targeted his stranded convoy.

"We think their fighting efforts are concentrated elsewhere after the recent US operation across Helmand, but we can't be sure and will maintain a high level of security," he said.

Soon after he spoke, another IED exploded just a few hundred metres ahead of the convoy

Flu forces 13th MEU to cancel tiger cruise

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Saturday Jul 11, 2009 8:52:52 EDT

SAN DIEGO — Three Navy ships had to remain off the coast of Guam this week after reports of crew members were suspected of having swine flu.

To continue reading:


July 10, 2009

Daughter honors grandfather’s heroic service with the help of local Marine

MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. — On Independence Day, a local family was surprised to discover something about their freedom that they never knew.


1st Lt. Caleb D. Eames,
Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

In August 2008, Alex J. Bardwell passed away, having never talked about his military past. His granddaughter, Pamela Daniels, decided to research his past to find out everything she could. Her search took her almost a year to complete.

The more Daniels discovered about her grandfather, the more she came to realize what an amazing record of military service he had. Although he never talked about it to his children or grandchildren, Bardwell, a former staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, served from 1942 to 1955, and saw some of the fiercest combat of World War II and the Korean War.

She uncovered that he saw action in the South Pacific, including the battle for New Georgia and other islands in the Solomon chain, and battles for the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. He also fought in Korea during the battles for Incheon and Seoul, and was a survivor of the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He served in the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions and his record lists assignments including the occupation of China and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Daniels was sure that her mother, Patricia Holt, Bardwell’s daughter, also knew nothing of her father’s service to country. So she called a gathering of the family on July 4th, without telling any of them exactly why.

Daniels decided to surprise her mother and the entire family on this Independence Day with the unveiling of a large memorial frame showcasing Bardwell’s many awards, along with a history book, all in honor of her grandfather’s service to his country.

Staff Sgt. Nelson Hammer, a Marine assigned to the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., accepted an invitation from Daniels to do the surprise presentation.

“It means so much to have an active-duty Marine present this,” Daniels said. “I have tears in my eyes just seeing this uniform that my grandfather loved.”

Hammer, the same rank that Bardwell once was, wore full dress blues in honor of Bardwell’s service to country.

“I’m very honored to do this,” Hammer said. “I love the Marine Corps, and I know this gentleman did too. Once a Marine always a Marine, Semper Fidelis.”

The entire family watched in awe as Hammer unveiled and presented the memorial frame to Bardwell’s daughter, Holt and the entire family.

“Back in Paw-Paw’s time, they didn’t talk about this,” Daniels said. “It was hell they went through. They couldn’t vocalize it because it was like reliving it. But at the same time I wish I knew about this stuff because it makes a lot of sense now why he was they way he was. I’m so sad he’s not here to see this in person, but I know he’s here in spirit.”

This Independence Day, the gathered family members discovered something new about their grandfather. Not only was he a wonderful person who liked ice cream on Father’s Day, but he had also been willing to sacrifice his life for his country.

“I’m so proud of him,” Daniels said. “I wanted Mama and everyone to see this to have a better understanding of what he did and what he went through.”

Their beloved grandfather was one of the reasons why they could celebrate Independence Day in freedom and security. ‘Paw-Paw,’ without ever talking about it, was a true American hero.

2nd MEB makes gains, expects more fighting

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Jul 10, 2009 18:02:51 EDT

After seven days of seizing poppy-rich areas of southern Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is planning a shift to gain the trust of Afghan civilians but expects the Taliban to return and fight for the land, the top Marine commander there said Wednesday.

To continue reading:


MWTC Marines make a dream come true

BRIDGEPORT, Calif. — For as long as anyone who knows him can remember, Alex Saldivar has been fascinated by the Marine Corps. The slight framed 14-year-old who grew up in Bridgeport, Calif., watching Marines come and go is Autistic and suffers from Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—a combination of disabilities which mean his dream was destined to remain just beyond his grasp.


Jennie Haskamp, Public Affairs Officer,
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

That changed July 4 when Alex, wearing a crisp green uniform and waiving a Marine Corps flag, marched in the town’s Independence Day parade.

Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center first heard of Alexfrom Janelle Mills, a Bridgeport resident and family friend. She introduced Alex to the command in an e-mail.

“We have a local boy who is 14. He is autistic and recently learned he has brain cancer,” she wrote. “All he has ever wanted to be is a Marine. His dream right now is to walk in the 4th of July parade, in full Marine uniform and to carry the flag.”

Mills further explained how popular Alex is in the community and how much it meant to her to help fulfill his dream.

“I would do anything to help Alex achieve this dream,” her e-mail concluded.

When the command heard of Alex’s wish to join them in the parade they decided to take action.

“It was important to us because we were able to give a young man in a remote mountain town his wish to be a Marine,” said Sgt Maj. Douglas Power, the MWTC sergeant major and a Rifle, Colo., native. “In a small town like this we realized it was up to us to make this dream a reality.”

Alex’s grandmother, Joan LaRue, a Bridgeport native, also reached out to the command with her grandson’s request. She said his interest in the Marine Corps began a long time ago though no one in the family or town knows why.

“Recently Alex had to be taken to University of California Davis to have a large tumor removed from his brain,” LaRue wrote in her e-mail. “He is recovering well, but his words, even before he was released from the hospital, were all about how he was brave like the Marine men and he wants to ‘show the Marines his scar.’”

His crisp, starched cover hid the scar as he walked along with Captain Matthew Green, the MWTC communications officer who escorted him in the parade.

“It was obvious everyone in the community knows Alex,” said Green, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “We walked along and people called his name as he smiled and waved.

Instead of his scar, a result of having a Pilocytic Astrocytoma tumor removed in June, it was his smile and his tenacity the Marines noticed.

“Having the opportunity to meet and speak with Alex and his family was inspirational to me,” said Col. Norman J. Cooling, the commanding officer of MWTC “He's been through a great deal. Everyone's life challenges pale in comparison to his. If he can consistently maintain a positive spirit and attitude, then we should be able to.”

“Being made a Marine has been his lifetime dream come true,’ said his mother, Jenny Saldivar. “What the Marines did for him means more to him, and us, than you can ever imagine.”

For Cooling and his Marines, Alex’s dream day included presenting him with a certificate declaring him a member of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center team.

“Alex's own service has been in providing all of us with an example of strength, perseverance and selflessness,” said Cooling, a Baytown, Texas native. “He is an example of our institutional Corps values and for that, it was important for us to grant his wish.”

Cooling said granting the request was more than making Alex’s dream a reality—it was an opportunity to bond with the whole community.

“I wanted the people of the local communities to recognize service means more to Marines than simply the warfighting portion of our business,” he said. “We are part of the community.”

For Alex, who wore his new combat boots until his feet blistered and enjoys reading books about military history, this Independence Day was one for the record.

Watching him march in the parade with the Marines is something his family will not soon forget.

“The service and sacrifice the Marines give is such an amazing act of courage and love for our country,” said Jenny. “We pray for their safety every day and hope someday there will be no need to put such wonderful people's lives in danger. After everything the Marines do they took the time to think of one little boy from a small town in California. To us they will forever be known as Alex's Angels.”

Afghan flag raises above Khan Neshin

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — The Afghan national flag was raised above Khan Neshin castle in the Rig District Center July 8 for the first time, signaling the arrival of Afghan governance in the southern reaches of Helmand province.


By Cpl. Aaron Rooks
2nd MEB

Khan Neshin and the areas south of the Helmand River have never experienced the sustained presence of coalition forces or Afghan national security forces, until now, seven days after the beginning of Operation Khanjar.

"The number one question we get from the people is, 'when are you leaving?'" said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. "The answer is we're not leaving until the transition for security is made to the provincial government, to include the Afghan forces."

Afghans from the local populace came to Khan Neshin shortly after the flag was raised, where they heard statements from Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal and newly-appointed Rig District Gov. Massoud Jan. Dozens of locals then gathered around a large courtyard within the district center to sign up for voting in the upcoming national elections.

"Look at them," said Gen. Muhaidin, brigade commander, 3rd Afghan National Army Brigade, 205 Corps, gesturing toward the crowd. "Now they know that the government is here and they have security. [The Afghans] have hope, that's why they're here."

July 9, 2009

As Death Toll Rises, Marines Stay Focused in Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVICE, Afghanistan — It's the middle of the night at the east corner guard post of Fiddler's Green, a Marine fire base in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, along the border with Pakistan.



Thursday, July 09, 2009
FOX News
By Matt Sanchez

Corporal Ryan Joseph Bernal is on perimeter security duty.

Armed with an M-4, night vision binoculars and an array of high-powered automatic weaponry, the 22-year-old U.S. Marine and several others keep watch for activity just outside the concertina wire, which conveys the powerful message “DO NOT ENTER” in a universal language Marines, civilians and the Taliban all understand.

Behind the sentries are the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, out of 29 Palms, California. They are relatively safe, and mostly sleeping.

As the American military's summer offensive into Taliban territory gains strength, the number of U.S. soldiers who have been wounded or killed in action has increased. But just as disturbing for these Marines is a new concern: the recent security breach in the area that led to the kidnapping of an American soldier.

"Being taken hostage is not an option," says Bernal.

A tiny red flare warns potential intruders not to approach — but it's the figures you can't see who pose the greatest threat to Fiddler’s Green, located at what commanders call a “chokepoint to Taliban activity.”

Yesterday, an IED was found on Route 605, a main supply route not far from the entrance to the base.

But despite the recent spate of American deaths, the Taliban kidnapping of a soldier in the Northeast and the many local opportunities for danger, the 3/ll Marines remain calm.

“I’m confident the Marines have my back,” says Sgt. Scott Whittington, a combat correspondent who routinely ventures outside the wire to capture images of Marines in different war zones. Like many of his fellow Marines, Whittington has combat experience in Iraq and a calm confidence that comes with having been in similar situations.

But Afghanistan is no Iraq.

Bernal is the first line of defense on a barebones base where many Marines are sleeping in hand-dug pits to avoid being wounded by indirect fire. He puts his trust in his unit, and in its mission, which is to secure and hold strategic ground. "I have total faith in our commander," he says.

“One hundred percent accountability is key,” Captain Chad Altheiser, commanding officer of Battery “I,” told FOXNews.com. He has never been to Afghanistan, but he has completed two tours in Iraq. The experience shows.

“We keep security tight here at the camp,” says Altheiser, whose focus on personal safety is only partly explained by the fact that he is expecting a newborn son within days.

Throughout Afghanistan, troops have been killed in action, but that hasn’t been a major concern. News doesn't reach Fiddler's Green 24/7, and because of a lack of Internet and phones, most of the 3/11 Marines are using pen and paper to send letters to loved ones back home.

“No media out here, not sure what’s really going on out there,” Corporal Tyler Ledbetter told FOXNews.com.

Ledbetter, who is three months into a 7-month tour in Afghanistan, refused to comment on the possibility of abduction, but was quick to explain why the rising death toll did not faze him.

“We’re the best trained fighting force in the world,” he said.

Throughout the day, redundant checks are designed to account for Marines. “Accountability. Eyes on every Marine, pre-combat checks, pre-combat inspections,” said battalion commander Lt. Chris Lewis. “Physical and visual accountability, nothing less."

The battle-hardened command is much more stoic than the younger grunts with guns at the gate.

“Personally I have no fear of being kidnapped. Accountability is very strong for the Marines,” said Sgt. Christopher Rye, a 26-year old Marine combat camera photographer.

In the Combat Operations Center, one of the few areas with electricity and some climate control, Battalion Adjutant 1st Lt. Adam McLaurin is brief and blunt. “I’m not focused on casualties,” says the Gainesville, Fla., native, who is on his first deployment.

“We really are just focused on what lies ahead.”

Matt Sanchez is embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

July 8, 2009

3rd Battalion, 11th Marines Regiment Maintain Umbrella of Security

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When enemy insurgents fire mortars or rockets at U.S. and coalition troops, a long beep resonates and a small blip appears on the screen of counter battery radar Marines.


Story by Sgt. Scott Whittington
Date: 07.08.2009

That beep and blip can start a fire mission for the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines Regiment.

Marines like Sgt. Calvin R. Wauchope, a radar team leader, monitor the sky using the AN/TPQ-36 radar, a system that can ascertain the location of a round's impact and origin before it even hits. The Westport, Conn., native has a team of eight Marines working 24-hour shifts and closely monitoring the radar, which can see up to 24 kilometers. The radar mostly covers troops in the open, convoys and bases.

If the machine goes down, radar technicians go to work to get it up and running. The radar operators and technicians live less than 20 feet from their equipment to facilitate quick responses and troubleshooting.

"It's exciting knowing we track the people that shoot at us," said Cpl. Robert L. Squires, 19, advanced field artillery tactical data system operator with 3/11. "No one can get away from us."

Once the blip appears on their screen, the information is relayed to the combat operations center where Squires, a Moline High School graduate, monitors the fire mission system. He passes the information simultaneously to the fire direction officer and fire direction control center. The FDO contacts the unit operating in the impact location to verify an explosive hit.
If it is confirmed, the FDO will determine if artillery can fire on the enemy launch site. Sometimes howitzer fire is not the best way to shoot back due to dense civilian populations or landmarks of historic or cultural significance. While these and other considerations are influencing the decision to fire, the FDC determines which battery will fire, the type of round to be used, and the range to target information.

"Nothing takes priority but getting safe reliable data to the gun line," said Staff Sgt. Desmond D. Onezine, 30, battalion assistant operations chief, and Lafayette, La., native. "If we don't, we could hit our own troop or innocent civilians."

Onezine added that artillery has played a vital role on the battlefield since its inception, earning it the title "King of Battle." Ground artillery has a faster response than air support – three minutes maximum.

The infantry can be confident in the accuracy of artillery, according to Cpl. Trent B. Istre, FDC operator. "We can tailor to their needs with a variety of support."

"We can bring the rain, or we can bring the light," said Istre about the various rounds artillery uses, which include both high-explosive and illumination rounds.

3/11 is currently participating in Operation Khanjar as an element of Regimental Combat Team 3. To this point in the ongoing operation, the artillery battalion has only had the need to fire illumination rounds and has not fired any high-explosive rounds. These actions reflect the NATO International Security Assistance Force tactical directive that explains the top priority of coalition forces – to protect the Afghan people, rather than kill the insurgents.

Operation Khanjar commenced July 2 and involves nearly 4,000 Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan and more than 600 Afghan national security forces working to secure population centers along the Helmand River valley.

Marines push militants out of Taliban region

By Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Jul 8, 2009 9:59:11 EDT

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines trapped Taliban fighters in a residential compound and persuaded the insurgents to allow women and children to leave. The troops then moved in — only to discover that the militants had slipped out, dressed in women’s burqas.

To continue reading:


July 7, 2009

U.S. Marines Patrol Through Mine-littered Battlefield

During the day and night, the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Company G bravely patrol through the mine-infested city of Now Zad.


Published: July 07,2009

The Taliban has a heavy presence here after driving away the town's former civilian population, and they have turned the old city into a minefield in attempts to cripple the Marines here. However, these young Americans have showed courage on this battlefield and have proven that they will keep coming in the face of danger.

"When you go out on patrols here, you just have to stay focused," said 2nd Lt. Malachi Bennett, 26, commander of 3rd Platoon, Company G. "It is easy to be distracted by the dangers, but we are more concerned with the mission at hand."

Bennett says the Marines stay on task because they are disciplined, go out with a solid plan, and know their roles. When they are tasked with a mission that takes them through certain danger, the Marines never back down.

"They don't complain because they know the mission is important," said Sgt. Derek Forte, 24, a squad leader with 3rd Plt.

The members of this extremely close-knit unit are more concerned with their fellow comrades than themselves, and they understand the return for the risk they take.

"If we don't push our patrols, the enemy will push closer and closer to us," said Bennett. "The more we learn about our enemy, the more effective we can be in taking the fight to them."

When the Marines patrol through Now Zad, they have to be observant and at the top of their game. There is no room for error.

"I try to focus on everything around while watching every step I take," said Lance Cpl. Lukas Ellinger, 21, a rifleman with 3rd Plt. from Stanwood, Wash. "I notice different things at different times of the day ... I take it step-by-step and learn more every time."

The Marines conduct both day and night operations in Now Zad because the different environments can be advantageous to varying missions. The consensus among the Marines is that the eerie feeling that comes with patrolling through the mine-littered streets of an abandoned city increases exponentially at night as the wind howls through the alleyways and visibility decreases. But, they overcome any existing fears with the confidence they have in one another, and they press forward.

"As each day goes by, we get more intelligence on the enemy than they get on us - that is comforting," said Forte.

Their patrols are not only dangerous, they require a leader with intelligence and tactical proficiency. The many natural and manmade obstacles across the battlefield in addition to the Taliban-made mines bring further complexity to their area of operation.

"Finding the best route and maneuvering the patrol through areas that could have mines anywhere is the hardest part," according to Forte who has lead more than 25 patrols here in the last two months. "I try to think clearly and do what seems best ... I just want to keep my guys alive."

The Marines in Now Zad display true courage, and they know what sacrifice is all about. They understand it. They live it. Their way of life is summarized in a saying that is posted in the 3rd Plt. headquarters - "I have not ceased to be fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control my life."

Marines secure southernmost point of operations in Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — After a 10 hour bumpy, dusty drive through the desert, the United States Marine Corps has now secured the southernmost point of operations in Helmand province and begun construction on what will be the largest combat outpost ever built by Combat Logistics Batallion-8 out of Camp Lejuene, N.C.


By 1st. Lt. Dave Hecht ,
2nd MEB

"This is the tip of the spear. Right now we are the farthest south Marine Unit in Afghanistan," said Capt. Chris Annunziata of Norfolk, Va. "Everything that happens south of the river depends on us."

Within minutes of bulldozer and excavators being unloaded from flatbed trucks, construction began on COP Payne which overlooks the Helmand river valley. Annunziata, the onsite officer in charge of the construction project said building the COP will take just 96 hours to complete. The COP will serve as a logistical center for all operations that will eventually take place south of the river along the border with Pakistan.

By the end of the first day of construction, a ten foot wall of dirt and gravel surrounded the 600 foot by 600 foot compound and a burn pit was dug for disposing of garbage. At the same time, other crews are working on a fording site across the Helmand River and fortifying Khan Necsion, a former Taliban stronghold that will now be handed over to the district governor.

"I have the best equipped and most motivated Marines," said Annunziata. "These men and women are true professionals and I couldn't be more proud of them." The Marines carried out their work under the oppressive Afghan sun with temperatures soaring into the 120s.

Across the river, a curious lone rancher and his herd of cattle watched as COB Payne took shape. He was the only Afghan seen since departing Forward Operating Base Dwyer the night before.

"I wasn't expecting any contact with insurgents on the drive down here," said convoy commander, Lt. Tabitha Pinter of Detroit, Mich. "This was a complete surprise. The enemy had no idea we were coming and they had no idea we'd take the route we took." The convoy of 35 trucks and armored vehicles drove through 112 kilometer of barren desert where no roads currently exist.

The Marines aren't letting the quiet beauty of the river valley catch them with their guard down.

"All was quiet when we built Fire Base Thunder. It was three or four days later the insurgents learned we were there and that's when they started their attacks," said Annunziata.

U.S. Marines Tread Softly in Southern Afghanistan

Can U.S. Marines Fight the Taliban and Win Popular Support in Helmand?

River Liberty was described as an operation. But it had the feel of an invasion. U.S. Marines were moving, as an expeditionary force, into the homeland of their enemy, the Taliban.

Click the above link for a video.

HELMAND, Afghanistan, July 7, 2009

At 4:30 a.m. one day last week, the company with whom my writer son, Carlos, and I were embedded, Golf Company, 2/8 Marines, stepped out of the U.S. base at Hassan Abad, in southern Helmand province, and headed south into certain trouble.

The Taliban were determined not to let Golf Company just walk south through the Helmand River Valley unchallenged. Within an hour of the initial push, we saw dirt kick up in front of us, then the crack of automatic weapons fire. We dove for cover in this, the first of eleven ambushes Golf Company encountered during the first two days of the operation.

Also, along our path, the Taliban had set 12 improvised explosive devices -– not on roads, but mostly in the open farm fields in which we walked. Nine were discovered before they could be detonated. Three others exploded as Marine patrols passed. Two Marines suffered concussions. Mark it up to the random chance and luck of the battlefield that no one died.

There was one more enemy out there that the Marines could not push past or kill -- HEAT.
The word "hot" doesn't do justice to the temperature. It sucks the life out of a normal person on a normal day. The Marines carrying heavy packs, ammunition, body armor, helmets, food and water are not normal and this was not a normal day. It was war and by the end of each day, it was a victory to just put one foot in front of the other in the difficult terrain.

On the third day of the operation, we finally reached our objective -- Koshtay, a farming village on the banks of the Helmand River and at the heart of the poppy and opium trade that funds the Taliban. Golf Company expected a tough fight here, but the Taliban either retreated or hid their weapons and melted into the local scenery.

So far, the Marines can count the trip south as a success. Now the hard part begins, convincing the Afghans to reject the Taliban and embrace a U.S.-supported Afghan government.

A lot is riding on the young shoulders of U.S. Marines. Young men reputed for their brute force must now display a soft touch.

Friendship leads pair into Marines

Rutherford teens eager for change

Two La Vergne High School students who have been best friends and neighbors for more than 14 years are beginning new chapters in their lives together as both prepared to enter boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on Monday.


By Mark Bell • GANNETT TENNESSEE • July 7, 2009

Zach Boulanger and Blake Morton, both 18, decided long ago that military service was for them. It was Morton, however, who coaxed Boulanger into joining the United States Marine Corps instead of any other military branch.

"I've always been gung-ho Marine Corps," Morton said.

After both teens were convinced, it was a more difficult time convincing all of their parents. The debate started when they were 17. Shelly Morton said they begged to be signed up for the Marines.

The parents decided resistance was futile.

"At one point, Blake said, 'Mom, you are hurting me by not signing me up because I'm recruiting all these people and it would make me a higher rank if I sign up now,' " Shelly Morton said.

The move did, in fact, pay off for her son, who was promoted to private first class for helping recruit six individuals into the corps.

Morton, who will be training to be an infantryman, talked about why he wanted to join the service. A big influence, he said, was the fact his dad had served in the Army.

"I also joined hoping to have a future in law enforcement," he said, adding he has aspirations to be an FBI agent or even an actor.

Boulanger, on the other hand, is training to enter the intelligence community after Parris Island and has his eye set on another government agency.

"I plan to put about 20 years in the service," he said. "I'm doing electronic warfare intelligence, so I'm almost guaranteed a job with the CIA. I'm going to college after boot camp, but I'm not sure where. My intelligence school is going to be Camp Pendleton, Calif."

Lives take new turn

While both are glad to be starting their lives in the "real world," they talked about how they'd miss their parents.

"It's going to suck, to be honest," Boulanger said. "Especially with boot camp, because we can't have contact with our parents over the phone or through e-mail. It's going to be a long time without talking to my mother."

Donna Boulanger said she will miss "the man of her house."

"It's been just me, him and his sister…," she said. "It's going to be tough without him for a while."

Morton reminisced about the time he met Zach Boulanger. Morton had just moved into the neighborhood with his family and was trying to ride his bike for the first time without training wheels. Boulanger helped. The friendship was formed.

The boys attended school together, first at Smyrna Primary, then Thurman Francis, Rock Springs Middle and finally at La Vergne High School.

Boulanger was captain of the tennis team all four years at La Vergne. He also participated in ROTC, drill team and the drama club. He was voted Mr. School Spirit his senior year.

Morton was a football player and captain of the team his senior year. He also participated in wrestling and cross country. He was voted best La Vergne High School actor the past three years and was also drama king. He and Boulanger were voted onto the homecoming court in 2008.

Though their parents said they were proud of all their sons' accomplishments, they believe graduating from boot camp will be among the best.

"I'm very proud of them," Richard Morton said. "This whole experience is going to be what they make of it. It's up to them."

Donna Boulanger said she will miss "the man of her house."

"It's been just me, him and his sister…," she said. "It's going to be tough without him for a while."

Morton reminisced about the time he met Zach Boulanger. Morton had just moved into the neighborhood with his family and was trying to ride his bike for the first time without training wheels. Boulanger helped. The friendship was formed.

The boys attended school together, first at Smyrna Primary, then Thurman Francis, Rock Springs Middle and finally at La Vergne High School.

Boulanger was captain of the tennis team all four years at La Vergne. He also participated in ROTC, drill team and the drama club. He was voted Mr. School Spirit his senior year.

Morton was a football player and captain of the team his senior year. He also participated in wrestling and cross country. He was voted best La Vergne High School actor the past three years and was also drama king. He and Boulanger were voted onto the homecoming court in 2008.

Though their parents said they were proud of all their sons' accomplishments, they believe graduating from boot camp will be among the best.

"I'm very proud of them," Richard Morton said. "This whole experience is going to be what they make of it. It's up to them."

July 6, 2009

Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan Gauges Progress in Farah

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – "Everyone always looks forward to going outside the wire on missions," said Army Staff Sgt. John Smith, an infantryman who provides security for Provincial Reconstruction Team-Farah in Afghanistan's Farah province.
"They enjoy meeting the local population and watching the children play.
That's our motivation, to see how happy the children are and that they now have a future ahead of them."



Story by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Date: 07.06.2009

Smith, from West Frankfort, Ill., continued to express satisfaction with the accomplishments made by his team and the PRT they've supported throughout their deployment as his humvee led a convoy down Highway 517 near the Farah District.

"We've made a lot of improvements for the local population here in the province," he said, pointing out that the highway they were driving along was built by the PRT.
"The local population has become very supportive of us being here.
I think it's because they see how we're helping them and realize we're here to help make their lives better."

Smith said the PRT has built new roadways, medical facilities and schools for the Afghan populace, as well as facilities to support Afghan national security forces.
What used to be a two-hour drive along a goat trail has turned into a 30-minute drive along paved roads.

"I'd like to see how this place looks in five years," said Smith as the vehicle he was in came to a halt inside the local Afghan national army compound.
"With the number of improvements we've made in such a short time, I'd like to see how it looks by then."

The soldier then made his way toward Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, and the Marines who accompanied him from Camp Leatherneck.

Nicholson, who traveled with fellow key leaders to gauge the progress made by the PRT, looked at the ANA compound in admiration.
"This is very impressive," he said.

Navy Cmdr. Benjamin Nicholson, commander, PRT-Farah, then escorted the general and his party through the billeting and dining areas of the compound, which featured crisp, white walls with clean, sparkling white floors

As the leaders left the group of buildings in the compound in the direction of their vehicles, Smith said, "I think they were pretty impressed with how nice they were."

After the general and his party safely got into their humvees, Smith returned to his.
He said they were heading into the city limits of the Farah District.

"No worries," said Smith's driver, Sgt. Allan Talley, also an infantryman from Illinois.
"It's a pretty quite place.
Not a whole lot of bad stuff goes on here.

"The Afghan national army patrols the area often to ensure there's no insurgent activity going on," Talley continued.
"They've developed a lot of respect and support from the people here because of it."

The convoy arrived at the city outskirts within minutes.
Life seemed normal among the district as the group of up-armored humvees rolled down the streets.
They were full of children and adults alike, who waved at the vehicles in a friendly manner as they passed by, with the exception of a few who silently glared in the group's direction.

Smith said he's come to believe those few individuals who give them negative looks only do so because they may feel intimidated by the large vehicles and crew-served weapons mounted on them.

"Most change their attitudes when we get out of the vehicles," Smith said.
"They see us face to face and see that we're people just like them.
They realize we're there to help."

The vehicles stopped beside a large, gold gate.
The general and PRT-Farah commander approached two Afghans, carried on a conversation with them for a moment, then continued toward the Farah Agricultural and Veterinary Educational Institute, which was funded by the Afghan government and the United States, with the cooperation of the people of Farah.

The group returned to the vehicles, around which a group of children had gathered.
They then proceeded through the remainder of the city and returned to Forward Operating Base Farah, the base of operations for the PRT, where Brig. Gen. Nicholson met with Farah Gov. Roohul Amin.

"People are out, people are smiling," Brig. Gen. Nicholson said, after shaking hands with the governor.
"I think it's very positive."

Amin told the general there were a lot of positive things in the province, stating that he felt they were headed in the right direction.
But he said he still felt there were still areas to build upon, primarily economic projects like Highway 515.

The highway, which is still currently under construction, will eventually provide a path of travel from the Iranian border all the way through Farah to the Delaram District at the eastern edge, near where Marines operate in the vicinities of Bakwa, Golestan and Par Chaman, said Maj. Wayne Bodine, MEB-Afghanistan's liaison officer to PRT-Farah.

Bodine said Marines in those locations will continue to provide security and develop relationships as PRT-Farah continues efforts to complete Highway 515, which he said will open routes for economic growth for the Afghan populace.

"With the Afghans feeling their security is stable, road networks and other projects will spread prosperity into the districts and allow the Afghans to be able to stand on their own," Bodine said.

Cmdr. Nicholson said the PRT also plans to create a tougher pavement that will prevent insurgents from emplacing improvised explosive devices, a measure that will greatly increase protection for both locals and International Security Assistance Forces.

At the end of their meeting, Amin informed the brigade commanding general that construction of roadways remained the top priority for the province.
As he prepared to depart, Brig. Gen. Nicholson told the governor that he looked forward to working with him more in the near future, and reassured him that he would keep a close oversight of roadway construction progress.

COP Hit transfers, ISF take control

Children walk the streets safely, store fronts are filled with patrons buying goods and the Iraqi Security Forces are seen throughout the Al Anbar province keeping the Iraqi people safe from insurgents and terrorist activity.
With each passing month, the Iraqi army and police have proved more and more they can protect their citizens with less and less coalition help.


7/6/2009 By
Sgt. Eric C. Schwartz,
Regimental Combat Team 8

Because of this strong ISF stability, Regimental Combat Team 8 has transitioned Combat Outpost Hit, formerly a very strategically located COP, over to the Iraqi army.

“We have conducted a successful withdrawal, and the Iraqi Security Forces have the RCT’s confidence that they have the capability to maintain the necessary security and stability,” said Maj. Eric Andersen, the RCT-8 Iraqi Security Forces operations officer.

During their stay at the COP, in between key leader engagements with the town’s leadership, the Marines made sure the Iraqis received extra military training to ensure the stability of the COP.

“We ran the [Iraqi soldiers] through a training course and gave them pointers,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas Love, a rifleman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, RCT-8.

“We carried the [Iraqi soldiers] to ranges and also showed them how to run them,” said Lance Cpl. Gavin Reynolds, a rifleman with Company F.

Working directly with the IA unit transferring into the COP has helped to ensure the stability of the town.

“The biggest thing we did here was help enforce the good relationship and trust with the people of Hit,” said Gunnery Sgt. Melvin Harper Jr., the company gunnery sergeant for Company F.

Leaving behind sand-filled HESCO barriers, bare walls and empty desks, the Marines of Fox Company left the Iraqi soldiers a welcoming gift at their new outpost.

“We cleaned out rooms and moved in 80 sleeping racks and 40 air conditioners,” Reynolds said.

The transfer of COP Hit is only one of many COPs transferred to the Iraqi military or closed altogether during the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces.

“There was a time in late 2008 that there were over 40 outposts and bases in [western Anbar],” Andersen said.

With a well-trained Iraqi army transferring into COP Hit, the nearby city and villages will know they are being protected under the watchful eye of their own military.

'The Enemy has Gone to Ground'

A scorching desert littered with bombs, little contact, an invisible enemy: the Marines who descended on Taliban bastions in southern Afghanistan will have to face guerrilla tactics proven against the Soviets, an analyst says.


July 06, 2009
Agence France-Presse

"Nawa is quiet, too quiet," commanding officer of the operation, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, said of the town where some of the 4,000 Marines involved had deployed Thursday at the start of the assault in Helmand province.

"The enemy has gone to ground," he said.

By Sunday, four days into the first military test of President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, the Marines had faced little resistance except in Mian Poshteh where a U.S. officer said 200 battled about 40 Taliban.

This was even though they had pushed into areas where the government in Kabul had little or no control, and where the Taliban had in some cases established a parallel administration.

Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of about 30,000 NATO-led troops in the region, estimates there are 10,000 to 18,000 Taliban fighters in volatile southern Afghanistan.

"When guerrilla fighters see that the enemy is bigger in number and facilities, have an upper hand on the ground and in the air, all they do is let the enemy take over," said Afghan analyst Waheed Mujda.

"The tactic behind guerrilla war is simply to exhaust the powerful enemy, make it time-consuming and expensive for them to carry on."

The Taliban militia itself admits that it cannot take on so many men in direct combat.

"We are trying not to engage with them too soon because there are a lot of them and they would use air force in which case there will be civilian casualties," spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.

The fighters were using "guerrilla clashes," he said. "Our men are among the people."

"Significant resistance is not being seen," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told reporters in Kabul Sunday. However, mines were a threat and had already killed two policemen on Saturday, he said.

Homemade bombs -- improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in security jargon -- have killed three British soldiers in a similar operation further north since Wednesday.

A Marine and another British soldier were killed in insurgent fire, the military said.

None of the forces involved in the massive operation issued casualty tolls for the insurgents. "We don't know," Bashary said.

"The Taliban do not have the ability to face such a big force and power," defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP, adding the security forces were being slowed down by the militants' roadside bombs and mines.

Azimi said there was always the risk that militants would merely hide their weapons and melt into the community as ordinary villagers, while resorting to bomb attacks and other guerrilla tactics.

But by taking control of their strongholds, "we basically break their chain of command and control, we disrupt their supply routes, we deny them the opportunity to gather and group together," Azimi said.

"The bottom line is we will take the secure ground they have from them and break their network."

The joint forces had a three-phase security plan to keep insurgents out of areas they take, he said.

International troops would help the Afghan forces hold these areas; they would withdraw when the Afghan army and police were strong enough; and the army would gradually pull out, leaving police in place.

"This will take some five to six months after the end of the operation," Azimi said.

Anlayst Mujda believed the Tailban still would be able to continue with their guerrilla methods which have been seen in previous Afghan conflicts.

"They attack the isolated security posts, the district headquarters and others, take control of them briefly, take weapons and money and food, and whatever they can," the analyst said.

"They basically feed off the expenses of the enemy and go away."

The Afghan mujahideen who fought off the Soviet invaders in the 1980s did the same, he said.

"They only resisted and fought when they were surprised by the enemy and they had no choice and most of the time they were carrying out attack-and-escape tactics," he said.

But even before the Marines are able to hold these militant areas, they will have a difficult time in Helmand, Mujda said.

"It is terribly hot, the foreign soldiers move heavily, they carry food, water, heavy uniform and protection. They cannot survive in that heat for long."

At least two Marines have been evacuated suffering chronic heat exhaustion, the force has said.

July 5, 2009

Marines battle heat, small-arms fire in Afghanistan

NAWA, Afghanistan – Taliban militants were nowhere in sight as columns of U.S. Marines walked for a third day Saturday near this town in southern Afghanistan, but the desert heat proved an enemy in its own right.


July 5, 2009
The Associated Press

Elsewhere, Marines taking part in a major offensive in Helmand province came under sporadic small-arms fire Saturday, but for the Marines of Bravo Company in Nawa, heat was the biggest threat.
Several troops fell victim Saturday to temperatures topping 100 degrees.

"Happy Fourth of July, dawg. Happy America," said Lance Corp. Vince Morales, 21, of Baytown, Texas, to one of his Marine buddies while resting under a tree during a break.

A few Marines ate watermelon from a farmer's field as the evening sun set, but there were not many other signs of a holiday celebration.

Some 4,000 Marines are moving through southern Helmand to take back Taliban-held territory and pinch the insurgents' supply lines. Bravo Company has seen a lot of walking but up to now little fighting, though other Marines in the operation have had extended battles.

Marines Cautiously Optimistic On Afghan Offensive

Four days into the Helmand operation, military officials in Afghanistan say the offensive to break the Taliban's grip on the region has exceeded their own optimistic expectations — in particular, the speed with which the Marines were able to move into the vast Helmand River valley region and clear areas of Taliban and other Islamist insurgents without widespread civilian casualties


by Jackie Northam
July 5, 2009

But there have been pockets of fighting and stubborn resistance as the Marines and Afghan security forces move farther south in the fertile valley region.
This is the prime opium growing region; the money from that industry has been a cash cow for the Taliban, and it's not likely an area the Islamist group will easily give up without a fight.

Marine commanders at Camp Leatherneck, the sprawling Marine base in Helmand province, say it appears that the insurgents went into hiding in the first couple of days of the offensive, trying to gauge what U.S. forces were doing.
They say it's likely the Taliban expected the Marines to leave shortly after the initial onslaught and that they foresee an increase in fighting once insurgents realize the Marines aren't leaving.

Marines are instead setting up small outposts throughout the southern Helmand province and are staying to help secure the region.
That involves the longer, much harder to define process of winning the hearts and minds of the local population.
Every Marine company has been ordered to organize a shura, or town meeting, within 24 hours of moving into a small village, and sit down with the local leaders to start building relationships.

So far, that's had mixed results. In some areas, there has been an overflow of people under the shura tent. In other towns, none of the villagers have shown up.
This is not a great surprise; military officials recognize wariness among the local people, who either don't know or don't trust that the U.S. Marines are going to stay for a protracted period, so they aren't automatically switching sides and pledging allegiance to the American fighters or Afghan security forces.

Still, military commanders say this is the way to go to slowly build a trust with the people and help build the local economy and government, while at the same time hunting down Taliban and other insurgents who could undermine progress.
Military commanders say there's no question that this requires intensive manpower — and that the Marines will be in southern Helmand province for a long time.

Marine seeking medical items to establish clinic

Capt. Paul Webber is serving in Afghanistan

A U.S. Marine from the foothills who has a knack of finding himself in the thick of the fray is asking area residents to help aid American efforts in Afghanistan.


By Gus Thomson/Journal Staff Writer

Capt. Paul Webber, a 1996 Del Oro High School graduate, is currently serving in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.
On Thursday, thousands of Marines there set out to battle control away from the Taliban as part of the first major push in President Barack Obama’s new regional strategy.

Webber, on his fourth combat tour, is company commander of the 2nd Battalion 3rd Marine division.
His father, retired Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Webber, said his son has asked for help in establishing a bridge of friendship with local Afghanis by opening a medical clinic.

While Capt. Webber and the Marines can’t afford to provide their own medical supplies for the clinic, Larry Webber said his son is making a call out for residents to provide rudimentary materials like bandages and pain relievers to help reach out to local residents in the village of Sultani Bakwa.

Paul Webber earned a Bronze Star in 2005 for combat bravery during fighting in the Iraq city of Fallujah.
A Christian Science Monitor reporter and photographer captured the drama of Webber’s role in reports back to the U.S.

In a meeting last month, the Sultani Bakwa tribal elder was told that the Marines would replace doors they had kicked in during searches.
The elder had suggested that the Marines could help bring back displaced village residents by establishing a clinic and reestablishing a bazaar, Larry Webber said.

Webber, a longtime Newcastle resident, said he and his wife, Valerie, will do what they can and are hoping others will contact him for more information on what is needed and how they can send supplies to Afghanistan.
His phone number is (916) 253-9859.

Webber said his son sees the clinic as a way to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghanis.

“They have to realize the Marines are there for them,” Webber said.

New artillery system set for fielding

Staff report
Posted : Sunday Jul 5, 2009 8:59:11 EDT

The Corps’ new Internally Transportable Vehicle and Expeditionary Fire Support System have reached initial operational capability and are expected to be fielded by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marine officials said.

To continue reading:


SOI instructors recognized for saving students

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jul 5, 2009 8:49:03 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — In nearly identical incidents seven weeks apart, quick thinking by two Marine combat instructors prevented likely catastrophic injuries when fragmentation grenades tossed by two students didn’t clear a wall.

To continue reading:


UK medics giving front-line help

A team of medics and nurses who usually treat injured soldiers flown back to the UK are in Afghanistan helping to save the lives of frontline troops.



Five from the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham are at a field hospital at Camp Bastion, the UK's main military base in Helmand province.

Leading Naval Nurse Sarah Butler said she wanted to understand what soldiers experienced before going to the centre.

The 26-year-old said she had "seen both sides of the coin now".

'Emergency care'

The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine is at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

Miss Butler, who is originally from Leeds, said: "I was seeing them as they came back and I thought I was being a bit of a fraud."

Miss Butler, who has been at the centre for more than a year, said the job in Afghanistan was "completely different" to working at the centre.

"Here the patients are flown out quite soon after the injury so they are still not taking in what is happening," she said.

"It's a completely different job but it's good that I can advise them what it's like when they get back to Birmingham."

Medical assistant Georgina Francis said coming to Afghanistan had given her the chance to see first-hand what soldiers go through before arriving in Birmingham.

The 24-year-old, originally from Romsey, Hampshire, said: "Seeing them as they come through the doors is different to seeing them back home when they are stable.

"The emergency care the lads get here is brilliant."

Tourism industry thriving in Iraq

By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, July 5, 2009

NAJAF, Iraq — It may be hard for Westerners to believe, but one industry that’s booming, despite the global recession, is Iraqi tourism

To continue reading:


Americans ship out

A CROWD has gathered at Cairns' wharf to farewell the USS Tortuga and USS Essex.


Margo Zlotkowski
Monday, July 5, 2009

The US warships are preparing to depart this evening, after a week's stop in Cairns.
The two US warships, carrying 3500 sailors and marines, are bound for Shoalwater Bay, near Rockhampton, to take part in large-scale military exercise Talisman Sabre.

Their departure follows a huge weekend for the sailors and marines in Cairns.

The city was abuzz as pubs and clubs celebrated the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday, while brothels reported booming business and the courteous big-tipping Americans made friends with everybody.

But despite the large crowds, with thousands turning out to watch fireworks and listen to music on the Esplanade on Saturday night, police reported no incidents from the well-mannered visitors.

"Extraordinarily well-behaved are the words to describe the American servicemen," Cairns police’s Sen-Sgt Michael Bishop said.

"We were expecting them to behave well and they did.

"Their standards of discipline are very high."

HMAS Cairns public relations officer Bernard O’Connor said the city had been welcoming to the visitors, with invitations and offers of hospitality pouring in from businesses and individuals.

Among them was the Cairns-American Classic Car Club which did a run down to the wharf to offer spare seats to sailors keen for a final joy ride.

The Americans also proved generous tour guides, showing at least 1500 people through their ships on organised visits during the week.

The off-duty servicemen enjoyed their last big night of R ’n R on Saturday partying at popular city night-spots such as the Woolshed, Gilligan’s and Rhino Bar, where bar staff donned sailor hats and painted the stars and stripes on their faces.

"All my bar staff made $200 or more each in tips just on that night alone," a Rhino Bar spokeswoman said.

"It’s not only the businesses that have done well but the staff as well."

The bar’s manager Ritchie Midson was among many who praised the visitors’ manners.

"They were really polite, good guys … they actually say please and thank you more than the locals," Mr Midson said.

July 4, 2009

Marines march in grueling Afghan sun for July 4

NAWA, Afghanistan – Taliban militants were nowhere in sight as the columns of U.S. Marines walked a third straight day across southern Afghanistan. But the desert heat proved an enemy in its own right, with several troops falling victim Saturday to temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.


By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso, Associated Press Writer
July 04, 2009

The Marines carry 50-100 pounds (23-45 kilograms) on their backs. But because they are marching through farmland on foot, they can't carry nearly as much water as their thirst demands.

Few even realized the date was July 4, but once word of the holiday spread through the company, several said they knew relatives would be holding lakeside celebrations — a world away from the strenuous task Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was taking on.

"Happy 4th of July, dawg. Happy America," said Lance Corp. Vince Morales, 21, of Baytown, Texas said to one of his Marine buddies while resting under a tree during a break.

Some Marines ate watermelon from a farmer's field as the evening sun set, but there were few other signs of a holiday celebration here.

Some 4,000 Marines are moving through southern Helmand to take back Taliban-held territory and pinch the insurgents' supply lines. Bravo Company has seen a lot of walking but up to now little fighting, though other Marines in the operation have had extended battles.

So far, the worst danger facing Bravo is the heat. Temperatures are well above 100 degrees (37.8 Celsius), and medics treated several heat casualties Saturday.

"When (body) temperature goes up past 104 (40 Celsius), your brain starts cooking, and that's what we're trying to prevent," said Simon Trujillo, an HM3 Navy Medic from Dallas.

The high heat, heavy packs, limited water and three straight days of walking through tough farmland terrain were taking a toll, he said. Several Marines threw up or were dry-heaving from the heat. Three passed out, and other Marines rushed to share the weight and pour water on overheated bodies.

"It's pretty taxing on your body. There's no way to prepare for this," said Trujillo.

One cruel irony: A helicopter dropped off a load of water to the Marines early Saturday, but because they hadn't yet reached their final destination, they took only what they could carry and left hundreds of bottles behind for Afghan villagers to drink.

The sun in southern Helmand is blazing by 8 a.m., and the troops seek out any sliver of shade available. Trees grow along the many manmade water canals the farmers use to survive here, but there is little relief elsewhere.

Sweat pours off faces as Marines shift heavy weapons from one shoulder to the other. Everyone still carries all the ammunition they arrived with in the dark hours of early Thursday, because this unit has not yet exchanged fire.

The Marines walk in columns down dusty dirt roads, and every couple dozen steps they bend over at the waist to give aching shoulders a break. During frequent breaks, medics go up and down the line, looking to see if their men are drinking water.

"It'd be so great if we took contact. We'd lose so much weight," said Lance Corp. Michael Estrada, 20, of Los Angeles.

Lance Corp. Bryan Knight, a mortar man, carries one of the heaviest pack. The 21-year-old Cincinnati native weighs a slight 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms) — and his pack almost equals him.

He carries a 15-pound (6.8-kilogram) mortar base plate, four mortar rockets that weigh 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) each, about 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of water and another 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of combat gear — ammunition, weapon and his flak jacket.

Unsurprisingly, he is drenched in sweat. "The only dry parts of my clothes are the pockets," he said.

Squatting in a lean-to made out of a camouflage poncho beside Knight was Corp. Aaron Shade, 24, of Greenville, Ohio, who hadn't realized it was Independence Day back home in the U.S.

"My family's out on the boat house riding on jet skis, drinking lots of beer," he said. "That's not depressing to think about."

The company captain, Drew Schoenmaker, said the heat was affecting militants as well, noting there were few daytime attacks theater-wide and none on his unit. He said he doubted people back in the United States could understand how hard his Marines work.

"Someone back home might say, 'Oh, it's 100 degrees here, too.' But you're not trying to carry 60 or 90 pounds and people aren't trying to kill you," he said. "And you can always step out of the sun. You can't always do that here."

Honor and tears for a fallen warrior

As I was sitting at the gate in the Washington-Baltimore airport Tuesday waiting on my flight, waiting for the attendant to announce boarding for our flight to Charlotte, I saw about a dozen Transportation Security Agency uniformed personnel head to the departure ramp.
I was concerned there was a problem, meaning a delay.
Just what I needed!


By Ken Robertson

Published: July 4, 2009

Several of us moved to the observation window to see if we could see anything going on outside.
That is when I saw a lone uniformed Marine standing at the bottom of the ramp leading from the cargo hold of the aircraft to the ground.
I thought to myself how this small delay for me was nothing compared to the sacrifice a Marine and his family made for our nation.

There were more and more people gathering to see what we were looking at down on the tarmac.
The people were quiet, but not silent.
I looked down the concourse and saw other small groups gathered close to the other observation windows looking down at the conveyor and the small detail of Marines that appeared.
They were part of the funeral detail or Honor Guard.

In the distance there was a hearse, another vehicle and a police car.
As they drove to the bottom of the ramp, I knew the remains of a Marine, in a flag-draped casket, were about to be moved from the aircraft to the hearse.
It is customary for uniformed members of the armed services to salute any American flag as it passes — especially when it is covering the remains of one of our fallen warriors.

The people standing around me were mostly civilians.
I could tell they wanted to be respectful, but did not know how.
I had no idea if the fallen Marine's family was in one of the vehicles.
I couldn't have the family, or those Marines, look up and see a bunch of people standing from above, just staring.

When I saw the pallbearers (Marines) move to the bottom of the ramp, I felt I had to do something.

It has been four years since I retired from the Army, but duty called.
I turned and faced everyone in the terminal and, in my loudest command voice, I told everyone the remains of a Marine were about to be unloaded from the aircraft and it is customary for everyone to stand and be silent as the body is moved.

Believe it or not, everybody, as far as I could see, stood up and the entire terminal became quiet.
I then said as loudly as I could that all current and former service members, in or out of uniform, were authorized to render the hand salute, while all civilians were to place their hand over their hearts.

As soon as the tip of the flag-draped coffin appeared, I bellowed out "Pre-sent ... Arms."
You could hear a pin drop except for the multitude of hands going over their hearts.
The entire terminal was silent.
There was no talking, no announcements over the public address system.
Only silence.

As the casket traveled down the ramp, all the U.S. Air employees who were servicing the aircraft and unloading baggage stopped and stood silently with their hands over their hearts. The police officer was saluting.
The Marines picked up the casket and placed it gently into the hearse, then closed the rear door.

Inside the terminal, I gave the command to "Order Arms."
When I turned around, there were hundreds and hundreds of people standing silently all over the terminal —at all the gates on our side of the concourse, as well as all the gates on the opposite side.
I noticed every woman of child-bearing age either had tears in her eyes or running down their cheeks.
And a lot of fathers did too.

I was taken aback.
People still care.
During the next 10 minutes, a lot of former service members, fathers of soldiers, and a few moms came and thanked me for letting them know what to do.
I didn't do anything compared to that Marine.
People want to be led to do what is right.

America still cares.
America still has gratitude.
The American spirit is not dead.
We don't need to apologize to anyone for who we are.

I don't know who that Marine was, where he served or how he died.
All I know is that he raised his right arm, took the oath, put on that uniform, and did his duty. That's good enough for me.
I don't know how he died, or where he was going.
All I know is that his dreams for a better life are over.

Somewhere there is a grieving wife, or mother, or father — and their pain has just begun.
I began Tuesday evening concerned that I might be inconvenienced.
Today, I am safe, my family is safe and the worst thing that might happen to me is a little inconvenience. I am safe because of the sacrifices that Marine made.
I am safe due to the sacrifices that all our brothers in arms have made since 1776.

His duty is over.
Our duty is not.
It is not our duty to simply to stand and pay respect as a fallen soldier passes.
Our duty is to remain steadfast that our armed forces not be committed to harm's way recklessly, that they be properly housed, trained and led.
We need to do our duty to provide our young men and women with the best equipment — not simply with weapons and armor that is "good enough."

I wish I knew the family of that Marine to say thanks.
I wish I could let them know that for a few minutes, in an airport terminal of one of the busiest airports in the United States of America, a group of Americans rendered an honor to their son.
I doubt it could take the edge off their loss, but I think it wouldn't hurt.

It made me think.
It made us all reflect for a few minutes.
Thank you, brave Marine, for one last gift.
Hooah! Semper Fi!

Targets On Their Backs, Marines Enter Afghan Town

After final battle briefings, the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment walk for more than a mile across the shin-high sand in Afghanistan that they call "moon dust" to the edge of a helicopter landing pad.
They settle in to catch some sleep — or try to.

by Graham Smith
July 4, 2009

Known as "America's Battalion," the 2/8 is part of the massive Marine offensive launched Thursday to wrest the Helmand River valley from Taliban control.
The Taliban were driven from power after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 but have seen a violent resurgence in much of the country's south and east.
Taliban fighters attacked a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least two American troops and wounding several others in a two-hour battle.

On this day of Operation Khanjar, the battalion prepares to move into the southern village of Sorhodez.

The Marines line up at the helipad after a breakfast of MREs.
"They already have the first four are on deck," says First Sgt. Derrick Mays.
"Next three will be here shortly, and then we'll start mounting the birds."

Fox Company's first squad is up and away for a half-hour in the sky, then makes a banking fast descent to a green field, with two small fires burning in it from flares that they've dropped.

The chopper lands, and the Marines dash through a furrowed field to a safer position.
"Follow me — straight ahead — get up, let's go," Mays yells.

There is no enemy fire.
The men take positions along a head-high berm and in the field, squads spreading out, set to take their objective: a compound with 15-foot-high walls just across the street.
They have no idea what could be inside.

The company commander, Capt. John Sun, knows it's important to find out soon because the helicopters circling overhead have other missions to fly today.

"Here's the deal. We've got 30 minutes of air cover," Sun says.
"This is a pretty good spot, but it's not good enough. In 10 minutes, we'll do the cordon on the compound, then we can go talk to the owner."

The Marines move across the road and into the courtyard. Sun approaches a door, his interpreter at his side.
"OK, you ready?" Sun asks.
Then he knocks.

A lock slides open and a man answers.
His name is Daoud, and he's obviously nervous.
The Marines are, too — some are taking bets on when they'll get shot at.

"I guarantee that within three to four hours, we'll get shot at," Mays says.

Sun notes that there are a lot of kids now in the area.
He says the company needs to set up an outpost, to "get a place, get patrols happening, get them before they get us."

In fact, that will turn out to be the biggest fight these Marines will face on what is their D-Day: persuading the locals to give them shelter.
Daoud says they can't stay at his place.
He walks the captain through town to see if someone else can help.

After securing the compound, Sun and Mays and a squad of Marines roll down the street, past cautious clusters of men and young boys.
Many are smiling.
All are curious.

The Marines wave and exchange asalaam aleikums with the Afghan residents.

"We'll walk another 200 meters to meet the local elder and try to do some negotiations," Mays says as they pass fir and fruit trees.
A canal runs alongside the outer walls of houses all along the street.

The patrol reaches the house of the village leader, but he is not home.
His son, a doctor at a nearby clinic, says he doesn't have the authority to arrange accommodations without his father.

Sun approaches the village mullah, Zay Nudin, hoping he may have some clout. Instead, the man has a list of complaints.
The police cause problems, British forces killed a 10-year-old boy and his father two weeks ago, and he's afraid the Marines will bring the fight to his town.

"The problem is that you come from one side and the Taliban from the other and the kids have to escape," the mullah says in Pashto with a laugh.
"It will take a little time to beat the Taliban, but that's why we're here — we'll protect your people in the village."

But he has no suggestions for the Marines about accommodations.
Other men gather around and agree to talk to Daoud.
Because his place is on the edge of town, they reason, any attack on it might not affect the rest of the village as much.

Daoud finally agrees to house the men.
Sun negotiates a two-week lease for a hundred dollars.
The man is given a voucher to get more money from the provincial government.

"Just to be clear, we have the whole house?" Sun clarifies.
Then the Marines go back across the field to give Daoud time to move out.

Daoud hauls away three large cartloads of carpets, furniture and clothing.
Then he approaches Sun again — he wants to give the money back.
The interpreter tells the patrol: "He says to get the money back because when you leave here, the Taliban will cut him because of helping you."

"We're not leaving," Mays says.

Nevertheless, the Marines take back the money and Daoud clears out.
He says he'll tell the Taliban the house was taken by force.
The troops move in, bringing dogs and metal detectors to sweep the premises for bombs.

Fox Company has come through this day, their objective achieved and not a shot fired.

Marines Seek to Cut Taliban Supplies

NAWA, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines pushed deeper into Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan on Friday, seeking to cut insurgent supply lines and win over local elders on the second day of the biggest U.S. military operation here since the American-led invasion of 2001.


July 04, 2009
Associated Press

On the other side of the border, U.S. missiles struck a Pakistani Taliban militant training center and communications center, killing 17 people and wounding nearly 30, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

Both U.S. operations were aimed at what President Barack Obama considers as the biggest dangers in the region: a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency allied with al-Qaida that threatens both nuclear-armed Pakistan and the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

The 4,000-strong U.S. force met little resistance Friday as troops fanned out into villages in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, although one Marine was killed and several others were wounded the day before, U.S. officials said.

Despite minimal contact, the Marines could see militants using flashlights late Thursday to signal one another about American troop movements.

Military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier said the goal of the Helmand operation was not simply to kill Taliban fighters but to win over the local population - a difficult task in a region where foreigners are viewed with suspicion.

Marines also hope to cut the routes used by militants to funnel weapons, ammunition and fighters from Pakistan to the Taliban, which mounted an increasingly violent insurgency since its hard-line Islamist government was toppled in 2001 by an international coalition.

The new U.S. operation will test the Obama administration's new strategy of holding territory to let the Afghan government establish a presence in rural areas where Taliban influence is strong.

As Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," entered its second day, Marines took control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser, and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, Pelletier said.

In Nawa, Marines met with about 20 Afghan men and boys, seeking to reassure them that the Americans wanted to protect them from the Taliban.

"Are you going to enter our houses?" asked Mohammad Nabi, 25, who was there with five of his younger brothers. "We are afraid that you will leave, and the Taliban will come back."

They also complained that local police were thieves not to be trusted.

Marine officers promised not to enter homes and said they would remain in the area to keep out the Taliban.

One elder with a gray beard asked the Marines whether they would prevent residents from saying Muslim prayers. The troops assured him they would not.

In one village near Nawa, however, the atmosphere was tense.

"When we asked if they had a village elder or mullah for the American commander to talk to, the answer was no," said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, a Marine company commander. "It's fear of reprisal. Fear and intimidation is one thing the enemy does very well."

Taking territory from the Taliban has always proved easier than holding it. The challenge is especially great in Helmand because it is a center of Afghanistan's thriving opium production, and drug profits feed both the insurgency and corrupt government officials.

On Wednesday, a British lieutenant colonel was killed in an explosion in Helmand. Lt. Col. Rupert Thorneloe, commander of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was the highest-ranking British officer killed in Afghanistan.

A Canadian soldier, 30-year-old Cpl. Nicholas Bulger, was killed Friday in Kandahar province after his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, the Canadian military said. Five other soldiers were hurt.

The missile attacks in Pakistan on Friday occurred about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) east of Helmand in the rugged South Waziristan region, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The area is a Taliban stronghold close to the Afghan border where Pakistani troops are gearing up for a major offensive.

Two missiles struck an abandoned seminary in the village of Mantoi used as a training base by militants from Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's group, the officials said. In the other strike, one missile hit an insurgent communications center in the nearby village of Kokat Khel, they said.

In total, 17 people were killed and 27 others were wounded, they said.

However, Maulvi Noor Syed, an aide to Mehsud, told The Associated Press that only three Taliban fighters died in the strikes.

Also Friday, U.S. troops continued looking for an American soldier believed captured by insurgents, Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo said. The soldier and three Afghans with him went missing on Tuesday in the eastern Paktika province

There was no immediate public claim of responsibility from any insurgent group. Much of the area is controlled by the Taliban faction led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom the U.S. has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed some 60 people.

Also Friday, Russia announced that it will allow the U.S. to ship weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, providing Washington an alternative route to supply its forces in the landlocked country.

Up until now, Russia has allowed the U.S. to ship non-lethal supplies across its territory for operations in Afghanistan, and Kremlin officials had suggested further cooperation was likely.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2 U.S. Troops Killed in Attack on Base in Afghanistan

KABUL — Taliban militants fired rockets and mortars at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing two American troops and wounding several more in a two-hour battle, officials said.


PHOTOS: Marine Offensive in Afghanistan

Saturday, July 04, 2009
Associated Press

During the clash, which ended only after U.S. forces called in airstrikes, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck toward the base's gates. It blew up when American troops fired on it.

More than 30 insurgents were killed in the battle in Zerok district of Paktika province, said Hamidullah Zawak, the provincial governor spokesman. Seven American and two Afghan troops were wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Attack helicopters, airstrikes and fire from U.S. troops killed at least 10 militants, according to a statement from the NATO-led force under which these American troops fight. Troops detained one militant, it said. The discrepancy in the militant death tolls could not immediately be reconciled.

The multi-pronged attack near the Pakistan border is hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the massive Marine assault in southern Afghanistan and underscores the militants' ability to inflict casualties on the over-stretched U.S. forces as they widen their battle against the Taliban, who have made a violent comeback following their initial defeat in the American-led 2001 invasion.

Responding to the deteriorating security situation, President Barack Obama's administration has ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

As part of the new strategy, 4,000 Marines poured into volatile Helmand province on Thursday in the biggest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since 2001, trying to cut insurgent supply lines and win over local elders.

Also in the south, a roadside bomb Saturday killed seven policemen in Kandahar province, the Interior Ministry statement said. Another two Afghan soldiers died in a separate blast in Helmand province's Musa Qala district also Saturday, the Defense Ministry said.

In the eastern attack, an insurgent drove a truck filled with explosives and gravel toward the gates of the U.S. base, Zawak said. When the driver did not heed warnings to stop, troops opened fire on the truck, which exploded, he said.

The blast happened in the middle of a rocket and mortar fire attack on the base, which killed two U.S. troops and wounded seven other American soldiers, said Spc. April Campbell, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

The clash lasted for two hours before U.S.-called airstrikes that ended the fight, Zawak said.

Two Afghan soldiers were also wounded. The base housed both U.S. and Afghan soldiers.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. After the blast, some 100 Taliban fighters fired at the coalition troops for several hours, briefly taking over two of their checkpoints, Mujaheed said.

Campbell denied the Taliban ever took over any checkpoints.

Zawak said 32 insurgents were killed in the airstrikes, and that authorities have already recovered 16 bodies. Mujaheed said five insurgents were killed and three were wounded.

It is impossible to independently verify Zawak's and Mujaheed's claims because the base is in a remote area.

Saturday's attack happened in the same province where an American soldier and three Afghans were believed captured by insurgents Tuesday.

U.S. troops continued looking for the soldier, Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo said Friday. The military has not publicly identified him.

No immediate claim of responsibility was made by any insurgent group for the missing soldier or Saturday's attack.

Taliban faction led by Sirajuddin Haqqani operate in the area where the attack took place. The U.S. has accused Haqqani of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings, including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 60 people.

Marine from Adairsville killed in Afghanistan had been in country six weeks, uncle says

Lance Cpl. Seth Sharp, 20, a Marine from Adairsville who was killed Thursday in Afghanistan, signed up when he was 17 and had previously been deployed in Iraq, a relative said.


July 4, 2009

He had arrived in Afghanistan only six weeks ago, his uncle Shane Rogers said.

Sharp attended Adairsville High School where he had played football, but left high school early to join the Marines, his uncle said.

He is survived by his mother Angie Sharp and his father and stepmother Rick and Tiffany Sharp, Rogers said.

Sharp was killed during Operation Strike of the Sword, the latest push by the United States Marine Corps taking on the Taliban. He was serving in Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.

R. Dudley Barton & Son has charged of the arrangements, which are incomplete.

Sharp is the third local serviceman killed in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

1st. Sgt. John Blair, 38, Calhoun, died in Mado Zayi, Afghanistan on June 20 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle. He was an Army National Guardsman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment out of Lawrenceville.

Graveside services for him were held Wednesday in Canton.

In early June, Jeffrey William Jordan, 21, Cave Spring, who served with the Calhoun-based 108th Cavalry, was one of three soldiers from the Georgia National Guard unit killed in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

July 3, 2009

Little Taliban resistance early in operation

By Fisnik Abrashi and Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Jul 3, 2009 11:37:34 EDT

NAWA, Afghanistan — Marines moved into villages in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan on Friday, meeting little resistance as they tried to win over local chiefs on the second day of the biggest American military operation here since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

To continue reading:


Underway Replenishment Ensures Navy's Flexibility, Forward Presence

USS Bonhomme Richard, At Sea (NNS) -- Amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) conducted an underway replenishment (UNREP) with the Fleet Replenishment Oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) July 1.


Story Number: NNS090703-12
Release Date: 7/3/2009 6:08:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiffany Sivels, USS Bonhomme Richard Public Affairs

In order for Bonhomme Richard to carry out the Navy's mission effectively, it must be able to remain at sea for prolonged periods of time. This is made possible through the efforts of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships that are equipped to replenish underway with fuel, ammunition, and spare parts.

"The two most common methods of UNREP that are used are connected replenishment (CONREP) and vertical replenishment (VERTREP), said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (SW/AW) Michael Fifer. "They can be used singly or at the same time."

Vertical replenishment is carried out by helicopters with the ships in close proximity, or miles apart depending on the situation and the amount of cargo to be transferred. Connected replenishment involves two or more ships that steam side-by-side, with hoses and lines used to transfer fuel, ammunition, supplies and personnel connecting the ships.

"Replenishment with the ships alongside each other makes it possible to service two ships at once, with numerous replenishment stations to each ship", said Fifer. "For instance yesterday just as we were receiving fuel, so was the USS Rushmore (LSD 49)."

In addition, by replenishing alongside rather than astern, the whole formation of ships can maintain a greater speed of up to 16 knots as opposed to the 7-8 knot maximum speed for astern refueling.

Fifer added that by replenishing alongside, both fuel and dry cargo can be transferred, instead of being limited to just fuel.

Although MSC is a vital asset to the Navy's mission, a successful UNREP could not be completed without the help of the receiving ship.

"Most of the work that deck department does is done the day prior," said Boatswain's Mate Seaman Mason West, a native of Spanway, Wash. "But during the day of the evolution, we man the forward and aft lookout, fueling stations three and seven and bridge watches.

Weapons department ensures the phone and distance (PND) line (which shows the distance between each ship) is received by the refueling ship and the lines used to retrieve the fueling hoses are fired successfully.

"This was an all-hands evolution and a great example of teamwork and excellence at its best," said Bonhomme Richard Commanding Officer Capt. John Funk.

Bonhomme Richard, the flagship for the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group, is underway conducting an initial integration exercise with the Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Marines, Afghan's Continue Operation Khanjar

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers and police are continuing clearing operations in key population centers along the Helmand River valley in an effort to secure the local population from the threat of Taliban and other insurgent intimidation and violence.


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Courtesy Story
Date: 07.03.2009

Almost 4,000 Marines and Sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, along with more than 600 Afghan national security forces, are currently operating in the districts of Nawa and Garmsir in central Helmand province. MEB forces are operating as far south as the vicinity of Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district in the region of the Helmand River valley known as "The Fishhook."

The Marines and Afghan forces are continuing to patrol and have begun engaging with key leaders in the districts in order to better understand the concerns and needs of Afghans in the area. Once security is established, civil affairs personnel and other non-governmental organizations and agencies will begin establishing programs aimed at building long-term governance and development throughout the Helmand River valley.

One Marine has been killed in action, and several others have been injured or wounded since the operation began. Yesterday, south of Garmsir, one Afghan man began to approach a group of Marines and was warned to stop. He did not stop, despite a series of warning indicators being employed. The man continued to walk toward the Marines at a rapid pace without saying anything to them. A warning shot was fired, and when he still did not stop, a Marine fired a single shot, wounding the man. U.S. Navy corpsmen immediately treated the man, and he was evacuated by MEB forces to Bost hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, where he is in stable condition.

MEB-Afghanistan is a subordinate unit of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The combined U.S. and Afghan mission is to provide security for population centers along the Helmand River valley and connect local citizens with their legitimate government while establishing stable and secure conditions for national elections scheduled for August as well as enhanced security for the future.

Personal Security From an Outside Perspective

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - The sun was high and the heat was at its peak. The sound of rocks crackling beneath service members' boots, the noise of construction work, and the voices were nowhere to be heard. It was as if time came to a sudden halt.


Associated Images:

2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Date: 07.03.2009

Off in the distance, various Marines walked back and forth making sure the undisturbed area stayed that way. Each person or vehicle that came close to them was immediately turned away, with no questions asked and no explanations given.

After a few minutes a convoy arrived at the recently-deserted location. In one of the vehicles were Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.

Petraeus stepped out of the vehicle and proceeded to meet with the brigade's senior leadership. The Marines, still silently pacing nearby, acted as if nothing had changed. They continued moving back and forth from one spot to another, looking for anything or anyone who posed a threat.

"Our perspective is always outboard," said Sgt. Roy Price, platoon sergeant, Personal Security Detachment, MEB-Afghanistan. "Our mission is to identify any possible threats and negotiate them long before they ever reach the person we're protecting. We're focused on our mission, not the visitor."

The area remained silent, motionless and empty. The Marines on the ground patrolled different areas that interconnected with each other, while other Marines watched from elevated positions to eliminate any possible threat.

"Once the area is secured, you can see a threat coming from 30 meters away because there is nobody else around," said Price, an Allentown, Pa., native. "As for the Marines, they're focused and prepared to execute."

Petraeus and Nicholson left the secured area unscathed and accompanied by members of the security detachment.

"We presented a hard target, we were proficient in our jobs and we successfully negotiated the mission," said Master Sgt. Rilon Reall, personal security officer, PSD, MEB-Afghanistan. "The credit goes to the team."

Although the detachment's role in the visit was successful, it's only the beginning, Price said, stating that there are many more missions that await them in their deployment.

Their primary mission within MEB-Afghanistan is to protect the brigade commanding general, as well as any distinguished visitors he hosts. One day, Price said, they could be providing security for the general while he travels from one point to another, and on a different day they could be providing security for someone like Defense Secretary Robert Gates or country music star Toby Keith, two past visitors to Camp Leatherneck.

Price, a military policeman by trade, said the team was built to be a self-sustainable force to mitigate some of the potential problems they could potentially face while providing security. He said the detachment consists of military policemen, infantrymen, motor transport drivers and mechanics, communication technicians, an interpreter, a corpsman and even a supply clerk.

"As a personal security detachment, we maneuver as an independent element on the battlefield," Price explained. "We are solely responsible for our men and our mission."

As an independent unit the detachment has to be prepared for anything, said Cpl. Jared Stedman, assistant motor transport chief, PSD, MEB-Afghanistan. The Marines must be ready to repair broken-down vehicles, call in for support and medical evacuations, treat wounded personnel and engage enemies. The detachment has personnel to handle all of the above, he said, noting that they have also cross-trained in each others' jobs to ensure they can negotiate each mission, even if a man were to go down.

"Infantry and weapons knowledge, driving, mechanics, supply, we've all cross-trained and learned new things," Stedman said. "I've cross-trained other people on fixing trucks. I'm sure I'll learn more myself as we go."

Price said the Marines are still new to the camp and they've been getting familiar with the area while preparing for future challenges.

"Most of the emotions we've handled and gotten over," Price said. "Our focus now has to be toward executing our missions. Failure is not an option for us."

July 2, 2009

Statement on Operation Khanjar From Larry D. Nicholson, Commanding General, Task Force Leatherneck

Today, nearly 4,000 U.S. Marines and Sailors of Task Force Leatherneck, partnered with Afghan national security forces and supported by Task Force Pegasus, the Combat Aviation Brigade of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, conducted a near-simultaneous heliborne and surface insert into the central and southern Helmand River valley. These efforts, combined with closely coordinated U.K. and Dutch operations to our immediate north, will dramatically change and positively impact the security of the Afghan people living in this long-held Taliban heartland.


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Courtesy Story
Date: 07.02.2009

Our focus is now and will remain the Afghan people. We have worked closely with local Helmand government officials and many tribal and local leaders in the detailed planning of this major offensive. While the initial focus will be on security, the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team working with government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and coalition forces will rapidly move to introduce the initial essential aspects of governance and economic development into these newly secured areas. These efforts will be focused upon providing immediate assistance to the population, and in setting the conditions for successful elections in August. Today's operation is designed to separate and isolate the Taliban from the population who has long suffered the effects of their presence.

This large scale operation is not without risk to the many thousands of brave and dedicated Afghan and coalition troops participating. This operation is designed to boldly demonstrate to the Afghan people the determination and dedication of the government and coalition forces in ridding the area of Taliban insurgents who prey upon the people. The Taliban offer no future, no hope, and we will work to provide immediate security gains to the local citizens of the Helmand River valley. What makes Operation Kanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go, we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

Semper Fidelis,
Larry D. Nicholson
Commanding General, Task Force Leatherneck

Marines Hit Insurgents Behind Lines

NAWA, Afghanistan – Marines took Afghan insurgents by surprise early Thursday morning when they dropped behind their lines to hit them as part of the just-launched major operation against Taliban fighters.


Reklated Video:

July 02, 2009
Associated Press

Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, some 20 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.

"We are kind of forging new ground here. We are going to a place nobody has been before," said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, 31, who commands Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Daybreak brought the sporadic crackle of gunfire. Medical helicopters circled overhead and landed, indicating possible early casualties among the Marines. A roadside bomb early in the mission wounded one Marine, but he was able to continue, spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier said.

A Marine unit in Nawa traded gunfire with a group of some 20 insurgents, while Afghan troops exchanged small arms fire with militants after they were attacked with rocket propelled grenades fired from several houses. A Cobra helicopter circling overhead for most of the day fired rockets at a tree-line nearby. Other troops walked through fields of corn and past mud-wall homes. Only a handful of villagers dared to venture outside.

In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, insurgents have captured an American Soldier, the U.S. military reported today.

Spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said the Soldier went missing Tuesday.

"We are using all of our resources to find him and provide for his safe return," Mathias said.

Mathias did not provide details on the Soldier, the location where he was captured or the circumstances.

"We are not providing further details to protect the Soldier's well-being," she said.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not confirm that the Soldier was with any of their militant forces. A myriad of insurgent groups operate in eastern Afghanistan, and the Taliban is only one of them.

The offensive in the southern part of the country was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday local time -- about 4:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Wednesday -- in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and the world's largest opium poppy producing area. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

Officials described the operation — dubbed Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword" — as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine offensive since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines plus 650 Afghan forces. British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

Pakistan's army said it had moved troops from elsewhere on its side of the Afghan border to the stretch opposite Helmand to try to stop any militants from fleeing the offensive. It gave no more details, but U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern that stepped-up operations in southern Afghanistan could push the insurgents across the border.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen.

The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008, but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

The Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and were ousted from power following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a violent comeback, wreaking havoc in much of the country's south and east, forcing the United States to pour in the new troops.

Pelletier said troops in Thursday's operation were sent in by a mixture of aircraft and ground transport under the cover of darkness.

The operation aims to show "the Afghan people that when we come in, we are going to stay long enough to set up their own institutions," Pelletier said.

Once on the ground, the troops will meet with local leaders, hear their needs and act on them, Pelletier said.

"We do not want people of Helmand province to see us as an enemy. We want to protect them from the enemy," Pelletier said.

Thousands of British forces, fighting under NATO command, have been in Helmand since 2006 with broadly the same strategy, but security has deteriorated. They have met with stronger resistance than initially expected against Taliban fighters bankrolled by the vast opium and heroin trade.

Reversing the insurgency's momentum has been a key component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops allow commanders to push and stay into areas where international and Afghan troops had no permanent presence before.

While Marine troops were the bulk of the force, recently arrived U.S. Army helicopters were also taking part in the operation.

In March, Obama unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan, seeking to defeat al-Qaida terrorists there and in Pakistan with a bigger force and a new commander. Taliban and other extremists, including those allied with al-Qaida, routinely cross the two nations' border in Afghanistan's remote south.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border, but the overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has long been questioned. Pakistan has frequently been acccused in the past of failing to stop — and sometimes aiding — the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.

The governor of Helmand province predicted operation Khanjar would be "very effective."

"The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favorable background and take their lives forward in peace," Gov. Gulab Mangal said in a Pentagon news release.

Obama aims to boost the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increase training by U.S. troops accompanying them — so the Afghan military can take control of the war. The White House also is pushing forces to set clear goals for a war gone awry, provide more resources and make a better case for international support.

There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House has not estimated how many billions of dollars its plan will cost.

Marines Push Into Afghanistan Opium Region in Strike on Taliban

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of U.S. Marines drove into a key Taliban opium-growing region in pursuit of the Obama administration’s new focus on securing Afghanistan.


Ed Johnson and James Rupert Ed Johnson And James Rupert – Thu Jul 2, 5:20 am ET

Almost 4,000 U.S. and 650 Afghan forces encountered little initial resistance as they spread through the Helmand River valley using helicopters and armored vehicles, said Captain Bill Pelletier, a Marine spokesman in southern Afghanistan. The offensive is the first of its size under the administration’s shift of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Where we go, we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold,” Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said in a statement. Nicholson commands a Marine Expeditionary Brigade that is part of the additional 17,000 U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama.

The offensive comes two days after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities under a drawdown that will let the Pentagon focus on the Afghan war.

The U.S.-led force moved before dawn and “encountered only light contact” with guerrillas by mid-morning local time, Pelletier said in a telephone interview from the Marine brigade’s headquarters near Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital.

The Marines said in their statement that they aim to take control of Nawa and Garmsir, two largely desert Helmand districts that are part of Afghanistan’s largest opium-growing region. International forces in the districts have been limited before now to a few British bases.

Opium Trade

Poppy fields in Helmand province produced two-thirds of Afghanistan’s opium in 2008, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The opium trade is a major financial pillar for the Taliban, which with local warlords gathered as much as $470 million from opium commerce last year, according to the UN office.

After the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, Taliban guerrillas fled to Pakistan. No international forces occupied Helmand and adjacent southern provinces of Afghanistan, and Taliban guerrillas slowly regained control, forcing out the few Afghan government and police officials.

Beginning in 2006, British troops established several bases in Helmand, and were unable to oust the Taliban, which operates in part from sanctuaries in Pakistan, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the area of today’s offensive.

Pakistan’s army is “reorganizing our forces near Helmand to ensure that Taliban fleeing the U.S. operation cannot cross the border into Pakistan,” Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s military spokesman, said by telephone from the capital, Islamabad.

New Commander

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal assumed command of international forces in Afghanistan last month and has ordered new counterinsurgency tactics that he says will better protect civilians from the Taliban.

McChrystal has said troops must focus on gaining the trust of the people to win the conflict and told the Wall Street Journal last month he will push soldiers farther out from their bases among Afghan civilians to try to bring stability.

“The measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence,” the general said in a statement last month.

The Helmand offensive aims to “connect local civilians with their legitimate governmentâ€

Troops will “build bases to provide security for the local people,” Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal said in the statement.

‘Classic Counterinsurgency’

The U.S. has about 54,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, with 36,000 in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and 18,000 in a separate counterterrorism operation. The number of U.S. soldiers in the country is set to rise to 68,000 this year under Obama’s policy.

The reinforcements should enable the U.S. to follow a “classic counterinsurgency strategy of clear, hold and build,” something troops have failed to do since toppling the Taliban regime, said Anthony Bubalo, director of the West Asia Program at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy.

“If you cannot hold territory and provide security, you can’t undertake the kind of development work you need to do to win hearts and minds and strengthen the authority of the government in Kabul,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at [email protected] ; James Rupert in New Delhi at [email protected] .

US Marines launch major offensive in Afghanistan

NAWA, AFGHANISTAN — Thousands of U.S. Marines poured from helicopters and armored vehicles into Taliban-controlled villages in southern Afghanistan on Thursday in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize the country.


Associated Press
July 2, 2009

The offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday local time (4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 2030 GMT Wednesday) in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and the world's largest opium poppy-producing area. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

The Marines have not suffered any serious casualties and have seen only a sporadic resistance, said Lt. Abe Sipe, a spokesman for the unit.

"The enemy has chosen to withdraw rather than engage for the most part," Sipe said. "We had a couple of heat casualties, but not deemed serious in nature at this time."

The operation came as U.S. military announced that one of its soldiers was missing and believed captured by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The missing soldier was not involved in the Helmand operation.

Officials described the offensive — dubbed Khanjar or "Strike of the Sword" — as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine offensive since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines plus 650 Afghan forces. British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

Pakistan's army said it had moved troops from elsewhere on its side of the Afghan border to the stretch opposite Helmand to try to stop any militants from fleeing the offensive. It gave no more details, but U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern that stepped-up operations in southern Afghanistan could push the insurgents across the border.

Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, some 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.

The troops took many insurgents by surprise, dropping behind Taliban lines, said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, from Greene, New York.

"We are kind of forging new ground here. We are going to a place nobody has been before," said Schoenmaker, 31, who commands Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Daybreak brought the sporadic crackle of gunfire. Medical helicopters circled overhead and landed, indicating possible early casualties among the Marines.

A Marine unit in Nawa traded gunfire with a group of some 20 insurgents, while Afghan troops exchanged small arms fire with militants after they were attacked with rocket propelled grenades fired from several houses. A Cobra helicopter circling overhead for most of the day fired rockets at a tree line nearby. Other troops walked through fields of corn and past mud-wall homes. Only a handful of villagers dared to venture outside.

A roadside bomb early in the mission wounded one Marine, but he was able to continue, spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier said.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen.

The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

The Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and were ousted from power following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a violent comeback, wreaking havoc in much of the country's south and east, forcing the United States to pour in the new troops.

Pelletier said troops in Thursday's operation were sent in by a mixture of aircraft and ground transport under the cover of darkness.

The operation aims to show "the Afghan people that when we come in, we are going to stay long enough to set up their own institutions," Pelletier said.

Once on the ground, the troops will meet with local leaders, hear their needs and act on them, Pelletier said.

"We do not want people of Helmand province to see us as an enemy. We want to protect them from the enemy," Pelletier said.

Thousands of British forces, fighting under NATO command, have been in Helmand since 2006 with broadly the same strategy, but security has deteriorated. They have met with stronger resistance than initially expected against Taliban fighters bankrolled by the vast opium and heroin trade.

Reversing the insurgency's momentum has been a key component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops allow commanders to push and stay into areas where international and Afghan troops had no permanent presence before.

While Marine troops were the bulk of the force, recently arrived U.S. Army helicopters were also taking part in the operation.

In March, Obama unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan, seeking to defeat al-Qaida terrorists there and in Pakistan with a bigger force and a new commander. Taliban and other extremists, including those allied with al-Qaida, routinely cross the two nations' border in Afghanistan's remote south.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border, but the overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has long been questioned. Pakistan has frequently been accused in the past of failing to stop — and sometimes aiding — the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.

The governor of Helmand province predicted Operation Khanjar would be "very effective."

"The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favorable background and take their lives forward in peace," Gov. Gulab Mangal said in a Pentagon news release.

Obama aims to boost the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increase training by U.S. troops accompanying them — so the Afghan military can take control of the war. The White House also is pushing forces to set clear goals for a war gone awry, provide more resources and make a better case for international support.

There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House has not estimated how many billions of dollars its plan will cost.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, insurgents captured an American soldier on Tuesday, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman. The missing soldier was not part of the Helmand operation.

"We are using all of our resources to find him and provide for his safe return," Mathias said.

Mathias did not provide details on the soldier, the location where he was captured or the circumstances.

Afghan Police Gen. Nabi Mullakheil said the soldier went missing in the Mullakheil area of eastern Paktika province, where there is an American base.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not confirm that the soldier was with any of their militant forces. A myriad of insurgent groups operate in eastern Afghanistan, and the Taliban is only one of them.

The soldier was noticed missing during a routine check of the unit on Tuesday and was first listed as "duty status whereabouts unknown," a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity because details are still sketchy.

Two U.S. defense sources said the soldier "just walked off" post with three Afghan counterparts after he finished working. They said they had no explanation for why he left the base. He was assigned to a combat outpost, one of a number of smaller bases set up by foreign forces in Afghanistan, the officials said.

The most important insurgent group operating in that area is known as Haqqani network and is led by Siraj Haqqani, whom the U.S. has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings.

Marines exchange fire with Taliban in searing heat

NAWA, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines hiked through searing heat and took fire from small pockets of militants Thursday after landing in this Taliban-controlled southern region of tree-lined fields, mud homes and crisscrossing waterways in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.


By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso, Associated Press Writer – July 2, 2009

Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced that insurgents were believed to have captured an American soldier missing in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The missing soldier was not involved in Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," under way in southern Afghanistan.

The southern offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday (4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 2030 GMT), as thousands of Marines poured from helicopters and armored vehicles into Taliban-controlled villages along roughly 20 miles of the Helmand River in Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-producing area.
The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

The Marines have not suffered any serious casualties and have seen only a sporadic resistance, said Lt. Abe Sipe, a spokesman for the unit.

"The enemy has chosen to withdraw rather than engage for the most part," Sipe said.
"We had a couple of heat casualties, but not deemed serious in nature at this time."

Officials described the offensive as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine assault since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines plus 650 Afghan forces.
British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

Pakistan's army said it had moved troops from elsewhere on its side of the Afghan border to the stretch opposite Helmand to try to stop any militants from fleeing the offensive.
It gave no more details, but U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern that stepped-up operations in southern Afghanistan could push the insurgents across the border.

Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, some 20 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.

The troops took many insurgents by surprise, dropping behind Taliban lines, said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, from Greene, N.Y.

"We are kind of forging new ground here.
We are going to a place nobody has been before," said Schoenmaker, 31, who commands Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Several hundred Marines took positions in a freshly plowed dirt field at 3 a.m.
The soft, deep dirt proved challenging for troops weighed down with days' worth of water, food and gear, and many frequently stumbled.

At daybreak the Marines walked along tree lines, and at 6:15 a.m. the company took its first incoming fire, likely from an AK-47 along a tree-line.
The next three hours brought repeated bursts of gunfire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, sending deep booms across the countryside.

A small force of Afghan soldiers accompanying the Camp Pendleton-based Marines got into several scraps with an insurgent force of about 20 fighters.
The fire came from a mud-brick compound, and the Marines, the Afghan soldiers and their British advisers surrounded the compound on the east and the south.

Before the mission, Schoenmaker, the company commander, said he would practice "tactical patience" as a way to avoid civilian casualties — an issue newly arrived Gen. Stanley McChrystal has underscored in recent weeks.
Though troops in many similar circumstances have called in airstrikes on such a militant-controlled compound, Schoenmaker did not.

"We made the decision to isolate the compound and not destroy it because we couldn't confirm if civilians were inside," he said.
The militants were believed to have escaped out the back.

A Cobra helicopter circling overhead for most of the day fired rockets at a tree line nearby. Other troops walked through fields of corn and past mud-wall homes.
Only a handful of villagers dared to venture outside.

Helmand's deadly heat, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, proved to be another enemy the Marines had to fight.
Because soldiers were on foot, they had to carry all their own water and food.
Forward observers and snipers spent the entire day under the cloudless sky.

"It's like when you open up the oven when you're cooking a pizza and you want to see if it's done.
You get that blast of hot air. That's how it feels the whole time," said Lance Corp. Charlie Duggan Jr., 21, of Baldwinsville, N.Y.

The Marines trained for months in the heat of the Mojave desert for the deployment, and many appeared happy to be here.

At one point Thursday, some 50 Marines were relaxing in an abandoned and dilapidated mud brick compound, their dusty-brown uniforms stained with perspiration.
Suddenly someone spotted an Afghan male who appeared to be watching them from a nearby road.

The Marines quickly threw on their flak jackets and Kevlar helmets.

"It sucks but it's what you've been training for your whole life," Lt. Chris Wilson, 25, of Ramsey, N.J., said with a smile as he held a radio with an eight-foot antenna.
Thursday was Wilson's first mission into a combat zone.

Last summer, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit took the town of Garmser — about 15 miles south of Schoenmaker's company — and helped provide security for an area U.S. commanders say is now relatively secure.

The U.S. would like to replicate the success in Garmser to the north and south.
The strategic setting can help the military slow the opium poppy and heroin trade and interdict fighters coming from Pakistan.

Of immediate need is security for the country's Aug. 20 election.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen.
Without such a massive Marine assault in this southern section of Helmand, the Afghan government would likely not have been able to set up voting booths to which citizens could safely travel.

The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end.
That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

The Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and were ousted from power following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a violent comeback, wreaking havoc in much of the country's south and east.

Thousands of British forces, fighting under NATO command, have been in Helmand since 2006 with broadly the same strategy, but security has deteriorated.
They have encountered stronger resistance than had been expected from Taliban fighters bankrolled by the vast opium and heroin trade.

Reversing the insurgency's momentum has been a key component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops allow commanders to push into and stay in areas where international and Afghan troops had no permanent presence.

In March, Obama unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan, seeking to defeat al-Qaida terrorists there and in Pakistan with a bigger force and a new commander.
Taliban and other extremists, including those allied with al-Qaida, routinely cross the two nations' border.

Obama told The Associated Press on Thursday that he will reassess the possible need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the August elections.

The president said the main U.S. goal is to keep al-Qaida from acquiring a haven from which it can train fighters and launch attacks on the United States or its allies.
He said the U.S. and its allies also must build up the Afghan national army and police and enable Pakistan to secure its borders against terrorist movements.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border, but the overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has long been questioned.
Pakistan has frequently been accused in the past of failing to stop — and sometimes aiding — the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.

July 1, 2009

U.S. Marines Try to Retake Afghan Valley From Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Almost 4,000 United States Marines, backed by helicopter gunships, pushed into the volatile Helmand River valley in southwestern Afghanistan early Thursday morning to try to take back the region from Taliban fighters whose control of poppy harvests and opium smuggling in Helmand provides major financing for the Afghan insurgency.


Published: July 1, 2009

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade leading the operation represents a large number of the 21,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year amid rising violence and the Taliban’s increasing domination in much of the country.
The operation is described as the first major push in southern Afghanistan by the newly bolstered American force.

Helmand is one of the deadliest provinces in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have practiced sleek, hit-and-run guerrilla warfare against the British forces based there.

British troops in Helmand say they rarely get a clear shot at Taliban attackers, who ambush them with improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.
The explosive devices — some made with fertilizer distributed to Afghan farmers in an effort to wean them from opium production — are the most feared weapon.
The Taliban favor ambushes in the morning and evening and do not often strike during the blazing afternoon heat.

In recent weeks some British troops have been setting up what are known as “blocking positions” on bridges over irrigation canals and at other locations, apparently to help stop the flow of insurgents during the main military operation and to establish greater security before the presidential election scheduled for August.
The British forces, whose main base in Helmand is adjacent to the main Marine base, will continue to support the new operation.

The British have had too few troops to conduct full-scale counterinsurgency operations and have often relied on heavy aerial weapons, including bombs and helicopter gunships, to attack suspected fighters and their hideouts.
The strategy has alienated much of the population because of the potential for civilian deaths.

Now, the Marines say their new mission, called Operation Khanjar, will include more troops and resources than ever before, as well as a commitment by the troops to live and patrol near population centers to ensure that residents are protected.
More than 600 Afghan soldiers and police officers are also involved.

“What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” the Marine commander in Helmand Province, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, said in a statement released after the operation began.

The Marines will be pushing into areas where NATO and Afghan troops have not previously established a permanent presence.
As part of the counterinsurgency strategy, the troops will meet with local leaders, help determine their needs and take a variety of actions to make towns and villages more secure, said Capt. Bill Pelletier, a spokesman for the Marines, according to The Associated Press.

“We do not want people of Helmand Province to see us as an enemy; we want to protect them from the enemy,” Captain Pelletier said, The A.P. reported.

The goal of the operation is to put pressure on the Taliban militants “and to show our commitment to the Afghan people that when we come in we are going to stay long enough to set up their own institutions,” he said.

The 21,000 additional American troops that Mr. Obama authorized after taking office in January almost precisely matches the original number of additional troops that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq two years ago.
It will bring the overall American deployment in Afghanistan to more than 60,000 troops.
But Mr. Obama avoided calling it a surge and resisted sending the full reinforcements initially sought by military commanders.

Instead, Mr. Obama chose to re-evaluate troop levels over the next year, officials said.
The Obama administration has said that the additional American commitment has three main strategies for denying havens for the Taliban and Al Qaeda: training Afghan security forces, supporting the weak central Afghan government in Kabul and securing the population.

In late March, Mr. Obama warned Congressional leaders that he would need more than the $50 billion in his budget for military operations and development efforts.

Asked by lawmakers about the prospect of reconciliation with moderate members of the Taliban, officials said Mr. Obama replied that he wanted to sift out hard-core radicals from those who were fighting simply to earn money.

First lighter MRAPs for Afghanistan to be fielded in October

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Online Edition, Wednesday, July 1, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — The first lighter versions of MRAP vehicles for Afghanistan should be fielded beginning in October, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, who is in charge of procuring the vehicles for all of the services.

To continue reading: