« November 2009 | Main | January 2010 »

December 31, 2009

Air drops deliver precious supplies to 1/3 Marines in Afghanistan

NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — In the still winter night near Forward Operating Base Geronimo Dec. 27, a team of Marines from the logistics operations section of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, peered skyward through heat-sensitive thermal monoculars and waited.


12/31/2009 By Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, Regimental Combat Team 7

Only minutes from drop time, the Marines scanned the horizon for the distant heat signature of an airplane flying toward them.

“I’ve got it! Here it comes,” Staff Sgt. Jason R. Moore, drop zone commander and logistics operations chief, 1/3, announced to his Marines so they could count the parachutes and watch where they landed.

Seconds later, the United States Air Force C-17 Galaxy, cargo aircraft, flying directly over their heads opened its cargo hold and released 40 palletized bundles of food, water and building materials into the night to float into the drop zone.

When the last thud of impacts sounded, the team loaded back into their humvees and sped to the drop zone to collect the parachutes and prepare the bundles for recovery and transportation back to FOB Geronimo by forklifts and flatbed trailers.

“Basically, because of the limited logistical convoys in the area, we receive food and engineering materials by these air drops,” said Moore, 30, from Redding, Calif., whose team collected 16 other bundles on an earlier drop that night.

“A typical load is about 40 bundles, but we’ll usually do two drops each night. In the last 24 hours, we’ve recovered 86 bundles.”

After the supplies are collected and sorted at FOB Geronimo, they are loaded on ground convoys and sent to the various locations of 1/3’s units throughout Nawa district as they conduct counterinsurgency operations, Moore said.

“These drops are important for the battalion because they keep our supplies up,” said Sgt. Renaldo Gonzales, Jr., assistant drop zone commander and ammo chief, logistics operations section, 1/3. “These keep everyone fed and bring in our building supplies, which we always need.”

The drops are conducted about four nights each week and procure about half of the battalion’s supplies while the other half arrives via ground convoys.

“I think the need for these items is so great that logistics battalions don’t have the assets to ground convoy all that we need to us,” said Moore. “Also, there is the [improvised explosive device] threat travelling by ground and enemy out there. With the air drops there is less of a threat involved than putting Marines on the road. It’s faster, safer and quicker and works out well for us.”

The pallets are cubed bundles of goods with a thick corrugated cardboard crash pad at the bottom to absorb the force of impact. Most of the time, bundles arrive without incident, but occasionally the parachutes malfunction and send hundreds of pounds of supplies plummeting through the night sky to slam into the ground at more than 120 miles per hour.

“These parachutes are man-packed and, like anything, can malfunction, in what we call a ‘burn chute,’” said Moore.

“When that pallet comes out the back of the plane and the parachute doesn’t deploy correctly, it just falls straight down from 3,000 feet. When it hits, it’s hitting at terminal velocity and there’s usually not much left of it when that happens.

“We had one tonight which had a lot of canned vegetables and there was nothing we could really salvage from that,” said Moore. “It looked like an explosion hit it. It was mess. It’s not a huge loss to us operationally, but it’s still food and money spent that is wasted.”

Once the bundles are lifted onto truck beds, Moore and his logisticians discard the used parachutes near the drop zone.

“The parachutes are only good once and we don’t need them at camp, so we leave them in a pile out here because local nationals will come and get them to use for waterproofing or protecting their crops from the cold,” Moore said.

For the Marines of the battalion’s logistics operations section, who normally work at desks or around FOB Geronimo during the day, having the opportunity to conduct these fast-paced night operations is an exciting change-of-pace and chance to build camaraderie.

“It’s great to be able to get out and be able to move around outside of the FOB,” said Pfc. Kurt M. Cahill, logistics embarkation chief for 1/3. “It’s fun and cool to watch the bundles drop – explaining it really doesn’t do it justice.

“It’s a lot of late nights for us, but we don’t really think about it,” said Cahill, 19, from Bradford, Maine. “We’re out here and joke with each other to make it fun while we wait.”

“All of my Marines come from different walks of life and they really come together to make this happen every day,” said Gonzales, 28, from Abilene, Texas, who, along with Moore, credit their continued success on the hard work of their Marines. “This is definitely outside of our regular jobs, and it’s fun. This is kind of the behind-the-scenes of everything.

“We’re here in Afghanistan and we get to do something unique like go out in the middle of the night to call in aircraft,” said Gonzalez. “In the morning everyone wakes up and there are suddenly more pallets in the yard. They don’t know what it takes in accomplishing that. This is not a desk job and we really do look forward to this every day. We always have a sky full of parachutes, so we’re always busy.”

Marines, Sailors Undertake Deployment in Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan- Walking off the loading ramp of a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane and into vibrant sunlight, members of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment arrived at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Dec. 15.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Courtesy Story
Date: 12.31.2009
Posted: 12.31.2009 07:46

The Marines and sailors grabbed their gear and loaded into white busses turned brown from dust and set out to Camp Leatherneck where they filed into ballroom-size tents and picked out places to bed down in their new home.

For some of the servicemembers the deployment marks a return to Afghanistan after serving there in 2008. For others, it is their first Afghanistan deployment, and in many cases, their first trip outside of the United States.

Later, the Marines get on phones in the early morning to hear the voices of friends, wives and children. Card and board games are played between training and work, as the Marines and sailors seek out a routine that can be maintained throughout the course of their deployment.

There's a level of uncertainty tugging at everyone, but it's expected, and solidarity and encouragement are easily found among the group, said Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Bright, an administration clerk who is on his first deployment outside the United States.

Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, Bright acknowledged, are an intelligent and resourceful enemy.

"I'm not as worried about gunfire," Bright said, noting he's more concerned about the enemy's use of improvised explosive devices.

"We can handle a straight-up fight," Bright emphasized.

However, Bright said, the Marines and sailors also feel a sense of purpose and direction, as well as a thrill that comes with participating in something big and historic.

"I'm excited to be a part of the effort to help train and mold the Afghan military in order to lay the foundation for them to provide security and stability for their own people," Bright said. "The biggest thing that I think will help is to just keep some degree of normalcy – to keep your mind off of what might happen."

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Esemann, a training specialist, is participating in his second deployment to Afghanistan with the 6th Marine Regiment. He looked back on the change between his first deployment and now.

"When I first got here last year, there was that feeling of loneliness and uncertainty and that thought of: 'What have I gotten myself into?'" said Esemann, as he eyed several Christmas stockings sent by stateside well-wishers. "This time when we arrived, the first thought was: "'I know this place,' and I felt surprised by how much it had changed for the better."

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Richard D. Ayala also is on his second deployment to Afghanistan, which marks his sixth overseas deployment, overall. Ayala reflected on the difficulties facing Marines and sailors deploying to Afghanistan for the first time.

"Having to deal with a deployment this close to the holidays is probably the hardest part for most, especially those with wives and children," said Ayala, a 15-year Marine Corps veteran. "You need to stay vigilant and press forward, always taking that 30-inch step."

As he turned to leave, Ayala paused, and reiterated that the Marines and sailors need to be on their toes in Afghanistan.

"You need to remain focused and control what you can; don't let your mind wander towards what you can't."

Assistant commandant pays ‘Warlords’ a visit on Christmas

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Gen. James F. Amos, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, visited the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, known as the “Warlords,” on Forward Operating Base Delhi, in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Christmas day


12/30/2009 By Lance Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson, Regimental Combat Team 7

After landing in Delhi, the assistant commandant received a quick brief from the commanding officer of 2/2, Lt. Col. John E. McDonough, about the status and progress of the battalion’s area of operation.

The assistant commandant took an opportunity to talk to the Marines of 2/2. Marines listened intently as Amos spoke on the success the battalion and the Corps has seen throughout its multiple areas of operation and wished the Marines and sailors a “Merry Christmas.”

“Marines have always found and sailors have always found a way to celebrate Christmas, no matter where they are,” said Amos.

Amos started by discussing the contributions that the battalion has made to the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq. He talked about how the battalion has been in the middle of the action since the beginning.

He then touched on the success that the Marines have seen in Iraq. He talked about walking through the streets of Ramadi and seeing the immense amount of change in the area.

“Those of you who went to Iraq made a difference,” said Amos. ”Our job there is done. Our nation, out of the goodness of their hearts, succeeded there.”

After praising Marines for their work in Iraq, he talked about the work being done in southern Afghanistan, particularly Now Zad. He mentioned that Now Zad was a place where Marines had to run from the helicopter to an armored vehicle immediately. Now, Marines can take their time and remove their gear. He also spoke about a school which opened its doors to young Afghan girls.

“They started a school five days ago,” said Amos. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. An hour later I talked to (Brig. Gen. Nicholson) and said we can do this. We can help the Afghan people to succeed.”

Amos concluded with the contributions the battalion has made to the fight in Afghanistan. He talked about the sacrifice 2/2 has given, and the Marines from the battalion that he has seen at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md.

“This is a tough area,” said Amos. “I get to visit a lot of your brothers in Bethesda. This battalion has paid just as much, if not more, of a price than any unit in this battlespace.”

Congressman Darrell E. Issa, the representative for California’s 49th District which includes Camp Pendleton, Calif., accompanied Amos on the tour of Helmand province, and also had a few words of encouragement for the Marines of 2/2.

“You are making another piece of history,” said Issa. “You’re standing on the shoulders of Marines who fought and won, or died trying.”

The assistant commandant had some final words for the Marines of 2/2 about the success of Iraq and the work that is being done in Afghanistan.

“Here is my message when I go back to America around the new year,” said Amos. “I will tell any one who will listen. We can do this. We can do this as a nation. When you get home, you have two things. I want you to go home to your churches, I want you to get together with your high school buddies and I want you to tell them we did it. Then I want you tell them about Afghanistan. I want you to tell them about the kids and I want you to tell them about the people you protected.”

December 30, 2009

Marine engineers fortify observation posts in Afghanistan

Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan –What is known as Cowboy Road to Marines in southern Afghanistan is also known as a road notorious for IEDs. Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion set out to eradicate that problem by building two observation posts specifically between the most hit areas on the road, Dec. 16.


12/30/2009 By Lance Cpl. Walter D. Marino , Regimental Combat Team 7

“We’ve been hit a lot on these roads,” said Lance Cpl. Sherwin O. Charles, a motor transport operator, for Alpha Company, 2nd CEB. “With these posts, well be able to monitor the traffic, and in turn make it safer for Marines.”

Through first-hand experience, 1st Lt. Chase B. Wheeler, platoon commander, for Alpha Company, 2nd CEB. Knew all to well, the threat his Marines were helping exterminate.

“There have been a lot of IEDs planted here,” said Wheeler. “I’ve been on this road before with 1st CEB. The purpose of putting these observation posts up is to always have visibility on the road, so that we can own the road and not need route clearance. Were going to do whatever it takes to own the road. I feel confident and glad this is happening. It needs to happen.”

Marines were not the only ones pleased with the mission on cowboy.

The increased Marine presence in the area as well received by the local Afghan people, said Mirwais Ahmadi, an interpreter for 2nd battalion, 2nd Marines.

“Seven months ago, the Taliban had a school teaching children. Now the children are going to mosque,” said Ahmadi a translator for 2/2. “The people say the security the Marines bring allows the children to go to school with no problems.”

Ahmadi explained the Afghans anguish over the Taliban’s activity in the area.

“An IED blew up on four civilians on a tractor and killed them. Right now all the people hate the Taliban. If they have the ability they help the Marines, they do. When we came, they gave us bread and chai (tea). The people are happy about us here,” said Ahmadi.

During the operation, members of the Afghan National Army assisted in providing security. Ahmadi translated their thoughts on the mission.

“It’s good that these places are built so that they can’t build IEDs,” said Masood, a soldier, for the Afghan Army. “The people are happy too, because it means the people are going to be safe too.”

For two days the Marines worked hard, chopping down shrub and trees, building protective barriers and building roofs and sleeping areas for the posts. When their work was done, Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines stepped in ready to man the post.

“Before we set up this post, we would take the back roads,” said Lance Cpl. Ethan E. Coleman, a mortarman for 2/2. “Now that we’ve taken this road, it’s going to allow us more movement for our supplies. They didn’t see us moving here freely before, but now they do. Our progress builds the Afghans confidence. When we asked the locals what they thought, they said, it was a good idea and they were happy.

Sailor finds unique way to improve Marine morale

In Afghanistan high morale can be as necessary, and useful as weapons. Morale is defined as the mental and emotional condition of an individual or group, with regard to the function or tasks at hand. Therefore, while one may have the capability to fight with low morale, one may not have the drive.


12/30/2009 By Lance Cpl. Waltor Marino , Regimental Combat Team 7

“I honestly believe morale is everything. Once you have that clear mind free of worries, and emotional problems, it’s easier to do your job,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class, Richard Mensah, a religious programmer for 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “When your morale is high, you can enjoy what you’re doing.”

In the months leading to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion’s deployment to Afghanistan, Mensah discovered the United Through Reading program, which donated materials for Marines to make videos of themselves reading to their children.

During the video shoot, Mensah draped a camouflage blanket and tied it between two poles for a background, adjusted his tripod, and readied his video camera. “Just press the white button when you’re done,” said Mensah, before exiting to give the Marine privacy.

“When it was my turn I did all kinds of stuff for my daughter to make her laugh, said Cpl. James A. Pabey, a motor transport operator for 2nd CEB. “My wife and daughter watch it every time they miss me. I figured it was going to be like the phone. But as soon as I started reading the book to my daughter I started crying. We have phone and email but when they can actually see your face and expression, it brings their hopes up.”

Mensah opened the program to Marines who wanted to send videos to any of their loved ones, so that they could send other types of messages as well.

“There’s this song I wrote in boot camp that I used to sing to my wife, and I sang it to her in the video,” said Pabey, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native. “When I talked to her, she said it reminded her of memories, and made her cry.”

“This meant a lot,” said Cpl. Juan A. Blanco, a motor transport operator for 2nd CEB. “It was good to send one to my mom and daughter. They want to see your appearance, and if you look healthy. They said my daughter watched it five times. She likes the part where I give here a hug.”

Over the holiday season approximately 40 videos were done. What started as a way for Marines to read to their children had expanded into something bigger.

“I think the process has been a success. When the families get to see them, not just on the phone, they get a little bit of their presence around,” said Mensah, a Ghana native. “Most of our videos were done over the holidays. So it wasn’t just a morale boost for the Marines, but for their families too. It makes me happy to see Marines happy.”

December 29, 2009

New Marine Tech Slams into Helmand

During Operation Cobra’s Anger earlier this month near the Afghan town of Now Zad in Helmand province, the Marine Corps rolled out a fearsome new weapon, the 62-ton Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV), a tracked, armored vehicle that can clear a lane through minefields, expose and detonate IEDs and plow a path though obstacles.


Posted by Paul McLeary at 12/29/2009 7:37 AM CST

How does it do it? True to the Marine Corps’ ethos, it blows them to bits.

The ABV was developed by the Corps to meet the threat the Grizzly program, canceled in 2001, was meant to defeat. When the Grizzly was consigned to the dustbin of history, the Marines set to work on a new mine-clearing vehicle by taking the chassis of an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, lopping off the turret, replacing it with a line charge device, and adding a plow on the front that can churn up the ground, exposing any IEDs that might be buried in its path. But the vehicle’s primary calling card is the Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC) which carries a whopping 1750 lbs. of C4 explosive that can be shot out 100 meters, and is detonated remotely to simply blast the IEDs out of existence.

During the assault on Now Zad, “we did six different breeches, with a total of 11,500 meters of cleared breech lane and shot 24 MICLIC line charges,” 1st Lt. Jody Stelly of the USMC’s 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, who took part in the action, tells Ares. They also plowed up two IEDs, and can confirm five more IEDs blown up, though Stelly says the exact number is hard to estimate.

Lt. Stelly also said that the MICLICs were used to “shoot into certain compounds where the enemy was suspected to have a stronghold to reduce the walls and any resistance the assault force may encounter. The perimeter walls of the compound made a hole at least eight feet wide. The good thing about that is the collateral damage outside of the actual blast area was minimal. However the blast itself will have incapacitated at the very least any enemy that were in that area.” The line charge clears an area 14 meters wide.

Lt. Col. Kirk Cordova said that if any insurgents were near the blast, “they would be real gooey inside. But the shock and awe effect of nearly a ton of C4 detonating I’m sure scared the tar out of ‘em. It’s an awesome sight.”

There are currently five ABVs in Afghanistan, and the Marines have plans to field a total of 52 by 2012, of which about 34 have already been produced. In a twist on the normal development process, what the Marines have built, the Army is now clamoring for. “The Army loves ‘em. They’re buying 187 of them,” J.F. Augustine of the Marine Corps System Command tells Ares, adding that “they’ve already started their buy, they’ve built I think seven for the Army already.”

December 28, 2009

Marines Serve in Afghanistan With Pride

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Marines of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion are serving in southern Afghanistan with pride, despite the hardship of being away from their families during the holidays.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Courtesy Story
Date: 12.28.2009
Posted: 12.28.2009 11:12

By Marine Lance Cpl. Walter Marino
Special to American Forces Press Service

The Marines are working hard, building observational posts, searching for improvised explosive devices and providing route clearance.

"I didn't join the Marine Corps during a time of war not to fight," said Cpl. Aaron A. Bennet, a heavy equipment operator.

"It was time to do my part," he said.

Marines deploy to Afghanistan knowing they may not see loved ones for up to a year. Yet, the positive is found.

"My wife and I say it's not going to kill us, only make us stronger," Bennet said. "Some relationships get stagnant. But we know what it's like to truly miss each other."

Bennet said he got married knowing the possibility of spending long periods of time away from his wife.

"My wife understood why I wanted to deploy," the Spring, Texas, native said. "She told me, 'I know you joined the Marine Corps to fight. Who am I to tell you not to fight?'"

Some Marines subscribe their own meaning to the word sacrifice.

"Sacrifice isn't a real sacrifice unless you believe in the people you're with and the mission at hand," said Cpl. Jonathan Lehman, a combat engineer.

No doubt the Marines in Afghanistan will miss their families this holiday season. But, they are with a different kind of family in Afghanistan, said Col. Randall P. Newman, Regimental Combat Team 7's commander.

"My fellow Marines get me through this, along with mail from home," Newman said.

Receiving mail from home, Newman said, "makes me feel closer to my family."

Lehman has his plans set for next year's holiday season, he said.

"Next year's Christmas will be quite the experience," he said. "It will be me and my wife's first Christmas as a family."

Lehman also said he looks forward to next Christmas as a time to spoil his 4-year-old daughter.

Eerie outpost unnerves US Marines with strange lights and whispers in the night

The Marines found the bone as they scraped a shallow trench. Long, dry and unmistakably once part of a human leg, it was followed by others. They reburied most of them but also found bodies. Three of the graves were close together; in another was a skeleton still wearing a pair of glasses. The Marines covered the grave and told their successors to stay away from it.


From The Times December 28, 2009

Observation Point Rock sits a few hundred metres south east of Patrol Base Hassan Abad, where a company from 2/8 Marines has been stationed for the past seven months. It is a lonely and exposed outpost 20 metres (65ft) above the surrounding landscape, which has been in Nato hands since it was captured from the Taleban in 2008.

Groups of Marines are posted to guard it, usually for a couple of months at a time, and “the Rock” has acquired a peculiar reputation. American troops widely refer to it as “the haunted Observation Point”.

It is hard to say how much the 100F (38C) heat, round-the-clock guard shifts and months spent living in trenches and peering out of sandbagged firing points have gilded the legend of OP Rock. The only break from the tedium, apart from dog-eared magazines and an improvised gym, has been small-arms or rocket-propelled grenade attacks from the Taleban, usually on a Sunday morning.

But as Sergeant Josh Brown, 22, briefed his successor when a detachment of men from Golf Company was swapped for an incoming contingent from Fox Company, he warned of the strange atmosphere and inexplicable phenomena that plagued OP Rock. “The local people say this is a cursed place,” he said. “You will definitely see weird-ass lights up here at night.”

Others in the outgoing unit had reported odd sounds. “It is weird what you hear and don’t hear around here,” he added.

Each successive detachment that guards the Rock appears to add its own layer to the legend, which has spread through the Marine units pushing into southern Helmand.

There is talk of members of the Taleban entombed in caves below; the bodies buried on the summit are identified confidently as dead Russian soldiers from the ill-fated Soviet invasion.

Corporal Jacob Lima’s story is the latest addition. One night he was woken by the sound of screaming. It was Corporal Zolik, a Marine who has since been moved to a unit farther south. “He was yelling and begging me to go up to the firing point he was guarding,” Corporal Lima, 22, told the men taking over from him. “When I got there he said that he was sitting there when he heard a voice whisper something in his ear. He said it sounded like Russian. He begged me to stay in there with him till he was relieved from guard duty. After that he really didn’t like standing post up there.”

The Marines’ predecessors, a unit of Welsh Guards, also produced tales of the unexpected. “The Brits claimed to see weird things, hear noises,” Corporal Lima said. “Lots of them said it’s creepy at night, especially from midnight till 4am. You see a lot of unexplained lights through night-vision goggles.”

Its elevation has clearly made the Rock a natural defensive position for centuries. It is not a rock, though it resembles one. Medieval arrow slits and the remains of fortified turrets on its eastern flank show that this was once a large mud fort that collapsed in on itself and was probably built upon in turn. The locals say that it dates back to Alexander the Great, and another similar structure is visible in the distance to the south, part of a supposed line of such forts built at some point in Afghanistan’s history of invasion and war.

When US Marines seized the post last summer they dropped a 2,000lb (900kg) bomb on one side, collapsing part of the structure on to what its current occupants claim was a cave where Taleban fighters were sheltering.

“This place really sucks,” said Lance Corporal Austin Hoyt, 20, putting his pack on to return to the main base. “The Afghans say it’s haunted. Stick a shovel in anywhere and you’ll find bones and bits of pottery. This place should be in National Geographic — in the front there are weird-looking windows for shooting arrows. You know, they say the Russians up here were executed by the Mujahidin.”

He looked meaningfully at his successors and prepared to leave.

Texas couple designs tribute coin for veterans

By Celinda Emison - Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News via AP
Posted : Monday Dec 28, 2009 12:07:32 EST

ABILENE, Texas — Larry and Sue Farr are on a mission to make sure all military men and women know they are appreciated for their sacrifices made in the service to their country.

To continue reading:


December 27, 2009

Marines Sacrifice Holidays to Fight for Country

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Last year the majority of Marines of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion were enjoying Christmas with their families. This year 2nd CEB are spread all over southern Afghanistan working hard building observational posts, searching for IEDs, and providing route clearance.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Walter Marino
Date: 12.27.2009
Posted: 12.27.2009 07:57

However, for many Marines of 2nd CEB it was not a dreaded sacrifice, and instead embraced the duty with pride for family and Corps.

"I didn't join the Marine Corps during a time of war not to fight," said Cpl. Aaron A. Bennet, a heavy equipment operator, for 2nd CEB.

"For all those Marines who have died, it was time to do my part."

Marines deploy to Afghanistan knowing they may not see loved ones for 7 months to even a year. Yet, the positive is found.

"My wife and I say it's not going to kill us, only make us stronger," Bennet said. "Some relationships get stagnate. But we know what it's like to truly miss each other, and want to be with each other all the time."

Like many Marines, Bennet got married knowing the possibility of long periods of time from his wife.

"My wife understood why I wanted to deploy," said Bennet, a Spring, Texas native. "She told me, 'I know you joined the Marine Corps to fight. Who am I to tell you not to fight'?"

Many Marines describe their time in Afghanistan, as a sacrifice. Some even have their own meaning to the word.

"Sacrifice isn't a real sacrifice unless you believe in the people you're with, and the mission at hand," said Cpl. Jonathan Lehman, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 2nd CEB.

Undoubtedly, the Marines in Afghanistan will miss their families this holiday season. But as Col. Randall P. Newman, commander for the Regimental Combat Team 7 says, they are with a different family out here.

"Obviously it's easy to get caught up in how much you miss your family. But I believe in the future my wife and daughter will understand. It's not always someone else's job," Lehman said. "My fellow Marines get me through this along with mail from home. Not for the items, but for the care that went into it. It makes me feel closer to my family."

Already looking toward the next holiday season, Lehman has his plans set.

"Next year's Christmas will be quite the experience, said Lehman. "It will be me and my wife's first Christmas as a family. I look forward to next year's Christmas, and spoiling my four and a half year-old daughter."

Marines Deliver Smiles, Beanie Babies to Afghan Children

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Beanie Babies.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 12.27.2009
Posted: 12.27.2009 04:09

They are small, cuddly, and eye-catching. They touch the heart, put smiles on the faces of children and are now serving as ambassadors of goodwill in Now Zad, Afghanistan.

After a tremendous effort by members of the Aviation Officers' Spouses' Club and the Officers' Spouses' Club in Washington, which raised 48,000 Beanie Babies, Afghan girls and boys received the gifts at the district center school house in Now Zad, Afghanistan Dec. 24.

During his visit, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, passed the donated babies out to surprised, but jubilated Afghan children during his tour of the school.

The small furry gesture provides Marines and Afghan national security forces with an opportunity to connect with the Now Zad's younger generation and show the Now Zad community their intentions are honorable. Beanie Babies were also distributed in the Nawa district, home to the Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

In a Dec. 23 Marine Corps News article, Bonnie Amos, spouse of Gen. Amos and an adviser for the Marine Officers' Spouses' Club of Washington, shared her vision for the Beanie Babies in the volatile Helmand province.

"If they are touched by the kindness of Marines, this can be a relationship-builder between the Marines and tribal leaders," said Amos. "Although it sounds a little [far-fetched], stranger things have happened through an act of kindness."

Amos said she believes a child might remember that this Marine was kind to her, and her family in turn might want to advise Marines of enemy activity.

"I'm a dreamer, but I like to think that we are possibly saving Marines' lives," Amos said.

More than 15,000 Beanie Babies have been delivered to units in Afghanistan, so Marines and Sailors can hand deliver the playthings to children in their areas of operation.

Among those who contributed to the Beanie Baby cause were the Ty Corporation, the makers of the Beanie Baby, the students and faculty of Chesterbrooke Elementary School in McLean, Va., Boy and Girl Scout troops, churches, schools and even a Florida women's motorcycle club.

If the response to the Beanie Babies is positive a similar collection may soon follow.

Studies find breakthrough in PTSD treatment

Brain scans, blood tests may help predict condition

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Dec 27, 2009 8:40:52 EST

Two new studies seem to provide more evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder is a chemical change in the brain caused by trauma — and that it might be possible to diagnose, treat and predict which troops are most susceptible to it using brain scans or blood tests.

To continue reading:


December 26, 2009

Female Engagement Team Helps Establish Connection Between Marines and Afghan Women

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Throughout the Garmsir District in Afghanistan, Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, interact with multiple key leaders and locals to learn what the village needs.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 12.26.2009
Posted: 12.26.2009 03:15

However, there is one gap that is hard to bridge – the interaction between Marines and the females of these villages.

This is the problem that the Marines and sailors of the female engagement team, attached to 2/2, worked to solve, as they conducted multiple patrols through the village of Tajik Khar Dec. 16-20.

With the help from the Marines of Easy Company, 2/2, and local members of the Afghan National Army, the FET moved from compound to compound, hoping to speak to the females to discuss what medical care and humanitarian assistance was needed for them.

"This is extremely important," said 2nd Lt. Carly E. Towers, the officer in charge of the FET. "Our mission out here as (International Security Assistance Force) is to talk to and work with the locals to build cooperation and security."

Because of the local Afghan culture, male Marines are not allowed to look at, let alone talk to, any local females. Even the ANA is not supposed to talk to the women of any compound, so the female Marines' efforts do not only benefit other Marines, but the local ANA, as well.

"It is good news for us," said Sgt. Shokorunnah, a soldier with the ANA. "The female Marines came and talked to the women and found out their problems. I am very happy."

Before the all-female team can even enter a compound, they must first talk to the owner, generally a male who is not use to interacting with Marine females.

"The general perception has been ranging from positive to dumbfounded," said Towers, from Modesto, Calif. "We've had a lot of success in the past few days. They've been interacting with us like male Marines."

Once they have received the blessing of the owner, it is time for the FET to do their work. They slip through the doorway of the compound to begin their discussions.
"We just try to sit down, talk to them, and get to know them a bit," said Towers, a Naval Academy graduate. "We ask them if they have any questions for us. We're trying to build rapport."

The team understands that respect to the culture is very important, so whenever they enter a compound, they remove their helmets and don a headscarf to cover their hair.
This shows a respect towards the culture, which may otherwise keep the FET from being successful.

"Without the scarves, the women would be shamed from the families," said Shokorunnah.

Through their interactions over the past few days, the FET has encountered many different females, including those who claim to have never left their compound for fear of the firefights and improvised explosive devices.

"We hear a lot of things from the women that we wouldn't hear from the men or that would be said in a different way," said Towers.

Towers added that they get a lot of questions about medical care, and they have a female corpsman with them, which allows them to offer medical care for basic sicknesses.

The cooperation built through these interactions can help build a stronger relationship between all Afghans and Marines.

"If we are sending the same message to the (Afghan) females as the male Marines to the (Afghan) males, then at the end of the day, when they're talking, they can (help)." said Towers.

Marines Make the Most With the Least During Christmas in Now Zad

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan – Just three weeks removed from leading the assault into Now Zad during Operation Cobra's Anger, the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, switched gears and embraced the holiday spirit.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini
Date: 12.26.2009
Posted: 12.26.2009 03:37

Christmas music blared from a mini-DVD player. A 12-inch faux fern tree sat atop of a wooden table, where Marines prepared their Christmas dinner, peeling potatoes, stirring eggs, and prepping the grill for the main dish – a seasoned turkey.

For some, this was a different Christmas than the Marines were used to, in a desolate area of Now Zad, on a patrol base in the middle of an Afghan valley. For others, this was the routine they've developed over the past few years.

"This is my fourth holiday season away from home," said Cpl. Alex Pirila, a squad leader with Lima Co., 3/4. "It's kind of a normal thing now. These guys become your family."

The Marines have learned how to adapt to a Spartan setting. The delivery of food and water brings smiles to their faces.

"Dinner is going to be a nice little break from the usual (Meals Ready to Eat)," said Seaman Derrick R. Ward, a corpsman with Lima Co., 3/4. "Other than that, it's just another day in Afghanistan."

For Marines like Lance Cpl. Andrew N. Klassen, a rifleman with Lima Co., 3/4, the holiday season holds minimal significance in their lives.

"I'm not really the holiday type. It's just another day for me. I have a job to do," said Klassen, 25, who was responsible for transporting the commanding officer of his company to the different battle positions during Operation Cobra's Anger.

"Now that it's over, I'm just trying to settle back into a routine, making sure people have what they need on a combat outpost," Klassen said.

The usually festive day did not go without incident. While Marines conducting security patrols in the outlying areas, an Afghan man walked to the patrol base and asked for medical assistance for his young son, who had a blister on his backside, and risked infection if not treated. Petty Officer 3rd Class Jimmy Diaz, a corpsman with Lima Co., 3/4, experienced the gift of giving and lanced the child's blister and treated it, sending the family off one child healthier.

At two of Lima Company's patrol bases, 7-ton trucks delivered care packages sent by people throughout the United States, along with letters from elementary school children who pledged their support to the Marines currently conducting counterinsurgency operations in partnership with the Afghan national security forces.

"It's awesome to know that there are people actually supporting us and caring about us. It feels good," said Cpl. John N. Koko, a rifleman with Lima Co., 3/4.

December 25, 2009

Taliban release video of captured US soldier

KABUL—The Taliban released a video Friday showing a U.S. soldier who was captured more than five months ago in eastern Afghanistan.


By Amir Shah
Associated Press Writer / December 25, 2009

Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl is the only known American serviceman in captivity. The U.S. airborne infantryman was taken by the Afghan Taliban in Paktika province on June 30.

"This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement," said a statement from U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, spokesman for the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan that confirmed the man in the video is Bergdahl. "To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam."

Bergdahl is shown seated, facing the camera, wearing sunglasses and what appears to be a U.S. military helmet and uniform. On one side of the image, it says: "An American soldier imprisoned by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

The man identifies himself as Bergdahl, born in Sun Valley, Idaho, and gives his rank, birth date, blood type, his unit and mother's maiden name before beginning a lengthy verbal attack on the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan and its relations with Muslims. He seems healthy and doesn't appear to have been abused.

The video, which has an English-language narration in parts, also shows images of prisoners in U.S. custody being abused. The speaker says he did not suffer such ill treatment.

A statement read by a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, appears at the end of the video and renews demands for a "limited number of prisoners" to be exchanged for Bergdahl. The statement says that more American troops could be captured.

The Geneva Conventions, which regulate the conduct of war between regular armies, bar the use of detainees for propaganda purposes and prohibit signatories from putting captured military personnel on display. As an insurgent organization, the Taliban are not party to the treaty.

Statements from captives are typically viewed as being made under duress. The insurgents also released a video of Bergdahl a few weeks after he was captured. In the July 19 video, Bergdahl appeared downcast and frightened.

Bergdahl, who was serving with a unit based in Fort Richardson, Alaska, was 23 when he vanished just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He was serving at a base in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold. On Friday, NATO said a joint Afghan-international force killed several militants in Paktika while searching for a commander of the Jalaluddin Haqqani militant network that is linked to al-Qaida.

U.S. military officials have searched for Bergdahl, but it is not publicly known whether he is even being held in Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan.

Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, an Idaho National Guard spokesman who has been serving as a liaison between the family and media, said late Thursday night that the family had not seen the video since word of its possible release surfaced earlier this month. He spoke with Bob and Jani Bergdahl, Bowe Bergdahl's parents, earlier this week and described their mood as "anxiously awaiting" any new information about their son.

"They're very hopeful that the message will be a positive one, as far as their son's health and welfare," Marsano said.

Marsano said the family still wasn't speaking publicly about Bergdahl's capture.

The man on the video said U.S. officials keep leading America "into the same holes," citing Vietnam, Japan, Germany, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq.

"This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he said.


Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Jim Heintz in Kabul, Noor Kahn in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and John Miller in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

December 24, 2009

Marines at 'ManBearPig' Patrol in Nawa's Wild West

NAWA, Afghanistan – Within minutes of leaving the protective barriers of Observation Post Khers for a security patrol Dec. 21, a squad of Marines and Afghan national army soldiers heard the sharp pops of small arms fire nearby.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 12.24.2009
Posted: 12.24.2009 08:41

"They always shoot at us," said Sgt. Mike L. Osburn, a squad leader with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who led the patrol. "It wasn't very close. They don't really want to fight today."

For Marines operating from the joint Marine and ANA outpost, referred to by Marines simply as "ManBearPig," getting shot at by Taliban insurgents from a distance is a daily occurrence in this remote northwestern area of Nawa district. ManBearPig is argued to be one of the most dangerous and isolated posts Marines maintain in Nawa.

"Sometimes the shots come close, but usually they're not very accurate," said Osburn, a 25-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., who has completed previous combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with 1/3. "A few days ago we took machine gun fire that hit our guard tower and around the barricades. You always have to keep an eye over your shoulder.

"It's kind of like the 'Wild West' out here," said Osburn, who leads his Marines on security patrols through what he describes as very muddy, flat and unforgiving terrain where Afghans farm the desert landscape using irrigation canals. "It's not gun slinging every day, but it's not very friendly. When our patrol walks by, kids run into homes, people stop farming and just kind of disappear. It's like an old western where everyone in town knows the bad guys are about to show their face around the corner."

Another danger for Marines and ANA soldiers at ManBearPig is the threat of improvised explosive devices, both on and off of roads. One nearby road is so scarred by blasts and visibly peppered with waiting bombs that Marines, civilians and insurgents alike know to keep well clear of it. Not long ago, Marines discovered an unlucky insurgent who tried planting a bomb and was killed when he accidentally stepped on another bomb's pressure activation plate, said Osburn.

Bravo Company Marines say conducing counterinsurgency operations and working with the population at Nawa's northwestern edge is challenging due to the Taliban's undermining influence and intimidation of local citizens who are afraid to come forward. Sometimes the only way Afghan citizens will speak with Marines is behind a wall or building, where they know insurgents can't see.

"We embed ANA soldiers in each of our patrols," said 2nd Lt. Victor P. Barnes, Jr., platoon commander, 1st Platoon, Bravo Company. "They notice a lot of the little things in town faster than we do. They can tell when something's out of the norm."

Typically, ANA soldiers enlist from Afghan provinces other than Helmand and speak mostly Dari, but an advantage of serving alongside this unit of ANA soldiers is nearly all of them speak Pashto, the primary language in Nawa. This allows the ANA to take the lead in interacting with local citizens if an interpreter is not around, said Osburn.

"Living here with the ANA is very interesting, and we all get along great," said Barnes. "Thankfully, we have an interpreter, but we've learned some Pashtu, they've learned some English, and we're teaching them some of our tactics."

Last week, Marines also included ANA soldiers in their Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training to further enhance the soldiers' combat effectiveness.

When not on patrol in the often knee-deep mud which can stop vehicles in their tracks, Marines spend time at ManBearPig standing guard posts or enjoying precious hours of rest.
Some Marines pursue personal interests in their off time, like Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Jensen, a machine gunner with Scout Sniper Platoon, Bravo Company. Jensen said he has goals of developing his creative skills in many different ways over the months he expects to spend at the small camp.

At night Jensen often plays his harmonica, guitar, drumsticks, reads and writes, or draws in his sketchbook. Recently, he has begun writing rap lyrics for a satirical music video in which he and his platoon mates will star.

"I think we got the lucky card and will be at ManBearPig the whole deployment," said Jensen, a 24-year-old from Sonoma, Calif. "When you're not getting bullets flying over your head, this is a peaceful place. There's a lot to see here for inspiration you can write about. I really want to leave here having bettered myself."

But ManBearPig is certainly not all quiet or fun and games, Jensen warned.

"We've trained hard and we want to be where the action is," he said of his platoon. "We took a [rocket-propelled grenade] attack the first day we were out here and it was a real wakeup call. Right now, this is the place for fighting bad guys."

1/3 Marines Rescue Car From Nawa Canal

NAWA, Afghanistan – When the unoccupied car of a Nawa citizen careened down a steep canal embankment and splashed into the swift, cold waters just outside Forward Operating Base Spin Ghar Dec. 22, Marines quickly came to the rescue.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 12.24.2009
Posted: 12.24.2009 08:58

A squad of Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, were on scene within minutes to assess the accident. A humvee was brought out to tow the vehicle back up the embankment.

"The car was parked on top of the hill and the emergency brake wasn't on," said Lance Cpl. Adam D. Masle, rifleman, 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, who was standing his guard post and saw the car plunge into the water. "It started to roll forward and then went over the side and right in. The little kids there were watching it and then the owner came out and he looked really mad."

The car came to a stop with the front right tire and bumper submerged in the canal and the other front tire sunken into the muddy embankment. When the car's owner first saw it, he quickly made his way down the hill and tried to reverse the car, only making his predicament worse, Marines said.

As Marines positioned their humvee to pull the car out, a crowd of children and local residents began to form on the road to watch the events unfold, but were asked to stand back for their own safety.

Once the car's rear axle was rigged for tow, Lance Cpl. Lance Cpl. Edward J. Stevens, III, a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, slowly drove forward as his fellow Marines guided him.

The car jutted backwards as it freed from the mud, but was eventually pulled back to the high ground of the road to the driver and crowd's rejoice.

"I had good directions and Marines were watching all around so it wasn't very difficult," said Stevens, 19, from Potaski, N.Y. "We've towed out our own vehicles, but not a local national's."

The Marine patrol and humvee quickly packed their gear and returned to their normal duties at the forward operating base as the car drove away.

"We helped the people out and showed our support here, that really improves relations and wins hearts and minds," said Masle, 20, from Fulton, N.Y. "And I think that guy will use his brake from now on."

Local Santa Spreads Cheer Without Favorite Helper

One local Santa is loved by many for his cheer and truly good deeds. But this year, Santa and his wife have a Christmas wish of their own. WFMZ's Dwayne Parker has their emotional story.


News video:

Dwayne Parker

>> REPORTER: For seven years Santa has illuminated his home on the 1300 block of Cotton Street in Reading.

>> KEITH MCCULLEY: Yeah, definitely there's going to be more next year.

>> REPORTER: Equipped with his little elf and some candy, he brings joy to many.

>> REPORTER: Now since the front of Santa's home is decorated with more than 40,000 lights, he ran out of space. So what did he do? He moved on to his neighbors.

>> REPORTER: Delores LeBarre's home went dark every Christmas until Santa came along.

>> DELORES LEBARRE: You ever need a decorator, he's available. He likes to do that stuff.

>> REPORTER: But this year Santa was forced to decorate without one of his favorite helpers - his son, LCPL Brandon McCulley, currently stationed on the front lines in Afghanistan.

>> KEITH MCCULLEY: We miss him, we really miss him a lot ..

>> REPORTER: Brandon's parents say their son decided to become a Marine after the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11 ... Brandon was 12 then. Years later, his mother, Terry, still remembers when Brandon was shipped to boot camp - it was Mother's Day.

>> TERRY: Of all days, you know it could have been any other day, but on Mother's Day it was really gut- wrenching, you know? So I remember that every Mother's Day, the day that he left home to be a man.

>> REPORTER: So as Brandon's proud mother plans to hand her son's gifts off to the U.S. postal Service, and his proud father is determined to spread cheer... don't think for a moment they don't have Christmas wishes of their own.

>> KEITH: To have my son come back home. It would be nice to see him walk through that door at 12 o'clock it'd be awesome.

>> TERRY: To see him, to hold him, to hug him. But I know that's the sacrifices that we have to make.

>> REPORTER: Santa and his wife say they are patient people, waiting, as the jolly lights of Cotton Street, shine on. In Reading, Dwayne Parker, 69 News.

December 23, 2009

Special Delivery: Marine spouses collect thousands of Beanie Babies to send to children in Afghanistan

In October, members of the Marine Aviation Officer’s Spouses Club thought about what they could do from home to assist Marines and their mission in Afghanistan this holiday season. After corresponding with deployed Marines, they determined that sending gifts for Afghan children in the form of small, stuffed animals could portray warm greetings from America.


12/23/2009 By Cpl. Priscilla Sneden, Headquarters Marine Corps

Beanie Babies were perfect for the mission.

“The children can never get enough Beanie Babies,” said Bonnie Amos, spouse of Gen. James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and an advisor for the Marine Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Washington, D.C. “They are small, cuddly, and attractive. They touch the heart of children and fit in Marines’ pockets without adding any appreciable weight to their load.”

The small gesture of giving provides Marines with an opportunity to connect with the Afghan people.

“I’m a dreamer but I like to think that we are possibly saving Marines’ lives,” Amos said. “A Marine handing a Beanie Baby to a child creates a very tangible connection that is portrayed in its delivery.”

Amos said she believes a child might remember that this Marine was kind to her and her family in turn might want to advise Marines of enemy activity.

“We are foreigners occupying people’s communities. [Although] we’re there for the right reasons, it has to be intimidating for these small villages to have 40 to 200 Marines come marching through,” Amos said.

“If they are touched by the kindness of Marines, this can be a relationship-builder between the Marines and tribal leaders,” she added. “Although it sounds a little [far-fetched], stranger things have happened through an act of kindness.”

After members of the aviation officers’ spouses’ club and the officers’ spouses’ club in Washington enthusiastically began efforts to generate donations, it didn’t take long for Beanie Babies to begin pouring in. The collection quickly outgrew the Amos’ basement and its initial goal of 10,000.

“We realize there was a level of personalized interest in this event,” said Amos.

Many spouses of Marines currently engaged in operations throughout Afghanistan actively spearheaded collections efforts. Clara Olivo, whose children donated 70 of their own Beanie Babies, was personally driven to the cause as her husband is currently deployed.

Olivo enlisted the help of family and friends throughout the country, to collect the stuffed animals. In the last month, Boy and Girl Scout troops, churches, schools and even a Florida women’s motorcycle club sent thousands of Beanie Babies her way.

“The response was overwhelming,” Olivo said. “It’s amazing how people just want to help.

“I hope [the Beanie Babies] are received in the spirit they are given,” she added.

With a war that continues to affect people throughout the U.S., military families and those without military ties alike were compelled to assist.

“As a spouse, I feel a strong urge to support those overseas,” said Molly Blake, also a member of the officers’ spouses’ club in Washington.

The Blake family showed their 5-year-old daughter where Afghanistan was on a map and explained that the Marines there needed the Beanie Babies for the children.

“She understood that she was helping other Marines that aren’t home with their families,” said Blake.

The Blakes collected 600 Beanie Babies from the students and faculty of Chesterbrooke Elementary School in McLean, Va.

“There are hardly any military families at my daughter’s school but they jumped at the chance to help,” she added.

Among the list of donors, the Ty Corporation, the makers of the Beanie Baby, contributed more than 48,000 of their trademark Beanie Babies to the cause.

Their generous donation and the entrepreneurial spirit of Marine spouses gathered nearly 75,000 Beanie Babies, said Amos.

More than 15,000 Beanie Babies have been delivered to units in Afghanistan and are being distributed by Marines in their areas of operation.

Several thousand Beanie Babies, stored at Marine Barracks Washington, will be heading to their final destination when the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps makes a special visit to Marines in Afghanistan later this month.

“We’ve been at war for nine years and America is tired, but I don’t think she is tired of our men and women in uniform,” Amos said. “Everywhere we go, people want to know what they can do for our troops.”

In this season of giving, America has not forgotten her troops or their mission overseas. Thousands have contributed their time, energy and Beanie Babies in order to assist Marines in gaining the respect and confidence of the Afghan population.

The collection has been nothing short of a success, Amos said. Depending on the response the leadership receives in regards to the Beanie Babies, a similar collection may begin next fall.

December 22, 2009

SOI-West chaplain receives Whiterspoon Award

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Navy chaplain from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, was awarded the Witherspoon Award in a ceremony held at the annual National Bible Week Gala Dinner in New York, Nov. 19.


12/22/2009 By Sgt. Alvaro Aro, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Navy Lt. Gregorio Huerta, chaplain, MCB Camp Pendleton School of Infantry West, was selected as one of three 2009 Witherspoon Chaplains’ Award recipients.

Each year the award is given to the three branches of the U.S. military; Army, Air Force and Navy (Marines and Coast Guard are honored under the Navy branch.)

This prestigious award is given to one outstanding military chaplain from each branch of the Armed Services who not only has a deep personal commitment to Bible reading, but whose actions and day-to-day activities encourage others to read, study and apply the Bible’s principles to their lives.

“Positive thinking will make you successful,” said Huerta. “The message is for everybody, no matter what religious background they have.”

Huerta has lifted the spirits of countless Marines and sailors throughout his career by sharing stories and using examples from the Bible, ensuring to always use a positive approach.

After becoming a religious minister, Huerta decided to join the Navy and spent five years as a religious program specialist. Then, he applied to the officer’s program and became a Navy chaplain.

Although Huerta spends most of his time with Marines, he also provides counseling to sailors and family members.

“I’m more involved with the Marines from the school,” said Huerta. “But my duty is with everyone who needs me.”

The Witherspoon Award is given out in cooperation with each U.S. military branch’s Chief of Chaplain, and is named after the famous World War I and WWII chaplain, Maurice Witherspoon, who served as a trustee of the National Bible Association.

For more information on the Witherspoon Award, visit their Web site at www.nationalbible.org.

December 21, 2009

Marine awarded Navy Cross for Afghan heroics

By Matt Orr, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, December 21, 2009

CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa — A 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Marine here received his nation’s second highest award for valor Friday.

To continue reading:


Troops, Taliban race to build up governments

By Sebastian Abbot - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Dec 21, 2009 13:55:15 EST

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — The governor of this remote district in southern Afghanistan has employees he can't afford to pay, a school he struggles to staff with teachers, a clinic where doctors are scarce and a police force of mostly illiterate farmers.

To read the entire article:


December 20, 2009

Corps to hold second Marine Week in Boston

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Dec 20, 2009 10:37:24 EST

Hundreds of Marines will descend on Boston this spring, as the Corps holds its second-ever “Marine Week” event in one of the nation’s oldest cities.

To continue reading:


Conway approves several uniform rules changes

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Dec 20, 2009 12:05:37 EST

You are going to have to get your own winter coat and hat to keep you warm off duty, because Marines are now prohibited from wearing the extreme cold weather gear and the associated accessories while in civilian attire.

Please go to the following link to read the entire article:


Last grunts in Iraq prepare to come home

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Dec 20, 2009 11:08:43 EST

The last Marine infantry battalion will leave Iraq in January, closing a long, complicated chapter in the Corps’ history as combat intensifies on another front in Afghanistan.

To continue reading:


December 19, 2009

Kandahar builds ahead of troops surge

By Heath Druzin, Stars and stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, December 19, 2009

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Amid the model-plane buzz of unmanned aircraft and the roar of F-16 fighter jets, another sound can be heard at this expanding southern base: the knock of hammers on 2-by-4s.

To read the entire article:


December 18, 2009

Marine walks across country for disabled vets

By Meggan Grat - WLOX-TV via AP
Posted : Friday Dec 18, 2009 7:55:44 EST

GAUTIER, Miss. — A retired Marine is walking across the country in honor of veterans.

Please go to the following link to read the entire article:


2 million troops have deployed since 9/11

By Michelle Tan - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Dec 18, 2009 16:30:29 EST

In the eight years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American troops have deployed almost 3.3 million times to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense Department data.

To continue reading:


Afghan Town's Progress Provides Encouragement

NAWA, Afghanistan - An irrigation ditch bisects the main thoroughfare of this town in Helmand province, and shops line each side of the street.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 12.18.2009
Posted: 12.18.2009 01:39

The shops sell everything from fresh vegetables to livestock to snack foods and transistor radios.

The town looks like nothing special, but it is. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed just how special it is when he walked down the street here yesterday, speaking with shop owners and officials and meeting children.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen's four stars were on his soft cap, not a helmet. And he was not wearing his flak jacket – none of the party with him needed to.

When the Marines went into Nawa, July 2, it was a Taliban stronghold. The town is a market center, so few people actually live there. But it is an important town for the prosperity of the region; there is a government center, and in better days, thousands went to Nawa to buy goods, meet friends, see the doctor and exchange gossip.

Under Taliban control, Nawa was the scene of daily gunfights, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commander in Helmand province. Only one or two shops were open when the Marines came into the town. The irrigation ditch in the middle of town, roughly 20 feet deep, was choked with weeds. Stagnant water oozed through the town.

But since then, Nawa has become a secure island in a province once dominated by the Taliban and serves as an example that the counterinsurgency strategy can work.

The big market day is Friday, when 1,500 to 2,000 people come to the town. But even Thursday was busy this week as the chairman walked down the street. He saw open shops and spoke with residents through a translator about how things have changed. Children flocked around the party, and some of the Marines in the group handed out pencils and notebooks. Others gave the boys puppets. Mullen saw a weed-free irrigation ditch that had water flowing through it to the farmlands beyond the village.

District Gov. Abdul Manaf accompanied the admiral on his walk. The governor was beaming with pride at the change in the village. He pointed out how the government buildings were being renovated and showed the chairman a rebuilt clinic that is due to open in the next few days.

After his walk, Mullen spoke with the Marines. "One of the folks I was walking with told me about the kids who keep coming up to you," he said. The fact that they are doing this shows they and their families feel it is safe, he noted.

"You represent the best of what we are, and that connection," he said. "The people are coming back [to Nawa]. I'm proud of you. You've made a big difference, and you will continue to do that."

This was Mullen's second visit to the area. When he visited a week after the Marines went into the area, he had to wear full "battle rattle."

"Now there are four towns like this where we can walk around and the insurgents are essentially gone," he told the Marines. "That's to your great credit, and the sacrifices that it takes to make that happen."

Mullen told the Marines their work and their partnership with Afghan soldiers and police have been revolutionary. "It's changed lives," he said. "You're a great example of this strategy, and that this will succeed."

The strategy that worked in Nawa and Garmsir and other areas of the province will be expanded, Nicholson said. He stressed that the Marines have been in the area for only five months, yet have accomplished a lot. Creating security has allowed projects to start and the economy to move, he said, and most of the people who fled the Taliban are back. "That's a good metric to measure success," he said.

In any new operation, Nicholson said, the Marines are going to go in big. That may not mean gun battles, he said, but the troops will be ready for anything.

More Marines are flowing into the region now – half of the battalion ordered in under President Barack Obama's new strategy has arrived, and another 29,000 American troops will surge in to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010.

Marines Protect Thousands Aboard Camp Leatherneck

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – For service members deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, security is a top priority. Although much of the area surrounding it is open desert, the camp must still be well armed along its edges. This is where a group of Marines come in, whose sole mission is to ensure the camp is protected.



2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Courtesy Story
Date: 12.18.2009
Posted: 12.18.2009 02:18
Story by: Sgt. Aaron Rooks

The Marines of Brigade Headquarters Group's Base Defense Operations Center, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, conduct security operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to protect those residing aboard Camp Leatherneck.

"If the perception is this place is untouchable, I think people are wrong," said 1st Lt. Timothy McCormick, assistant operations officer, BHG, MEB-Afghanistan.

"I have to recognize where I'm at," said Cpl. Joselito Menjivar, who mans a BDOC guard post on Camp Leatherneck. "It's not like we're back home and safe. It's a war zone."

Camp Leatherneck's defense begins at the wall with Marines like Menjivar manning posts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But it doesn't stop there.

Alpha Company, BHG, conducts regular counterinsurgency operations outside Camp Leatherneck in the Washir district to deny insurgents the opportunity to target the base.

"The area around Camp Leatherneck isn't as empty as people say," McCormick said. "We're going out into the fight every day to reduce the threat on the base here."

"It's defense in depth," McCormick continued. "It's not just the wall. You can't secure this base from just the wall. That's why there's a company that focuses on the ground around the camp. These efforts to show our presence and strength; this is how we have reduced the threat."

December 17, 2009

From group to regiment, regiment to battalion: Marines continue to drawdown in Iraq

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Combat Logistics Battalion 46 officially took over for Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (Forward) as the logistics combat element during a Transfer of Authority ceremony aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Dec. 16.


12/17/2009 By Lance Cpl. Melissa A. Latty, Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (FWD)

The battalion, which arrived in theater this past August, is the first all-reserve logistics battalion to serve during Operation Iraqi Freedom and will now, at approximately 1,000 service members, be the smallest unit to serve as the logistics combat element.

This is one of many reductions the Marine Corps has recently made in Iraq. One of which included the downsize of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) to a regiment in September of this year. CLR-27 (Fwd), which is made up of about 2,000 Marines and sailors, assumed the combat service support role and took charge of all logistical operations normally run by an entire logistics group, which is typically composed of about 4,000 Marines and sailors.

Lt. Col. Eric Davis, the commanding officer of CLB-46, took over for Col. Vincent A. Coglianese, the commanding officer of CLR-27 (Fwd).

Coglianese addressed all guests who attended the ceremony, which included Maj. Gen. R. T. Tryon, the Multi National Force - West commanding general, Maj. Gen. John E. Wissler, the MNF-W deputy commanding general, and the Marines and sailors of both logistics units. During his speech, he emphasized the significance of the transfer of authority from group to regiment and now the reduction to a battalion.

“Since 2004, we have had MLG-size elements providing all six functions of combat service support to Multi National Force - West units,” Coglianese said. “This past September the departure of Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala and the casing of the 2d Marine Logistics Group (Forward) colors marked another significant reduction for the Marine Corps. It was the first time in the short history of OIF that a regiment assumed that critical combat service support role. Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (Forward) took the reins and was able to maintain a great reputation of support.”

Now, next to step up to the plate and potentially follow in the regiment’s footsteps is CLB-46.

“Today, we are here to mark another historical milestone - a battalion will assume the LCE role,” he said.

As the logistics combat element, CLB-46 will be a direct liaison to MNF-W and will now head a broader scope of logistical services and responsibilities.

So far, CLB-46 has conducted more than 800 outside-the-wire missions and traveled more than 450,000 miles to provide combat logistics support throughout Iraq’s Al Anbar province. The unit’s earlier success has set the bar high for how they will finish out the Marine Corps logistics mission in Iraq.

“Whether it’s through combat logistics patrols, route clearance missions or drawdown operations, the Marines and sailors of CLB-46 have made it happen. I’ve been able to visit them at their respective companies and it’s obvious that this team is not only capable of writing the final chapter, but they will ensure it gets done right,” added Coglianese.

The Marines of CLB-46 are eager to take on this role and hopefully gain the reputation that will come along with it.

“It’s exciting to be here at the end and to be the last Marines in Iraq,” said Davis. “I feel that for a CLB to be given the opportunity to serve as the LCE validates the Marine Corps’ total force concept. I hope that based on our performance, the reserves will be considered for future combat logistics regiments.”

For the remainder of their deployment, CLB-46 will be providing a full range of combat logistics support, to include transportation, engineering services, and medical capabilities.

“We will focus mainly on maintenance for the vehicles and equipment as we support the responsible drawdown,” Davis said. “Our end goal is to finish strong. “

Coglianese had the same expectation for the battalion.

“I look forward to hearing about the great accomplishments you will continue to achieve as you close out the last phase of the Marine Corps’ contributions to Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said. “Remember, there are hundreds of Marines and Sailors, to include each of their families, who have endured life-altering sacrifices and are counting on you for a strong finish.”

Marines Hone Afghan Soldiers' Marksmanship

NAWA, Afghanistan — Sayed Alim stood on the firing line, a Marine by his side and M-16 service rifle in his hand. When the whistle blasted, the Afghan National Army soldier quickly spun to his left and delivered two rounds without hesitation nearly center into a 12-inch circle, drawn on a silhouette target.


12/17/2009 By Sgt. Brian Tuthill, Regimental Combat Team 7

He smiled broadly at his fellow soldiers, but his focus quickly returned, as his Marine instructor used hand gestures to explain how Alim needed to modify his stance to make best use of his momentum with his rifle.

Alim was one of more than a dozen Afghan National Army soldiers who joined a squad of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, near Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Dec. 14, to improve their combat marksmanship with one-on-one mentoring.

The ANA soldiers practiced shooting techniques and drills, such as timed target engagements, firing rounds in controlled and speed pairs, and failure to stop drills. They also practiced engaging three different targets while walking.

Marines observed their firing stances, weapons handling, and coached shooting accuracy, using basic Pashto commands and phrases learned from their interpreters.

"The biggest challenge was the language barrier," said Lance Cpl. Jason M. Cooper, a member of Guard Platoon who helped coach ANA soldiers. "We learned basic numbers and commands, which definitely helped, but we were still limited without an interpreter next to us and pantomiming only goes so far.

"Some of these guys really needed assistance out here, and they did get better," said Cooper, 20, from Auburn, N.Y. "We wanted them to get the fundamentals of combat marksmanship down the best we could. There were a few who shot really well, too."

One of the top shooters was Alim, a 25-year-old Afghan soldier from Sar-i-Pol province, who said the training was beneficial for him and his unit.

"I learned tactics to help me shoot the enemy," said Alim. "I feel more comfortable shooting now. Working with the Marines is good, and helps us for the security of the Afghan people."

Although the session only lasted a few hours, Marines say the training is valuable, and will continue training ANA units to improve their combat effectiveness.

"If we keep working with them, they can definitely be a force to be reckoned with," said Cooper. "It just takes time, practice and patience."

JCS Chairman Visits 1/3 Marines in Afghanistan

NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visited Patrol Base Jaker Dec. 17 to tour the base and the Nawa district center, and spend time with Marines and sailors assigned here.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 12.17.2009
Posted: 12.17.2009 01:29

Mullen, the president's top U.S. military advisor, accompanied Brig. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding general, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, and Lt. Col. Matt Baker, commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, on a tour of the district's downtown market area just outside of Jaker.

To showcase the peace and tranquility to the chairman, the group walked the streets outside of Jaker with only a security team and without their body armor.

While in the market, Mullen spoke with Nawa district residents about their security and needs. He also spoke with Adbul Manaf, Nawa district governor, about the changes brought to the area by Marines since the arrival of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, in July.

"One of the reasons [for my visit] is to see and recognize the improvement and change which has happened here since the Marines came into this area," said Mullen. "I was here within two weeks of when the Marines came in here initially, so it's very easy for me to observe where we were then to where we are now."

Manaf told Mullen how happy he is having Marines in Nawa since their arrival months ago and hopes they can find a way to stay longer in Afghanistan to maintain Nawa's security.

"The plan for all of us is to transition security to the local forces," Mullen said. "I am confident the Afghan National Security Forces will be able to do this job. I can fully understand the governor's elation [with our presence] because of the changes here.

"He's so excited about the positive changes and it makes sense he would want us to stay but when that security prevails when we leave he will still be happy," said Mullen. "To be able to walk through places like this, I see how it has literally turned over from an insurgent stronghold to a town that is open and violence free."

Mullen returned to Jaker and spent a few moments with Marines and sailors there, most from Alpha Company, 1/3. He explained how their seven months serving here in harm's way will pave the way for the security of the region and that he fully understands this sacrifice can be harder during the holidays.

"It's great to be able to come out here and see you," said Mullen to the platoon assembled in front of him. "I've been around Marines my entire career and I can tell you I'm very proud of the work you're doing right now."

The chairman answered questions from the platoon and then shook each service member's hand and presented them his personalized challenge coins before departing.

"It was great to see him come out here," said Sgt. Khristopher L. Privitar, section leader, police mentoring team, 1/3. "We hear about celebrities coming out to bigger camps, but they're not really in harm's way. I think it's great for us to see the senior officer in the military out at our level where the troops are fighting here in Helmand province."

"It's good for the Marines' morale and we could all see he really cares about how we're doing and what we need out here," said Privitar, 25, from Universal City, Texas. "He made sure we all got his coin, and that made it special for us. We'll all be able to look back on the day Admiral Mullen came to see us in Nawa."

Family and Friends Say Goodbye to Fallen Marine

Family, friends and fellow Marines went to the Chase Parkway Memorial on Wednesday to pay their respects to Corporal Xhacob LaTorre, a proud Marine dedicated to serving his country who lost his life fighting for it.


Updated 12:15 PM EST, Thu, Dec 17, 2009

On Thursday morning, the Patriot Riders were there, with flags to salute the fallen Marine on a bitterly cold December morning.

"It is a very sad day for us," LaTorre's aunt, Carmen Lasalle, said. "May God help us all overcome such a big loss. We will make sure we all teach little Javy the same values we taught you and from Heaven where you will be resting in peace and looking after your son and wife, I hope to feel your smile."

"It's deeply moving, a debt of honor. We're indebted to him for the service he's provided to our country," said Peter Verseckas, a former Naval Reserve man on Wednesday.

LaTorre was in his third tour of duty, stationed in Afghanistan, when he was injured by a terrorist bomb in August. He lost both his legs but never lost his spirit. For four months he fought for his life with his wife, Frances, by his side the whole time.

"I got the call he was going to die at any moment. I went running, and I was there, and as soon as I got there, he died," said Frances LaTorre.

Even at the very end, LaTorre was happy. That's how his family always knew him to be. They say he was a fun-loving person who put others before himself.

"He was wonderful, he was always there for everyone. Every person that he touched was special, special to him," said his aunt, Carmen LaSalle.

The people most special and closest to his heart were his family members, especially his 18-month-old son Javier. Frances says he's already a spitting image of his father.

"He looks just like him. He does a lot of the same things his father does," she said.

"To me, it's like he never left. Seeing his son, is seeing him grow up all over again," said Xhacob's brother, Danny LaTorre.

And while they watch Javier grow, they'll remember the dedicated husband, brother, nephew, father and Marine LaTorre was.

"Everybody makes great sacrifices. He made his. I'll always honor and treasure that," said Danny LaTorre.

A funeral service was held on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the Chase Parkway Memorial. Then Corporal LaTorre will be buried with full military honors at the State Veteran's Cemetery in Middletown.

December 16, 2009

Stretched Marines largely ignore Afghan border

Surge troops will allow some to be stationed, but Taliban still may be able to move across freely

By Sebastian Abbot - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Dec 16, 2009 8:07:18 EST

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — Only a few hundred American troops are policing the southern border of one of Afghanistan’s major smuggling areas, leaving open a vast expanse of desert that the Taliban use to shuttle in weapons and fighters from Pakistan.

To continue reading:


Families can see off, greet troops at airport gates

December 16, 2009
By Samantha L. Quigley, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2009) -- It's a scene that's played out in airports across the country numerous times in the past eight years: Families and servicemembers clinging to each other, either sad to leave or happy and vowing to never let go again.

To continue reading:


Christmas in Harm’s Way

Hey, I’m the guy you just about blasted out of his driver’s seat with your horn when we missed the green light at the mall entrance. Anyway, I’m not mad about it. We’re all under a lot of pressure this time of year. Before you know it, Christmas morning arrives, and so there’s not much time to get the right stuff for everyone. And not only did we miss that light because I was daydreaming, but we also would have surely sat through another one if you hadn’t honked, because I really wasn’t there. You couldn’t have known, but I was so very far away at the time, in a place that I’ve actually never been. I was in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.


December 16, 2009, 10:50 am

I wasn’t paying attention because I was wondering what my son, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, was doing right then, though it’s nine and a half hours later there. Like so very many other parents and loved ones of deployed personnel, I know very little about what my son does. I do know the name of his job; he’s a forward observer with a small company out of Camp Pendleton called First Anglico. I know that he is deployed with British and Afghan soldiers and that he calls in air and artillery support for their combat operations, but I don’t know what he does from moment to moment, and so sometimes I can’t help but sit and wonder. I did ask him last Sunday when he grabbed the satellite phone to call me for a minute or two, but he would only say that he was doing what he had joined to do. And that he’s doing it while sleeping in a frozen tent that he shares with a bunch of mice and a stray, flea-bitten cat, a supply of Ziploc baggies for toilets and not much in the way of entertainment, not that he’d have time for that. And even so, nighttime is the easy part of his day. And that’s when you honked.

Sergeant Cassone in San Diego.The thing is, there are tens of thousands of daydreamers like me. And a vast majority of them will put the experience behind them like I did after my son’s last two deployments. They will all forget about the background noise of a very personal war that they lived with while their loved ones were overseas. They will forget the fears they suppressed, confronted and then suppressed again. They will forget about having crept their car up to their driveway after work, peeking in at the dread of an imaginary black Crown Victoria with United States government plates that might meet them there. They will forget all about that, and then they’ll start worrying about Christmas and other holidays again. They’ll worry about getting the right gifts and decorations at the right price and having it all in the proper places in time for the kids to get up. And then they, too, might get impatient and honk at the guy in front of them when he’s too slow at the light pulling into the mall.

Sergeant Cassone on a previous deployment in Iraq.But there are also many for whom Christmas will never be the same. The worst parts of their daydreams will have become reality. They were met by that Crown Vic, and so for them, there will always be a stocking that goes unfilled and an empty place at the table where the most enthusiastic and promising member of their family once sat. And like the daydreamers, you’ll never know who they are when they pass you on the street or miss a traffic light when you’re in a hurry. But for them, when they get lost in their thoughts, their daydreams are no longer taking them overseas. They are bringing them back to other Christmases and birthdays and summer vacations when their Marine was still around. So just this once, could you let them stay there for a moment longer and miss that light?

December 15, 2009

New Afghanistan deployments announced

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Dec 15, 2009 21:20:31 EST

The military’s surge of forces deploying to Afghanistan by this spring will include about 8,500 Marines commanded by the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

To continue reading:


Afghans Celebrate Beloved 'Colonel Bill'

NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Five months ago, the Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, arrived in Nawa District to the sounds of gunfire, rockets and mortars.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 12.15.2009
Posted: 12.15.2009 01:02

Today, Nawa is quiet – a place where they can walk through the city center without body armor as children crowd at their feet.

On Dec. 11, at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, in front of Marine leaders from II Marine Expeditionary Brigade, local Afghan leaders and Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commanding officer of 1/5, cased his battalion's battle colors during a transfer-of-authority ceremony, marking the end of their successful deployment.

The commanding officer of 1/3, Lt. Col. Matt Baker, called forward his battalion's colors and unfurled the flag and streamers to the wind marking the start of their operational commitment to the Nawa District.

Through the success of 1/5's Marines over their five months in Nawa, "Colonel Bill" has become the stuff of legends in the district, forging strong ties to local Afghan leaders and much of the population, said Mohammed Khan, Nawa District administrator, at a lunch celebration held in McCollough's honor, Dec. 8. McCollough dressed in traditional Afghan clothes and a headdress for the party to show his sincere respect for Afghan culture.

"'Colonel Bill' and his Marines patrolled in the heat, drenched in sweat every day, and brought security to our streets and wonderful jobs to our people," said Khan. "They touch our children on the heads and give them candy, and when they play in streets they pretend to be 'Colonel Bill' or one of his brave Marines. We thank you."

"When we first came here, we had no friends. Now, we are leaving as more than friends. We slept in this very spot in the dirt and we sweat and bled together here," McCollough said to the crowd before him.

McCollough also took time to recognize the bravery of the Afghan men gathered before him and remembered the three who were assassinated only months ago by the Taliban for stepping forward to lead in their communities.

After lunch, Afghans and 1/5 Marines exchanged parting gifts with one another.

Khan adorned McCullough, Sgt. Maj. William T. Sowers, sergeant major of 1/5, and Capt. Brian Huysman, commanding officer, Charlie Company, 1/5, with colorful paper arrangements which hung from their necks – reminiscent of large Hawaiian leis –traditionally given by Afghans at celebrations.

To Abdul Manaf, Nawa District governor, and Khan, McCollough presented Marine Corps officer's mameluke swords.

"Many years ago after fighting alongside our Muslim brothers in Africa, Marines were presented a sword – a sword we still carry today," said McCollough. "Now it is my great honor to be able to present you with that sword as a symbol of the struggles we have endured together and the friendship we have built here in Nawa."

McCollough also presented Manaf and Khan's sons with KA-BAR fighting knives, saying, "You do a great job protecting your father, but if anything happens, you'll be ready, just like Marines are."

Others received wristwatches to recognize their consistent punctuality and reliability in helping to revitalize Nawa.

"Whenever I or my men hear about Afghanistan, we will stop and wonder how our friends are doing," said McCollough. "We will remember each other for the rest of our lives."

Custom Kitchen, Home-cooked Meals Bring Marines Together in Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – When Marines hear they must live at a small patrol base for a long period of time, many think of primitive facilities, dirty conditions and bland, prepackaged meals coming from brown bags.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 12.15.2009
Posted: 12.15.2009 01:34

For Marines with the Police Mentoring Team assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, living on Patrol Base Jaker near the Nawa District's bazaar means good eats. Dozens of Marines of Alpha Company, 1/3, and Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, skipped the regular meal lines, Dec. 5, and followed their stomachs to the improvised wood stove kitchen on camp, where Sgt. Juan A. Flores and his team were frying chicken, cooking rice and topping it all with fresh pico de gallo over Afghan flat bread. Their fresh ingredients were purchased from the bazaar earlier that day.

The 1/3 Lava Dogs living at Jaker inherited the kitchen from the Marines of 1/5, from whom they recently took over the area. The hand-built, dual-burner stove is made from engineer stakes, barrier steel wire grates, British military ammunition cans and parachute cord.

"Before we made it in October, everyone had their own little cooking areas when we first got here, so we consolidated them into one big one," said Cpl. Michael H. Gobel, a humvee driver for Charlie Company, 1/5, who helped construct the kitchen.

"We looked through the junk pile and scavenged parts to build with," said Gobel, 21, from El Cajon, Calif. "I used it to cook on every night I was here. It was way better than the usual chow and I'm glad we're able to pass it on the 1/3 Marines so they can enjoy it."

"Out here, real chow halls are not easily accessible, so you rely on your Marine ingenuity to make things better," said Flores, PMT platoon sergeant and a 28-year-old from Los Angeles. "We want to live as comfortably as possible, and dinner is a big deal to all of us. Preparing a meal together, cooking together and eating together – it's just like family."

Flores said he was very happy to see a kitchen already in place on the camp, saving his Marines the effort of building one. Before his team deployed from Military Police Company at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he had already dreamed of making his own meals while deployed.

"When I was deployed to Iraq last year, my staff [non-commissioned officer in charge] wanted to make life better and decided we were not going to eat [Meals, Ready-to-Eat] every day if we can avoid it. We were living in a house with the Iraqi police as we trained them, so we bought and rented pots and pans, a stove – everything we would need to make a good dinner every night.

"Pretty soon, we had infantry Marines from down the street fighting to come over to our house for dinner," said Flores.

Meals usually start early in the afternoon with PMT Marines chopping vegetables, gathering wood scraps, preparing and seasoning meat, cleaning pots and pans, and buying last-minute ingredients. Their seasonings and spices are mostly collected and donated from care packages. "Out here we can grill it, boil it, bake it or fry it," said Flores.

Flores admits his team's cuisine has a Mexican bias, since his main chef and more than half of his Marines are Mexican-American or married to Hispanic women. Judging by the crowd and smiles on faces of Marines gathered around the kitchen, nobody seems to mind.

For other Marines like Cpl. Carlos J. Orellana, PMT, 1/3, who are not as experienced with cooking, they take it as a great opportunity to learn.

"It's exciting for me to be able to do this here," said Orellana, a 22-year-old from Houston. "I cooked a little back home, but this is cooking in the raw. It's a whole new experience and I'm going to learn a lot, too.

"What's great about this is that it all comes down to taking care of people," said Orellana. "If someone says, 'Wow! This is really good!' then that made everything worth it for us."

As the PMT Marines begin training local Afghan national police forces, they won't always be at Jaker to cook, but when they are, "you'll see us cooking," said Orellana.

Marines identify units ordered to Afghanistan

About 4,500 Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station are among the 30,000 troops President Barack Obama is ordering to Afghanistan, a Marine spokesman said Tuesday.


By MARK WALKER - [email protected] | Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 7:20 pm

The units who have received the deployment orders are the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing; the 1st Marine Logistics Group; the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment; and a recently formed Marine Air-Ground Task Force Support Battalion, said 1st Lt. Tom Garnett at Camp Pendleton.

That group of approximately 3,700 Marines and sailors is scheduled to leave in February and March for Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

In addition, an 800-member Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Division is slated to deploy in April, Garnett said.

The Marines will be led by the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, with Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman serving as his top on-ground commander.

Brig. Gen. Andrew O'Donnell Jr. will head up the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's combat aviation element, which includes helicopter and jet fighter squadrons.

Brig. Gen. Charles Hudson will lead the 1st Marine Logistics Group.

About 8,500 Marines are being ordered to Afghanistan as part of the president's surge order announced earlier this month.

Approximately 4,000 Marines from North Carolina's Camp Lejeune also are being sent, including 1,500 troops from the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment who are deploying immediately.

Once all those forces are there, the Marine Corps will have nearly 19,000 troops in Afghanistan.

As all those groups prepare for war, Camp Pendleton's 1,200-troop 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment that has been in the Helmand province since spring is in the process of returning to the base. All the troops are expected home by Christmas.

As the U.S. winds down its presence in Iraq, no large groups of local Marines are expected to be sent to that country. The last infantry battalion still in Iraq, a St. Louis-based reserve unit, is scheduled to return in January.

In Washington, Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told reporters Tuesday the additional Marines in Afghanistan will "expand the zones of influence" using methods that worked in Iraq, such as staying in remote areas and living among the local population.

"You win the confidence of the people, whether it be in Iraq or Afghanistan, by being the strongest tribe," Conway said during a Pentagon briefing. "We have validated our tactics, techniques and procedures in Iraq."

The Marine Corps has transferred much of its equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan, including the versatile Osprey aircraft that flies like an airplane and takes off and lands like a helicopter.

The Osprey is proving its value by safely moving Marines into areas populated by the Taliban, Conway said.

"We're using them to land troops deep and build up our troop numbers," he said. "The Osprey will be in Afghanistan as long as Marines are in Afghanistan."

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

Hundreds of Marines and Sailors deployed to Afghanistan early Tuesday morning

Two weeks ago, President Obama said he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan, and this morning they are on their way.


By Parul Joshi | Reporter
Published: December 15, 2009
Updated: December 15, 2009

Hundreds of Marines and Sailors from Camp Lejeune left Tuesday around midnight in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

They are part of the 1,500 troops from Camp Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division who have been ordered to deploy.

Lance Cpl. Zach Bell says he’s ready to go to work, even though for him, work means he can’t hold his daughter or hug his wife Christy for the next 7 months. Bell has deployed to Afghanistan once before, but this time the war will keep him from welcoming his second child into the world.

“I’m nervous, I’m worried about leaving her alone,” said Bell. “My family is going to come take care of everything. I’m going to miss the birth but it’s something we have to deal with.“ Christy’s due date is four weeks from now.

“I mean I don’t want him to leave but we’ve been prepared for it,” said Christy. “Once he leaves the quicker he’ll come home. We’re just ready to get it over with -I know he’ll be ok.“

Major Heath Henderson says like Bell; about half of the battalion’s Marines have already been to Afghanistan.

“They saw it first hand. From an academic level so to speak – Marines understand the principals of counterinsurgency. You’re focusing on the people and you’re partnering with the local security forces to establish government,” said Henderson.

Meanwhile Bell isn’t letting what he’ll miss between now and July cloud his focus.

“I hope the actions we cause are so they can help themselves,” said Bell. “It’s not going to be an easy process, it’s obviously not going to be short - but whatever I can do to help makes it all better in the end. Actively, we all feel that we’re doing something positive and everybody here believes in what they’re doing.“

And as the Marines prepare to fulfill their mission, the mission back home will be to pray for their safe return.

The Marines will partner with Afghan forces to fight the insurgents.

More Marines are scheduled to deploy from Camp Lejeune Tuesday night, as well as Thursday.

December 14, 2009

Back from combat, women struggle for acceptance

By KIMBERLY HEFLING Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON December 14, 2009 (AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nobody wants to buy them a beer.

To continue reading:


December 13, 2009

Marines Clear Taliban Stronghold During Operation Cobra's Anger

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Once an urban district and home to thousands, "The Greens," an area within the Now Zad region of Afghanistan quickly became a ghost town, when Taliban fighters procured the area from which to launch combat operations.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 12.13.2009
Posted: 12.13.2009 07:57

With the Taliban in control and the civilian population gone, the area's alleyways were quickly laced with improvised explosive devices, its orchard's filled with bunkers and fortified fighting positions, and its adobe homes stocked with weapons caches and enemy fighters.

While few coalition units have dared to enter The Greens, the Marines and sailors of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, did exactly that Dec. 8-9 as part of Operation Cobra's Anger.

The Marines of Lima Co. moved swiftly to clear compounds, homes, alleyways and orchards, and it quickly became clear the Taliban had become complacent in the safety they believed The Greens provided them and were unprepared to deal with such an assault.

"We went in there for our first time and there wasn't anybody occupying the area, but we did find a lot IED making facilities, [homemade explosives], pressure plates and stuff like that," said Lance Cpl. Stewart Heim, 20, a rifleman with Lima Co. "It definitely showed us the Taliban were occupying [the Greens], and using it as a centralized place between towns."

Lima Co. also confiscated illegal drugs, Taliban propaganda and uncovered tunnel systems used by enemy fighters.

"We found their tunnel systems which pretty much run throughout the whole Greens," said Heim, a native of Staunton, Ill. "So we've definitely seen that they have the capability to survive us dropping bombs on them."

Lima Co. came to the area expecting their Taliban rivals to defend the ground they've controlled for many months. With the Marines rapidly chipping away at Taliban caches and exposing fighting positions, an attack by Taliban forces to save what supplies remained, seemed even more imminent.

"Walking through The Greens was kind of iffy. You didn't know where you wanted to step, where to step, where not to step. You never knew what to expect around a corner," said Lance Cpl. Michael R. Evans, 19, a combat engineer attached to Lima Co., 3/4. "You'd open up a door and might see a chicken or a dog and it would surprise you since you knew there was nothing out there."

Enemy fighters chose not to engage the Marines and instead left the dirty work for the many IED's positioned throughout the area.

While the IED's were numerous, the Marines' sharp eyes, training and metal detectors were able to locate all devices encountered before they could inflict casualties.

"We found them the way we should find them, instead of having someone stepping on them and having to be [medically evacuated]," said Evans, from McKenzie, Tenn.

The Marines continued to push farther into the area, destroying IED's along the way, gathering information and slowly but surely, breaking the Taliban's reign over the area.

After two days of defying Taliban threats and venturing farther and farther into the area, the Marines returned to friendly lines to refit and resupply.

While many alleyways in the area remain to be negotiated, the Marines set an example for Afghan national security forces and coalition forces to follow, and energized the mission to rid Now Zad of Taliban influence and return it to the Afghan people.

Marines Storm Now Zad, Wipe Out Taliban Forces

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When the Marines and sailors of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment came to the Now Zad region in Afghanistan, the message they received from outgoing units was simple: Beware of the village of Changwalak.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Posted: 12.13.2009 11:21

Marines and sailors from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, proved such propaganda was nothing more than a mere bluff, when they rolled through Now Zad, Afghanistan, Dec. 5, as part of Operation Cobra's Anger.

"[The outgoing units] wouldn't ever go to Changwalak," said Lance Cpl. Estevan White, 22, an assault man with Lima Co., 3/4, from Anthony, Texas. "They told us never go there, because that's where they took all their casualties."

Word of the Taliban fighters using Changwalak to house their families, supplies and station reinforcements quickly cemented Now Zad's reputation for being one of the more dangerous areas in southern Afghanistan.

It was reported the Taliban even went as far as boasting that coalition forces could never take the town by force.

Lima Company entered the town with artillery, tanks and both fixed and rotary-wing air support readily available, should they encounter heavy enemy resistance. Such support wasn't needed, and the Marines of Lima Co. quickly began the tedious process of searching for weapons caches and improvised explosive devices.

"We found a lot of IED-making material, and it's totally in our favor to do that because we're going to be traveling these roads for the next four or five months, and we don't need any more casualties from IEDs," said Lance Cpl. Shelton Foerster, 22, a rifleman with Lima Co., 3/4.

The Marines also located weapons and mortar positions used to launch attacks on the nearby forward operating base, spoke will villagers, and promoted the legitimacy of the Afghan national security forces.

As Lima Co. continued to exploit caches and fighting positions it became apparent the town was supporting Taliban efforts, but the Marines were quick to point out such support was probably the result of forced intimidation.

"[Changwalak] is definitely harboring the enemy, but I think the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Foerster, from Sealy, Texas.

During the three days the Marines operated in the town their enemy, who promised to fight hard to defend the city, did little to impede the company's progress. However, the Marines were not fooled by the Taliban's absence, and aware that there is still much more work to do in the village.

"I think [the Taliban] went down in their little holes they've dug for years. So I still think they're in Changwalak, I just think we need to dig a little bit deeper to get them out," said Foerster. "[The Taliban] are biding their time and afraid to fight us because they saw all our assets, but I think a couple months down the road they are going to give us a little more resistance."

In the three days Lima Co. was in Changwalak, they made a critical step toward purging the area of Taliban fighters. Once Taliban manipulation in the area is ended Afghan national security forces and coalition forces will be able to take greater strides en route to a safer and more secure Now Zad.

"If we can take Changwalak away from the enemy, then people will start coming back to this area, and then eventually flow into Now Zad and have this whole area back to civilian control," said Foerster.

Navy outlines plans for base in Guam

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Dec 13, 2009 9:07:21 EST

8,600 Marines to come from Okinawa
Navy officials have outlined their plans to build a Marine Corps base in Guam and expeditionary field training sites on the nearby island of Tinian, measures meant to support the relocation of 8,600 Marines from Okinawa beginning in 2014.

To continue reading:


December 12, 2009

Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

As President Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan to tackle the Taliban, Mark Urban spent time with some of the troops on the front line in Helmand province.

"I heard Kilo company lit up nine guys today," said Craig, a young US marine, his face illuminated by the flickering flames that separated us.


Saturday, 12 December 2009

Craig, square-jawed and of Irish American stock from Boston, looked like a young Kennedy stranded in Afghanistan. Night had fallen over the shattered compound in Now Zad where we were bedding down.

The company that Craig and I were attached to, Lima, had spent its day blasting its way through an area of abandoned farms believed to be host to dozens of Taliban.

But the enemy, pausing only to shoot at the vehicle that brought us in, had not given Craig and the other members of Lima Company the fight - and the kills - they had hoped for.

"You seem disappointed?" I asked another member of the squad, Josh, a gravel-voiced lance corporal from Missouri.

"Sure we are," he replied without hesitation, his blue eyes peering out of a tired face blackened with camouflage cream.

These soldiers were taking part in an operation called Angry Cobra, a big set-piece offensive involving more than 1,000 marines, Afghan, British and Danish troops. Its aim was to break the Taliban hold on Now Zad, a district centre in northern Helmand province.

'Dry run'

For four days, we watched close up as huge explosions echoed around the natural amphitheatre of high peaks surrounding the Afghan town.

With each great blast, the marines had whooped or shouted "get some!"

Drones had wheeled noisily but unseen above us, trying to pinpoint the enemy, and the thump of helicopter rotors had added to the general cacophony.

Some of the American high-ups saw the operation as a dry run for other set-piece assaults on Taliban strongholds.

We can certainly expect more of those now that President Obama is increasing US forces and urging them to subdue Afghanistan's insurgency in short order.

But for the marines in Lima or Kilo companies it was all a bit more straightforward - this operation was their chance to challenge the Taliban to a stand-up fight and kill them.

'Dark sub-text'

Two events during the few weeks leading up to Operation Angry Cobra had hardened the marines' resolve.

In one, back in October, an American sniper team operating in the town had come to grief on two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) killing one and wounding nine others.

The other incident was murkier both in its confused detail and dark sub-text.

Marines had mortared two men believed to be setting an IED in an area not far away. A villager later presented two dead children at their base, claiming they had been killed by American fire.

But the children, according to those who had seen them or photographs of them, had been shot. The marines said they had information that a local Taliban commander had ordered it, just so that the Americans would be blamed.

When I asked one young officer about that business, the night before we went out on the operation, he had fixed me in his gaze and said: "I will be happy to go out and kill those people."

Elusive foe

But the Taliban were hardly going to make that easy.

More than 20 years ago, when talking to Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan while I covered their war for a newspaper, they often used the word "dushman" which is Persian for enemy.

Some, however, who had taken part in sweeps to try to catch their elusive foe, corrupted "dushman" to "duchi", meaning spirits or ghosts.

And so it proved in Now Zad. The Americans said they had killed 12 guerrillas, taken a similar number of detainees and found caches containing dozens of IEDs. But most of the enemy had lain low.

The American plan was well thought-out. They had inserted Kilo Company by helicopter to block off one possible line of Taliban retreat, and a British force off to the east had been there to impede another.

They had moved swiftly through the belt of booby traps surrounding their base by firing off minefield-breaching rockets, blasting lanes through the IEDs.

But their enemy, for the most part, had proven elusive.

The new emphasis in Now Zad is shifting to bringing in the governor, clearing IEDs and re-building.

By their earlier actions, the Taliban had goaded the marines. Sitting that evening with the tired squad in an abandoned Afghan farm, I realised that the Americans had been denied a chance to quench that anger.

But there will be other opportunities soon enough.

The Taliban who evaded Operation Angry Cobra may show themselves again soon, and Washington's new plan for the war promises plenty of action.

New sleeping bags lighter, more compact

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Dec 12, 2009 8:36:01 EST

Grunts in Afghanistan soon will have a smaller, lighter sleeping bag.

To continue reading:


December 11, 2009

31st MEU reflects on 2009

The Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a combination of exercises and operations during its 2009 patrols of the Asia-Pacific region.


12/11/2009 By 31st MEU Public Affairs, 31st MEU
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (Dec. 11, 2009) —

The MEU embarked on its annual spring and fall patrols of the Asia-Pacific region aboard the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), and the transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9).

The beginning of 2009 took the Marines and Sailors to Thailand in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2009 (CG ’09). During this exercise both nations participated in an amphibious assault, amphibious raids, Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) training, and bilateral live fire events.

During March, Company L (Co. L), Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 3/5) deployed to the Republic of Korea to participate in Exercise Foal Eagle 2009. Co. L trained alongside the ROK Marine Corps at Rodriguez Live Fire Range, where the ROK and U.S. Marines exchanged skills in areas such as mortar gunnery and Military Operations in an Urban Terrain (MOUT).

In April, the MEU traveled to the Republic of the Philippines to participate in Exercise Balikatan 2009. After various training events from amphibious raids to a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX), the MEU placed heavy emphasis on community relations projects. Hospital corpsmen from Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) provided medical and dental care to approximately 2,400 local nationals, while the command chaplain and individual Marines and Sailors volunteered their time and energy to bring school supplies and clothing to grade school children in several local villages in the Luzon region.

In June, the MEU’s top enlisted billet changed hands. Sgt. Maj. Daniel Anderson retired after more than 30 years in the Marine Corps and the command welcomed Sgt. Maj. Jayme Winders to its ranks.

Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS ’09) kicked off in July with artillery and mortar training involving the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the MEU. During this exercise, Australian soldiers of 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3rd RAR) and the MEU comprised an invading force, while the defenders were played by other ADF members and soldiers from the U.S. National Guard. For the culminating event, both forces squared off in Shoal Water Bay Training Area’s state-of-the-art Joint Combat Training Capability Urban Operations Training Facility.

On Aug. 16, less than a week after returning to Okinawa from TS ‘09, a detachment of Marines and Sailors from the MEU’s Landing Support Platoon (LS Plt.), CLB-31, traveled to Taiwan on the USS Denver to conduct helicopter heavy-lift operations using U.S. Navy MH-53E Super Stallion helicopters in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.

With spring patrol complete, the MEU conducted its semi-annual unit turnover. BLT 2/5 replaced BLT 3/5 as the Ground Combat Element (GCE), while Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) (HMM-265 REIN) and Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) replaced HMM-262 REIN and VMA-211 as the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element (ACE).

The MEU deployed for its fall patrol in a small deck ARG configuration aboard the USS Denver, USS Tortuga and USS Harpers Ferry. The MEU had started its Certification Exercise (CERTEX) when it was redirected to the scene of several natural disasters in the Republic of the Philippines and Indonesia.

Upon arrival in the Philippines, the MEU quickly reconfigured to support Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations in both West Sumatra Province, Indonesia and Manila, Republic of the Philippines. From Oct. 2-12 more than 1.5 million pounds of food, 39,000 bags of clothes and 650 cases of water were transported throughout the region to provide relief and support in the wake of Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma. With the relief effort complete, the MEU transitioned to PHIBLEX and conducted bilateral training with the Philippine Armed Forces.

Simultaneously, a small Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), 31st MEU (-), was deployed for HA/DR operations on the USS Denver in the aftermath of the 7.6 level Indonesian earthquake on Sept. 30. MEU personnel provided heavy-lift capabilities using CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from HMM-265 REIN to transport more than 130,000 pounds of supplies such as food, tools and shelter to affected regions.

Additionally, the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) and Co. G, BLT 2/5 conducted Exercise Forest Light 2010 at Sekiyama, Japan. The two nations conducted live fire ranges including mortars, Combat Marksmanship Program (CMP), machinegun ranges and helicopter-borne operations.

In November, the Maritime Contingency Force continued its fall patrol to the Republic of Korea to participate in Korean Incremental Training Program 2010 (KITP ’10). The ROK Marine Corps and 31st MEU conducted several bilateral training events including helicopter support team (HST) operations, mass casualty evacuation missions, and an amphibious beach landing with an airborne assault.

During the fall patrol, the MEU reconfigured onto the USS Essex and USS Tortuga and participated in the Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet’s Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX). The focal point of the final week was a mock Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) involving the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).

2009 proved to be a busy year for the 31st MEU. However, with such experiences, its Marines and Sailors were able to adapt and become far more proficient in the unit’s amphibious trade, said Col. Paul L. Damren, 31st MEU Commanding Officer.

“The 31st MEU is recognized as the model MEU for its significant contributions to Long War objectives and to the maintenance of amphibious capabilities and heritage within our Corps,” Damren said. “Each individual Marine departs Okinawa with a life-long sense of pride and accomplishment for having served with the 31st MEU.”

Marine Offense Gives Afghan City Second Chance

WASHINGTON - A battalion of Marines in southern Afghanistan now has the upper hand in a city they believed to be a Taliban stronghold, a senior Marine Corps officer in Helmand province said today.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
Date: 12.11.2009
Posted: 12.11.2009 05:36

For many months, Now Zad, the province's second-largest city, was occupied by the Taliban. The city was almost a ghost town, except for the militants who forced residents to abandon their homes.

There's been no Afghan army, police or even government represented there for months, with the exception of one Marine company -- about 100 infantrymen -- in a small corner of the city, Marine Corps Col. Randy Newman told reporters today from his Helmand base camp.

Newman, who commands Marine Regimental Combat Team 7, and his unit took operational responsibility in the region in late October. He's now overseeing a Marine offensive, which is dubbed Operation Cobra's Anger, to regain stability in Now Zad. The mission kicked off Dec. 1, shortly after President Barack Obama announced his order to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

The timing was a coincidence, Newman said, noting that the Now Zad operation is something coalition forces were planning to do long before the president's decision.

"Taking Now Zad and giving it back to the Afghan people is something we've been looking at doing for a long time here," Newman told the Washington Post. "Now Zad was something we would've done whether more forces were coming or not. One company of Marines held a corner of the city, but in front of them was an area that was impassable, unusable and uninhabitable by everyone. So we've looked at that for a long time."

More than 900 Marines and roughly 150 Afghan troops pushed through the city, clearing every section and building of militants. Most of the militants fled or were captured or killed. As of today, the Marines have encountered "a few, but not many" enemy fighters, Newman said.

"Initially we've seen success," he said in the Washington Post interview. "We've been able to achieve our objectives, which was to get in there and assume some security positions to allow us to provide a security bubble around the city."

Newman didn't talk about the casualties on either side, but said much clearing, the initial phase, is left to be done to locate all of the enemy munitions and explosives hidden throughout the city.

"[Marines] still have a great deal of clearing to do," he said. Once the Marines are comfortable with conditions there, they'll "begin to allow Afghans back into certain portions of the city, allow them to get back into their markets and allow their government representatives to come back to that area," he added.

Early success in Cobra's Anger is an important victory for U.S. forces and the Afghan people, Newman said. Not only will Now Zad residents be able to return soon, but the operation also struck a significant blow to extremist operations in the city, province and possibly the country, he said.

Too many weapons and explosives have been found so far for Newman to believe the focus of the Taliban stronghold there was focused on just the city, he said. In one compound alone, Marines found 80 pressure plates used to set off homemade bombs, 30 gallons of homemade liquid explosives and a horde of other weapons.

Every place coalition forces operate in Afghanistan is fueled by militant strongholds and cells like Now Zad, he said.

"When you look at [the Taliban operation] in Now Zad, all of that [weapons and fighters] would've gone somewhere, and it certainly wouldn't have remained in Now Zad," Newman explained. "It was a safe haven for Taliban where they could, at will, develop [and] distribute sources of instability, both material and in the human sense.

"They could train fighters there, they could build explosives there, and they could export that throughout the rest of the province," he continued. "In addition, they were denying that city to the Afghan people. For those ... , we decided to put an end to that and change that dynamic."

It's difficult to estimate how long it will take and how many of the displaced residents will return, Newman said, while adding that he's pleased with the initial phase of the operation.

Marines there will now focus on continuing their security efforts in hopes to build upon their success by re-establishing the local government and essential services and eventually transition full responsibility to the Afghans, Newman said.

"Our belief is that [if] we provide that security bubble, we show initial progress there and the Afghan government begins to show they're going to make progress there, the people will have every reason to come back," he said. "It'll be a month or so before we can see exactly what kind of response we'll have from the displaced population."

December 10, 2009

11th Marine Expeditionary Unit trains with French Foreign Legion

Djibouti — French Legionnaires and US Marines trained together here Dec. 4-10 to increase interoperability, maintain critical military skills and build an inter-service bond crucial to successful operations.


12/10/2009 By 11th MEU Public Affairs, 11th MEU

Elements of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion and 2nd Platoon, Company E, Battalion landing Team 2/4, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), trained together in convoy operations, patrolling tactics and basic military skills.

“Interacting with the Legionnaires provided our Marines the opportunity to train alongside a force that has a deserved reputation for discipline and physical toughness,” said Col. Gregg P. Olson, commanding officer of the 11th MEU. “The Marines enjoyed the challenges posed by the tactical scenarios and the terrain, and I think warriors from many different backgrounds found they had much in common.”

While ashore, the men competed in handball, volleyball, and went through an endurance course riddled with obstacles.

“Having an endurance course where the obstacles require teamwork and leadership was an excellent experience for the guys,” said 2nd Lt. Brian Hinrichs, 2nd Platoon commander, and Wheaton, Ill., native.

During this period, a six-man supporting arms liaison team from the MEU’s Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) detachment were invited to take part in the Djibouti Close Air Support Exercise put on by the French Army and Air force.

“Working with the French was a phenomenal experience,” said Capt. Dave Tumanjan, officer-in-charge of the detachment and Boise, Idaho, native. “This training enabled us to build our knowledge of fires on an international level.”

The Marines and Sailors, part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group, came ashore from the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), which departed San Diego Sept. 24, on a deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East.

December 9, 2009

Injured troops find therapy on horseback

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Blair sits tall in a saddle that has been used by soldiers since before World War I. Today he is riding Bud, a jet-black horse whose usual job is leading caissons through the somber funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery With his crew cut and his Marine Corps windbreaker, Sgt. Blair, 34, looks every bit the part of a soldier as he rides down the path at Arlington's Fort Myer. When he dismounts, though, he grabs a walking stick with a Marines logo on it and walks unevenly to the stables.



Wednesday, December 9, 2009
By Karen Goldberg Goff

Sgt. Blair was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in May 2006. His weekly visits to Fort Myer are part of his rehabilitation to rebuild his legs.

He is among the soldiers who have been taking part in the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs. The program was started at Fort Myer in 2006 by Larry Pence and Mary Jo Beckman, two local former military members and riding enthusiasts.

While therapeutic riding has long been a treatment for special-needs children, the idea of putting injured soldiers together with soldiers and horses from the Army's Old Guard was a new one, Mr. Pence says.

Mr. Pence, a retired Army sergeant major, says about 100 soldiers - many of whom are recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the District - have come through the program. Many participants are amputees who benefit from riding because horses have a gait that is similar to a human's walk.

"Riding helps retrain the muscles," Mr. Pence says. "It accelerates the adaptability to the use of a prosthetic and helps the injured recover more readily."

The program provides intangible benefits, too. Being out in the fresh air, controlling a 1,000-pound animal, working toward a goal and physical activity all contribute to recovery.

"It is difficult to measure the emotional part," Mr. Pence says, "but it is important, and we see it. There is a sense of accomplishment that can dramatically improve a patient's attitude."

Sgt. Blair says riding has given him lots of those benefits.

"I had been on a horse a handful of times in the past," he says. "I like the idea of being able to do everything I was able to do before. It has helped, absolutely. Every time I get on a horse, I feel I am standing a little taller. It works all the muscles, especially the core muscles, and this is really important. I am going to keep riding. It is fun, and it is important."

Walking alongside Sgt. Blair and two other soldiers today are a dozen members of the Old Guard. The precision they usually use to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns or ride through the cemetery is still there, but they are a little more relaxed for this job and a chance to help a veteran look toward life rather than participating in a ceremony of death.

"We usually take part in eight funerals a day," says Spc. Benjamin Nelms, an Old Guard member. "This is a chance to help someone get back on their feet."

Mr. Pence says an important part of the healing process comes when the injured soldiers spend time with the Old Guard soldiers who walk alongside the horse with them, offering training, assistance and, sometimes, just a friendly ear.

"At many therapeutic riding places, you see side-walkers who are women or old guys like me," Mr. Pence says. "But the people helping in this program are [the riders'] peers. It is soldiers helping soldiers. When they are out of the clinic, they will talk about things. Sometimes it is serious stuff, but sometimes just sports and music. It really exemplifies that soldiers take care of their own."

Capt. Mariah Kochavi, 29, has been taking part in therapeutic riding at Fort Myer since suffering a stroke more than a year ago. She says it has been good for her rehabilitation.

"It is good for my balance and improves my mood," says Capt. Kochavi, who is recovering at Walter Reed.

Similarly, Sgt. Seyward McKinney, also at Walter Reed, is using therapeutic riding as part of her stroke recovery, says her father, Bill McKinney. Sgt. McKinney, formerly an operating room technician in Iraq, had brain arteriovenous malformation and suffered a stroke three years ago while at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash. Speech therapy, riding and training a service dog are all part of Sgt. McKinney's recovery. On this day, she is working on the mechanics of sitting tall in the saddle and posting, English riding style.

"It has been really hard," Mr. McKinney says. "Seyward was a lifelong athlete. She would work 12-hour days and play in three women's soccer leagues and swim and lift weights."

The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has helped get similar therapeutic riding programs for soldiers started around the country, Mr. Pence says. In 2007, Mr. Pence and Ms. Beckman met with the secretary of veterans affairs to discuss how to implement the program at various Army bases. So far, the Fort Myer program is the only one operating on a base.

"One of the ways we sold it to Army officials is that it has no cost," Mr. Pence says. "The soldiers donate their time, and the horses are already here."

December 8, 2009

Bomb-sniffing dog helps Marines stay alive in Afghanistan

Reporting from Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan -- It's a rare day when a Marine gladly depends on a dogface.


December 8, 2009
-- Tony Perry

But in the Marines' efforts to remove the threat of roadside bombs buried by insurgents, one of their best weapons is the keen nose of a 3-year-old black Labrador named Ringo.

Ringo is credited with finding 10 improvised explosive devices in the last six months while on route-clearance patrol with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2 of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Ringo sniffs the ground for the presence of explosives. When he finds something suspicious, he sits down near the spot, allowing Marine technicians to dig carefully to uncover the buried bombs, which remain the top killer of U.S. troops.

On two recent occasions, Ringo's nose falsely detected hits. But the Marines are quick to forgive him. On another patrol, he found explosives that proved to be the first in a chain of bombs. Without that initial discovery, the other bombs might have gone undetected, his two-legged buddies said.

There are other bomb-sniffing dogs accompanying Marines in the onetime Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, but Ringo has found more bombs than any of his canine colleagues.

Ringo's handler, Lance Cpl. William Childs, 21, of Santa Cruz, will soon return to Camp Pendleton, his deployment finished. Ringo is also scheduled to be brought back home, where he will be assigned a new handler.

Both will then redeploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop increase announced by President Obama.

Calm and friendly, Ringo is like any other Lab: He likes head pats and chin scratches.

But unlike others of his breed, when he goes roaming off-leash, it's with a determined intent to find trouble.

And when he points out an explosive device, his big reward is playtime with his favorite chew toy -- and the gratitude of an entire team of best friends.

Gates arrives in Afghanistan ahead of first Marines

By Kevin Baron, Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes online edition, Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT — Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, determined to see firsthand if the U.S.-led military operation is ready to accept an influx of 30,000 troops within six months.

To continue reading:


December 7, 2009

Family loses 2nd Marine in noncombat incident

The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Dec 7, 2009 11:01:28 EST

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — A Minnesota family has lost a second Marine in a noncombat incident.

To read the entire article:


Jobs, Not Taliban, Are The Worry In Afghan Town

The dusty bazaar in this remote town in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province was once teeming with Taliban fighters and drug smugglers who used it as a central transit point in their journeys to and from nearby Pakistan.


by The Associated Press
KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan December 7, 2009, 04:12 pm ET

Now the market is quiet, and shopkeepers and residents tell U.S. Marines who patrol the streets that they appreciate their efforts to open a new school and dredge the town's irrigation canals. But they complain that business was better before troops descended on the area five months ago and drove the militants away.

"Security is good now, but security was also good during the time of the Taliban," said Marijah, a Khan Neshin resident hanging around the market looking for work.

Many residents say they are more concerned about job prospects than security and are impatient to see improvements after eight years of war. But coalition efforts have been hampered by Afghanistan's weak government and the behavior of local security forces.

Some residents also expressed concern that working with the coalition could endanger them if the Taliban return after the Marines leave.

"The people are thinking about the history of Afghanistan," said Jonathan Browning, a development expert deployed to Khan Neshin by the British. "If things swing back to the Taliban, they fear they will be seen as being involved."

Others probably support the insurgents, most of whom, like Khan Neshin residents, are ethnic Pashtuns. Many farmers in the area grow poppies or marijuana, linking them to the vast drug networks that are often protected or controlled by the Taliban.

Some 4,000 Marines pushed south to Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, and other parts of southern Helmand province in July in the largest military operation in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

Lessons learned after five months on the ground in Khan Neshin will provide a roadmap for the 30,000 additional U.S. troops President Barack Obama has ordered to Afghanistan under a new strategy announced last week.

As part of the Obama surge, about 16,000 U.S. troops got their orders to Afghanistan in the last few days, including about 1,500 Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina who will leave for this country later this month, the Pentagon said Monday.

In Khan Neshin, several hundred of the Marines established a patrol base inside a 200-year-old mud fort. They also set up several smaller outposts in the surrounding area. The spartan bases represent the coalition's most southern presence in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold that produces more than half of Afghanistan's opium.

"This was one of the main stopping points for all the rat lines for weapons, fighters and drugs heading north from Pakistan," said Capt. Chris Banweg, a civil affairs officer with the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the Marine Corps reserve unit stationed in Khan Neshin since November.

"It was like the Holiday Inn. Everyone stayed here," said Banweg.

The U.S. military plans to send a large number of the additional troops to Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province to secure key population centers and transit routes.
U.S. forces will also focus on expanding the Afghan army and police. Training the security forces is seen as key to transferring responsibility to the Afghan government and allowing the coalition to draw down its forces.

Some analysts speculate the transition will take longer than expected, and the Marines' experience with police in Khan Neshin shows how far that group, known for its corruption, has to go.

Residents complained the police harassed them and took goods from the bazaar without paying.

"It's the police's job to protect the people, not bother them," said shopkeeper Bar Aga.
Eleven of the 19 policemen in Khan Neshin were fired after testing positive for drugs, said Lt. Col. Richard Crevier, executive officer of the Marine battalion in Khan Neshin.

The police responded by rebelling and throwing rocks at the Marines, he said.

"The police down here were basically corralled off the streets of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah," Crevier said. "They hadn't been trained and didn't have police ethics."

A second group of 13 police who arrived a few days ago also lacked any training, except for the chief. But the town is slated to receive more than 20 graduates from a police academy near Lashkar Gah toward the end of the month.

Despite the challenges, the Marines and civilian development experts in Khan Neshin believe they are making progress and that morale is high. They have partnered with the community to dredge the town's canals, open the first school in about five years and run a health clinic two days a week inside the fort.

They also have high hopes for the new district governor, Massoud Ahmad Rassouli Balouch, a 27-year-old former pharmacist from Lashkar Gah. But he has struggled to recruit competent staff willing to work in Khan Neshin and to get resources for a district that contains only about 1 percent of Helmand's population.

‘Thundering Third’ faces two-front engagement

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan - At first glance, the area known as the Buji Bhast Pass in southern Afghanistan looks much like the rest of Farah Province. Mountain peaks tower over vast desert valleys spotted with small adobe villages, herds of grazing animals and local farmers tilling their fields.


Published: Monday, December 7, 2009 3:51 PM CST
Cpl. Zachary J. Nola
Regimental Combat Team 7

Although other areas in the region are proving relatively receptive to coalition forces, the pass and surrounding towns remain a haven for Taliban fighters.

Threats and kidnappings by armed Taliban fighters in the dead of the night have sent a wave of fear and compliance over local villagers. This forced obedience, coupled with a high number of insurgents lurking in nearby mountains, has produced an area hazardous to both coalition forces and local Afghans alike.

The danger was apparent when Marines and sailors from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, visited surrounding towns of the Buji Bhast Pass area as part of Operation North Star Nov. 15-17.

The key to securing the pass, which serves as a line of communication between the populated areas of Delaram and Golestan, lies in securing the trust and assistance of the local villagers. Before laying the foundation for a healthier and more permanent relationship with the villagers, coalition forces must first earn the respect and influence of the towns’ elders.

“The elders are key to holding any kind of relationship with the local populace,” said 1st Lt. Scott Riley, 25, the executive officer for Co. I. “They want to help the coalition forces. They want us there, and they make it well known, and the fact that the Taliban are still [in the area] really worries them.”

The operation began their effort by visiting the town of Gund, which lies on the pass’ southern doorstep, but the town quickly proved to be unlike most other provincial areas.

On past patrols, Co. I has often been greeted by curious, but sociable farmers, or local children in search of gifts. Upon its arrival to Gund, the company was welcomed by Taliban gunfire from fighting positions in the surrounding mountains.

Undeterred by an enemy incapable of matching the Marines’ firepower, the patrol continued with its mission, and attended a shura with the town’s elders the following day.

The Taliban’s fear that the elders’ power and influence could encourage local Afghans to support the provisional government was evident shortly after the meeting had concluded.

During the shura, Taliban fighters in the surrounding hills again targeted the Marines with small-arms fire in a futile attempt to harass and disrupt any progressive discourse between the Marines and their Afghan hosts.

“[By] shooting at us, they’re just trying to reinforce their presence there to the locals. They wanted to let [the locals] know, ‘Hey, we’re still here, we see you talking to the coalition forces, and we don’t like it,’” said Riley, a native of Wake Forest, N.C.

Taliban fighters increased their efforts to reinforce their influence over the region later in the day. The third attempt by insurgents targeted the Marines with an improvised explosive device.

“We turned around to look at how beautiful the valley was up there with all the mountains, when we saw a huge plume of smoke and dirt shoot up. Then we waited and eventually heard the explosion,” said 2nd Lt. Robert Fafinski, a platoon commander with Co. I. “We were pretty sure somebody had died, and eventually we were able to learn from the locals that it was the IED emplacers.”

The failed emplacement only strengthened the Marines’ message that uninhibited Taliban movement and violence poses the same threat to local villagers as it does to coalition forces. As the operation moved to the nearby village of She Gosa Janobi, Co. I used the incident as an example of the Taliban’s disregard for the safety of those Afghans living in the Buji Bhast area, and to promote coalition support of Afghan national security forces.

Another shura was held with the elders of She Gosa Janobi, while dismounted patrols through the town allowed the Marines to speak with villagers directly.

The Marines listened to local concerns about security, shared food with those in need, briefed local farmers and businessmen about new Afghan laws pertaining to agricultural fertilizer use, and dispersed hand-cranked radios.

“We were able to pass out a good number of [radios],” said Fafinski, from Chaska, Minn. “It was very rewarding for the Marines to see the joy on the Afghan faces, when they heard music in their villages for probably the first time ever.”

In addition to playing music and the call for prayer, the radios will also help keep Afghans in the Buji Bhast area better informed about their role in safeguarding the local area.

Afghan Villagers Embrace Marines, Afghan Forces After Months of Hiding

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A previous fear of the Taliban would have kept the people of Amir Agha hidden in their compounds, as Marines patrolled through their fields and town. Their willingness to talk increases with a growing since of security.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 12.07.2009
Posted: 12.07.2009 04:08

"We want to help you. We need to talk to you. It is good," said a local village elder, as the Marines passed by his home.

Marines from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, along with members of the 4th Civil Affairs Group, currently attached to 2/2, and local members of the Afghan Border Police patrolled through Amir Agha, in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, to survey the atmosphere of the village.

"What we saw today was pretty positive," said Maj. Matt Ciancarelli, the civil affairs group officer for 2/2. "We have people coming to talk to us, which is good, and they were seeking out the Marines in order to tell them that they're happy we're here, and they're happy that we're looking to join forces with their government in order to help them."

Gulbodin, a local member of the ABP, who operated in the same area just a year before, has seen a significant change in the attitude of the local population.

"The situation is good," said Gulbodin, 20, from Nawa. "It has gotten better. The people like us now, they don't hate us."

As the Marines walked through the town, scores of children followed closely behind, hoping to get any items that the Marines may be able to give them. The Marines stopped for a few minutes to introduce themselves to the villagers, and ask a few questions about the living conditions and overall situation of the town.

The most frequent thing that the locals asked for was a new school. The children had not attended school because the previous one is now partially destroyed, and is filled with anti-coalition propaganda, which has earned the school the moniker of "the Taliban School."

"That's positive," said Ciancarelli, from Raleigh, N.C. "If they're asking for a school, then that means that they feel safe enough that their kids can go to school."

The Marines spoke with one of the local teachers, who is willing to teach in the area. The teacher agreed that there is a need for a new school.

"I am a teacher," he said. "Wherever there is a school built, I will go and teach there."

Along with the Marines, members of the local ABP came to help with talking to the locals and to help search compounds, if needed. This helps associate the Marines with the local government, and allows the locals to see their countrymen step forward.

While the Marines have started the dialogue with the locals, it will ultimately be the government who will make the advancements and do the work.

"This is their country, their lead," said Ciancarelli. "We're here to assist them with the development. They've done a great deal. They're the ones showing the greatest interest from what I've seen in Garmsir so far."

Col. Lejeune's 1/6 to Lead Afghan Surge

A North Carolina-based infantry battalion will be the first U.S. unit to deploy to Afghanistan as part of an additional 30,000 troops who will be sent into combat during the next six months, said a Marine official overseeing the unit


By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 7, 2009 5:30:53 EST

Camp Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, “will deploy in the near future,” said Col. David Fuquea, chief of staff for Lejeune’s 2nd Marine Division. He declined to say when the unit will arrive in theater, but Marine officials at the Pentagon said the first unit will deploy before Dec. 25.

The battalion was the first Marine unit to fight in Afghanistan in years when it deployed as part of Lejeune’s 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2008, but it has had nearly 15 months to rest and train for its next mission, said Fuquea, speaking at a Thursday night dinner sponsored by the Marine Corps Association, a professional organization composed of current and former Marines and their family members.

In all, about 9,000 Marines will be sent to Afghanistan by late-spring, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, deputy commandant of plans, policies and operations, told guests at the dinner.

“That will bring our total in Afghanistan to just under 20,000,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul.”

The increase in the number of Marines has prompted the Corps to shift gears in Afghanistan in at least one regard. The service had previously named 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to replace Lejeune-based 2nd MEB as the command element in theater. Instead, the Corps will now deploy I Marine Expeditionary Force Forward, a larger force to be commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, who was named as 1st MEB’s commander in July, told guests at the MCA dinner that “quick work” was done during the last few weeks at Camp Pendleton to prepare for the possibility of a MEF Fwd. task force deploying. Marine logisticians worked seven days straight through Thanksgiving to prepare, inspect and package more than 1,800 pieces of gear, ranging from vehicles to communications equipment, before President Barack Obama announced Tuesday what his plan for Afghanistan would be, he said.

Osterman will now deploy as the commander of the force’s ground combat element, he said in a brief interview Thursday night. The units deploying will include two regimental combat teams, a reconnaissance battalion, an artillery battalion, a light-armored reconnaissance battalion, as well as headquarters elements, he said.

The officers did not elaborate Thursday night on which other units will deploy. Marine officials have said deployment orders could be announced as soon as Friday, or sometime next week

Marine Unit Comes Home to 77 New Babies!

Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp LeJeune, NC missed a lot during their seven-month deployment at sea -- specifically 77 of their wives giving birth back at home. Lance Corporal Jasen Kratzer figured he'd be one of those dads who learned about his new baby via telegram while he was deployed.


December 7, 2009 - 10:45 AM | by: Caroline Shively

His wife, Madison, was prepared to go it alone as her husband made stops in Kuwait, Greece, Bulgaria, and throughout the Middle East during his deployment at sea.

"It's sad that he has to miss so much," she said. "But it's what he wants to do. He wants to serve so that other people can be with their families all the time."

Then Kratzer's bosses on ship came up with an idea. They knew that about the time Madison was supposed to have her labor induced, Jasen would be training in Kuwait with access to video teleconference equipment. From there, it was up to the baby to be ready in time before the Marines had to head back to the ship.

"I did everything possible to get to where I needed to be where the doctor would induce me," Madison said. "I was playing tennis, even going bowling!"

And it worked. Doctors hooked up a camera and microphone with Jasen in Kuwait and another with Madison in the hospital back home.

"He was telling me to breathe and telling me i could do it and that everything was gonna be okay. He was everything I needed him to be."

Everything but in the room with her.

"It was horrible not to be able to be there, just to hold her hand," Jasen said.

But still he watched over his wife even as she slept in her hospital bed between contractions. He knew that nine hours of labor was the only time the two would see each other over the next three months before Jasen returned to LeJeune on the U.S.S. Bataan.

That reunion came this weekend, along with the 2,200 other men in the 22nd MEU. In the hours before he came ashore, Madison described how it felt as she gave their son a bottle and watched over her four-year-old daughter Kindyl.

"I'm everything -- every emotion you could think of. I'm nervous, I'm scared, its been seven months since he's been gone and we're in a routine here, just us and I'm going to have to learn to share. I'm used to doing everything on my own. I'll have to get used to having the help again."

At the same time just off shore, Jasen packed his gear as a fellow Marine asked what the hardest part of the deployment had been for his wife. Jasen's answer came instantly. "Having to have a kid without the support of me being there and being alone for this long and having to take care of both of them."

Jasen was supposed to leave the ship in the early afternoon Friday but the LCAC hovercraft that was supposed to take him to shore broke down, causing a six-hour delay. Madison, Kindyl and Braidyn spent those extra six hours waiting at a rec center on base -- not wanting to leave, knowing that's where Jasen would first arrive. A few hours in, Kindyl decided that Daddy should swim to shore if the boat wasn't fixed soon.

Then at 8 o'clock that night, a white bus pulled up and Jasen was the first man off, carrying an armload of roses. "My heart was racing, my stomach was all in knots," he said.

As she caught sight of her husband, Madison broke from the crowd and sprinted the last 20 feet, jumping into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist with Kindyl running right behind, shouting "Daddy! Daddy!"

After the couple's kiss and a hug for Kindyl, Madison took Jasen's hand and led him to his young son. He reached into the stroller and scooped up the sleepy baby, tentatively putting a bottle in his mouth as the child fussed. Madison kissed Braidyn's head and Kindyl danced around their feet as the couple clutched each other.

"It's something that I wouldn't miss for the world," Jasen said, not taking his eyes off Braidyn. Then they slowly walked to their car to return home for the first time as a family of four.

As Jasen and the other members of the MEU came ashore, Marine officials announced an infantry battalion out of Camp LeJeune would be the first to join the combat in Afghanistan as part of President Obama's call for 30,000 more troops there.

That battalion will leave before Christmas, setting the process in motion once again. Seven months from now, another group of families will be waiting in this same spot for their Marines to return.

Fox News Channel's Special Report with Bret Baier will have more on the Kratzer's reunion and the 22nd MEU Monday night at 6 p.m. EST.

Numerous Lejeune units to deploy in surge

By Dan Lamothe and Trista Talton - Staff writers
Posted : Monday Dec 7, 2009 16:26:51 EST

The Pentagon announced Monday that 8,500 additional Marines will deploy to Afghanistan, including 1,500 by the end of the month as part of battalion task force headed by Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.

To continue reading:


December 6, 2009

A Calif. Town Feels Afghan War's Impact

In Oceanside, Near Camp Pendleton, Nearly Everyone Is Linked to the Military - and Feeling the Strain of Repeated Deployments

(CBS) The president announced this week an additional 30,000 U.S. troops will head to Afghanistan. Of course, in this country that means more changes on the home front, and not just at home, as CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy reports from Camp Pendleton, Calif.


News video:

OCEANSIDE, Calif., Dec. 6, 2009
By Terry McCarthy

Mia Wayne has her own way of supporting the war in Afghanistan. She lives in Oceanside, right next to the Marine Corps base of Camp Pendleton, so she invited two Marines to Thanksgiving dinner.

"They were thankful - they were thankful to have a home-cooked meal," Wayne said.

Oceanside's population of 170,000 are strong backers of the military - particularly now some 4,000 more Marines from Camp Pendleton are likely to be deployed to Afghanistan starting this month as part of President Obama's new war strategy.

"I think we have to finish the job," Wayne said. "With 30,000 people more; if that's what it's going to take, okay."

Or as Oceanside Council Member Jerry Kern put it, "The Marines' job is to support the mission, and our job is to support the Marines."

Everybody here feels it when a big deployment happens.

"The town empties out," said resident Scott Gladden. "There's a lot less people here, a lot of women with their husbands gone, so you see a lot of ladies and children walking around without their daddies."

Oceanside is a proud military town, but with three-quarters of the population linked to someone who is - or was - serving in the armed forces, they know better than anyone how much this war really costs.

Dawn O'Brien has a son, son-in-law and daughter-in-law in the military. As a mother, she says every day of their deployments is torture: "Constant fear. Constant, 24-hour fear."

O'Brien thinks the repeated deployments have pushed the military to breaking point.

"Some of them have gone two, three, some four, some are even on their fifth tours," she said. "It's just too much."

In Oceanside's Mary's Diner, retired teacher Marilyn Pirkola sees no easy way out of this war.

"It causes one to ponder - and I would say to pray," Pirkola said. "I pray for soldiers at war."

It's a war that in Oceanside is constantly part of everyday life.

December 4, 2009

Marines Launch New Offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand Province

Operation Cobra's Anger Is Intended to 'Cut Off Enemy Supply and Communications Lines'

Marines are trying to make good on President Obama's promise to "reverse Taliban momentum" in southern Afghanistan, launching with the first major offensive since the president spoke about his Afghanistan plans Tuesday night.


News video:

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2009

In the early morning hours, arriving by helicopter and V22 Osprey aircraft, approximately 300 Marines from Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine recon unit Task Force Raider, dropped into a strategically important area in northern Helmand Province.

This is the first time the Osprey tilt-wing aircraft have been used in an offensive in Afghanistan.

The commander of the operation dubbed "Cobra's Anger," Lt. Col. Martin Wetterauer, said two Marines units dropped into two areas at 3 a.m. on Friday morning. The focus of the operation is to "cut off enemy supply and communications lines to the north."

So far, Wetterauer said, three insurgents have been killed after he said they were caught placing bombs in a road.

The Marine units dropped into two areas -- one just north of the once-bustling city of Now Zad and the small town further north called Kenjake Sofla. Both are places where Marines believe several Taliban insurgents operate.

Initially, the Marines have faced little opposition, Wetterauer said.

For the last four years, Marines and British forces have battled the Taliban in the area.

Because of the fighting, Now Zad, the second-largest city in Helmand Province, which once had a population of 30,000, has been reduced to a ghost town. Only members of the Taliban and their sympathizers remain.

In building defenses against the Marines, Taliban fighters have planted thousands of homemade bombs and dug in positions throughout the valley at the foot of the craggy Tangee Mountains.

Homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices, may be the gravest threat Marines face in the area. The bombs, coming in just about every size and shape, are used to create minefields, a defense against Marines and booby traps throughout the city.

One area of town is so heavily mined, Marines refer to it as "no leg alley." Since 2005 several Marines have lost limbs there because of small bombs planted apparently not to kill, but to maim.

The principle tactic of Taliban forces in the area is to injure at least one Marine using an IED placed in a wall, doorway or path, and then to draw in more Marines who try to extricate the injured.

To the frustration of the Marines, it's a tactic that has some success. In October, one Marine was killed and eight others were injured after their MRAP hit an IED. After dismounting, they began taking small arms and indirect fire from insurgents.

All the casualties occurred after the Marines dismounted from the vehicle and encountered several secondary IEDs. What started as a routine engagement turned into a 10-hour firefight.

In keeping with President Obama's plan to "reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government," Marines want to squeeze the Taliban in the area by shutting down lines of communication and routes through which fighters and weapons move.

3rd Bn., 11th Marines returns from Afghanistan deployment

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — More than 120 Marines and sailors with Battery I, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, returned to the Combat Center and their loved ones’ arms late Wednesday during a homecoming at Del Valle Field.


12/4/2009 By Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

The battery, which deployed in June, primarily operated out of Helmand Province, Afghanistan as artillery support for Regimental Combat Team 3.

RCT-3 was also comprised of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, from Base Camp PMarine Corps endleton, Calif.; 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

While in theater, 3rd Bn., 11th Marines’ duties were to conduct “traditional artillery missions as well as provisional infantry tasks,” said Capt. Chad Althiser, the battery’s commanding officer, from Worcester, N.Y.

These tasks included many firsts for the regiment, such as being the first Marine Corps artillery unit to use helicopters to lift an M777A2 Lightweight Howitzer in support of combat in Afghanistan, the first to deploy with rockets, cannons and counter-battery radars, and the first to use the M982 “Excalibur” Precision-Guided Extended-Range Artillery Projectile in combat, said Lt. Col. James Lewis, the battalion’s commanding officer.

After a successful deployment, the men of Battery I were given a warm welcome by their loved ones despite the chilly temperature and late hour.

“No others husbands could do what ours do,” said Brittney King, the wife of Lance Cpl. Anthony King, a motor transport operator with the battery, before his arrival. “We definitely have the best [husbands] out there.”

Brittney Cable, the wife of Cpl. Joshua Cable, a motor transport mechanic, played with her one-year-old daughter, Makenzie, and chatted with King to pass the time.

“Adjusting to the every day stuff was difficult,” she said. “Our husbands do so much for us. I’m very grateful not only for what they do for us, but also what they do for the world.”

More than 100 Marines and sailors with Headquarters Battery returned to the Combat Center today

US Marines launch large offensive

KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines and Afghan troops Friday launched the first offensive since President Barack Obama announced an American troop surge, striking against Taliban communications and supply lines in a southern insurgent stronghold, a military spokesman said.


Associated Press Writer Alfred De Montesquiou, Associated Press Writer – 12/04/2009

About 1,000 Marines and 150 Afghan troops were taking part in "Operation Cobra's Anger" in a bid to disrupt Taliban supply and communications lines in the Now Zad Valley of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting last summer, according to Marine spokesman Maj. William Pelletier.

Hundreds of troops from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine reconnaissance unit Task Force Raider dropped by helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft in the northern end of the valley while a second, larger Marine force pushed northward from the main Marine base in the town of Now Zad, Pelletier said.

A U.S. military official in Washington said it was the first use of Ospreys, aircraft that combine features of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, in an offensive involving units larger than platoons.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to detail the operation, said that Ospreys have previously been used for intelligence and patrol operations.

Combat engineers used armored steamrollers and explosives to force a corridor through Taliban minefields — known as "IED Alley" because of the huge number of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, and land mines, Pelletier said.

Roadside bombs and mines have become the biggest killer of American troops in Afghanistan.

There were no reports of U.S. or Afghan government casualties. The spokesman for the Afghan governor of Helmand province, Daood Ahmadi, said at least four Taliban fighters had been killed and their bodies recovered.

He said more than 300 mines and roadside bombs had been located in the first day of the operation.

Pelletier said insurgents were caught off guard by the early morning air assault.

"Right now, the enemy is confused and disorganized," Pelletier said by telephone from Camp Leatherneck, the main Marine base in Helmand. "They're fighting, but not too effectively."

The offensive began three days after Obama announced that he was sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to help turn the tide against the Taliban and train Afghan security forces to take responsibility for defending against the militants.

America's European allies will send an estimated 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year "with more to come," NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Friday.

Most of the new troops are expected to be sent to southern Afghanistan, including Helmand, where Taliban influence is strongest.

Friday's fighting was taking place in one of the most challenging areas of the country for the U.S.-led NATO force, which has been trying for years to break the Taliban grip there.

Now Zad used to be one of the largest towns in Helmand, the center of Afghanistan's lucrative opium poppy growing industry.

However, three years of fighting have chased away Now Zad's 30,000 inhabitants, leaving the once-thriving market and commercial area a ghost town. Instead the area has become a major supply and transportation hub for Taliban forces that use the valley to move drugs, weapons and fighters south toward major populations and to provinces in western Afghanistan.

British troops who were once stationed there left graffiti dubbing the town "Apocalypse Now-Zad," a play on the title of the 1979 Vietnam War movie "Apocalypse Now." The British base was nearly overrun on several occasions, with insurgents coming within yards (meters) of the protection wall. The area was handed over in 2008 to the Marines, who have struggled to reclaim much of the valley.

In August, the Marines launched their first large-scale offensive in the barren, wind-swept valley, which is surrounded by steep cliffs with dozens of caves providing cover to Taliban units.

Although only about 100 hardline insurgents are believed to operate in the area, their positions are so strong that a fixed front line runs just a few hundred yards (meters) north of the Marines' base, according to Associated Press reporters who were with the Marines there last summer.

Elsewhere in Helmand, the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party warned that NATO had one "last chance" to succeed in Afghanistan and that patience was running out in countries that have provided troops to the NATO-led mission.

"We can't be here for another eight years," David Cameron told the British Broadcasting Corp. after touring a public market in Nad Ali, well south of Friday's fighting. "I think following President Obama's speech and the increase in American and British forces we have a chance, probably our last chance, to get it right, but we do have a chance."

In London, the Sun newspaper said the son of the Helmand governor is seeking asylum in Britain because of fears for his safety.

The newspaper said Barai Mangal, 25, applied for sanctuary in Britain at an immigration office in Liverpool in July. Britain's Home Office declined to discuss the asylum application.

His father, Gov. Gulab Mangal, would not confirm the report but told The Associated Press on Friday that his son was the target of an attempted kidnapping last summer.

"I have an armored car, I have security guards, but my family has no such possibility of security," the governor said

Corps to add second RCT in Afghanistan

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Dec 4, 2009 9:07:54 EST

The Marine Corps will add a second regimental combat team to supplement U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and it apparently has at least three infantry battalions ready to deploy.

To continue reading:


December 3, 2009

In Taliban stronghold, U.S. medics win friends for Marines

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HASSANABAD, Afghanistan -- In the middle of a foot patrol Saturday through what may be the most dangerous part of the most dangerous province in Afghanistan for U.S. troops, Staff Sgt. John Nickerson peered through the scope of his assault rifle at a group of Afghan men who were rolling a wheelbarrow toward him.


Posted on Thursday, 12.03.09
McClatchy Newspapers

Suddenly, he had to switch gears to the gentler form of counterinsurgency.

"Hold," Nickerson said into his hand-held radio, lowering his gun. "We've got some men with a kid in a wheelbarrow trying to get our attention. Where's Doc at?"

In the barrow was a 6-year-old boy covered by a thin cloth from the waist down. One of the Afghan men drew it back, revealing horrific burns from the boy's navel to his feet. His right leg and genitals were seared deep red, and huge sheets of skin were sloughing away. The boy and the wheelbarrow were smeared with blood.

"Good Lord, what happened to him?" said Nickerson, 32, of Pontiac, Mich.

Through a Marine interpreter, the boy's father replied that a kettle of water boiling for tea had fallen on him the night before. The scalding water soaked into his clothes, which held the heat against him, making the burns worse.

This is the story of a medical rescue but also of a flexible strategy as the Marines try to kill Taliban and get closer to the local population. It's risky going on daily foot patrols through uncertain terrain, greeting wary villagers and trying by the troops' very presence to convince the locals that U.S. forces are here to protect them, but the Marines think that it's opened the possibility of a new relationship with Afghans.

The boy looked up at the Americans. He was shaking gently, but he seemed not to feel pain. Helmand province is the world's largest producer of opium poppy, and his parents had put some of it, at least, to good use.

"Look, when this kind of thing happens, you need to bring the people who are hurt to our base immediately, so our doctor can look at them," Nickerson told the Afghans.

The Navy corpsman hospital apprentice, Nate Rice of Virginia Beach, Va., took one look and said the boy had to go to the medic station nearby at FOB Hassanabad immediately. If they waited another day, he'd develop a terrible infection, and probably would die.

Nickerson pointed at the most direct path to the base, one the Marines wouldn't take.

"Are there any bombs on this road?" he asked. The translator put that into Pashto, then added on his own that it was important to know, because the Marines honestly were trying to help.

"No," several of the men said. "No bombs."

Nickerson told the boy's father, who had a thick, wavy beard and worried eyes, to take the boy to the base as quickly as possible, and said he was likely to be flown to a military hospital. The father would have to go, too.

The group of about a dozen men and boys trotted off toward the base on their own, rolling the wheelbarrow. They can't be identified in order to ensure their safety in an area that the Taliban dominate

"Good Lord," Nickerson said of the burns. He has an 8-year-old son back home.

The Marines on the patrol were members of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and they recently replaced a Marine battalion that had suffered the highest casualty rate of any in Helmand in the previous round of seven-month deployments.

The 16 Marines out Saturday continued warily picking their way across acres of giant, rock-hard clods of earth, then a flooded field of shin-deep mud. They jumped narrow irrigation canals and waded waist-deep through wider ones, and pushed through patches of faintly pine-scented marijuana.

They always took the hard way, stepping into mud and brush where people usually wouldn't walk. The paths and roads were seeded with bombs.

The countryside offers an endless variety of cover for the insurgents: compounds, tree lines, ditches and thick fields of crops. It's some of the most challenging fighting terrain that the Marines have seen since World War II and Vietnam.

There was a strange, pastoral silence on the patrol. Groups of locals stood on the edge of some fields, watching quietly. It was impossible to say which side they were on.

Sometimes, Nickerson said, Marines walk through an area as local people watch. The next time they come through, improvised bombs have been planted where they'd walked.

"The bad guys, a lot of them are farmers by day, basically, and Taliban by night," Nickerson said. "Probably 50 percent of the people here have some sort of connection with the Taliban, harbor them or whatever; then the other 50 percent are probably just trying to stay out of their way."

In some areas, the Afghans sprint off when Golf Company Marines arrive, either because they're Taliban or so they can warn the insurgents. In others, just a half-mile away, people smile and wave when the Marines greet them.

Moving through the fields and villages on foot is the best way to start to develop rapport with locals, said Golf Company's executive officer, Lt. Scott Rauscher, of Weston, Fla. Locals are getting used to seeing the same Marines, and some have come forward with intelligence about the Taliban.

Still, even with a grueling patrol rotation that makes the most use of the troops, getting them out among the population instead of hanging around at a base, there aren't enough to clamp down hard on the insurgents, Nickerson said.

"Ideally we'd have more Marines so we could really flood these positions," he said, stepping into another field of mud.

Minutes later, an improvised bomb detonated with a deep thud. The men on the patrol each dropped to one knee and listened, but there was no rattle of gunfire. After less than a minute, they rose and moved on to the next field.

When they first arrived, a few weeks ago, they walked relatively short patrols of a few hours to get the feel of the place. Then they began going out for longer stretches to the places where they now knew the insurgents were active, often for two or three days, resting where they could find cover, waking up with frost on their sleeping bags, doing it the hard way to keep the insurgents from moving around freely.

"The idea is to go out where the bad guys are and just live there," Nickerson said.

As the patrol slogged through yet another muddy field, two Afghan men rolled the wheelbarrow carrying the wounded boy up to the forward operating base, and Navy medic Hospital Corpsman 1 Mario Betancourt, 31, of Miami, made a quick assessment and called for a medevac chopper. Then he joined another medic, Hospital Corpsman 3 Kenderick Street, 22, of Douglas, Ga., in cleaning and dressing the burns and giving the boy intravenous fluid.

"Thank you, thank you," the boy's father said, again and again.

Nickerson's patrol, Betancourt said, saved the boy's life. A day already had passed since he'd been scalded, and if the Marines hadn't passed near the boy's house, his relatives either wouldn't have brought him to the base or would have waited two days until the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha ended, and it would have been too late.

Medical help is proving to be one of Golf Company's surest ways to connect with the locals.

Rauscher said Afghans routinely brought out their sick when patrols passed. The medics on the patrol treat minor problems on the spot.

A week earlier, a boy who'd burned his arm badly was brought to the base for initial treatment. Betancourt said the father had brought the boy almost daily for a week to get his dressing changed. Since he started getting better, more locals have come in for help themselves.

"Once they get here and see how we treat them, that really changes things," Betancourt said. "The Taliban have been telling them that we're just here to kill them, not help them."

After four hours and three slow, careful miles, the patrol circled back to the base.

As the men walked through the gate, a scared 6-year-old boy and his wide-eyed dad were on their first helicopter ride, off to what surely would be a bewildering experience.

The Marines headed back to their tents to take off their body armor and break the hardened mud off their boots.

As of Tuesday, the boy was reported in stable condition.

Mothers send worries, supplies to troops overseas

HIGHLANDS RANCH - Mother's worry. That's what they do. Yet, when you're a mother like Brooke Pilkington, you find yourself worrying more than most.


written by: Jeffrey Wolf written by: Chris Vanderveen

"My oldest son Danny is in Afghanistan," she said. "There's always a concern in the back of your mind. You have some sleepless nights."

Pilkington is the mother of a pair of Marines. Her other son just returned from Iraq. Tuesday night, she and a number of other mothers came to the Highlands Ranch home of Lynne Hunt to help pack well over two dozen boxes with supplies for American troops overseas.

"It's the least we can do to show them our love," Pilkington said.

Inside the boxes, there is everything from candy to toothbrushes. There are wet wipes and socks.

Pilkington is a member of the local Blue Star Mothers, an organization founded back during the days of World War II. Today, many of the Blue Star Mothers have sons and daughters in harm's way once again.

The name comes from the service flags that many parents hang in their front windows to signify the deployment of a loved one.

"We're all on the same page," Ruth Durant, whose son is in the Navy, said. "We just look at each other and we talk the same language. We don't have to say a word."

Sarah Williams' Marine son just returned from Afghanistan.

"I would like to see Afghanistan be able to stand on its own feet with our help," she said.

It's a feeling Pilkington has as well.

"Our military is there to help them create a better life for themselves," she said.

The mothers try to stay out of the political arena, although many have their own personal opinions about President Obama's plan to increase the troop strength in Afghanistan. They all can agree on one thought Pilkington expressed with us.

"We need to get this right," she said

December 2, 2009

22nd MEU heads home to Lejeune

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Dec 2, 2009 16:56:45 EST

About 2,200 Marines and sailors with a North Carolina-based unit are returning home this week after a seven-month deployment.

To continue reading:


Afghan National Army welcomes newest soldiers at Marine patrol base

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The Taliban approached Afghan National Army Sgt. Nazir Mohammad with an offer he couldn't refuse. But he did.


12/2/2009 By Lance Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson, Regimental Combat Team 7

Mohammad has received many letters from the Taliban, telling him to leave the ANA, but he has continued to serve.

"If the Taliban kills my whole family, I will not take off my uniform. I will be with the ANA. I will help the Marines," he said.

The 30-year-old ANA soldier from Sherberghan, Afghanistan, continues to help strengthen the defense of his nation by training ANA recruits on Patrol Base Shamshad, Helmand province, Afghanistan. Twenty-eight of these recruits recently completed two weeks of training as part of the ANA's 6th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps, Nov. 26.

"There are many people in this world, but there are very few people who will do what you�re doing, and that is to stand up and fight for your country when your country needs you the most," said Lt. Col. John E. McDonough, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

They had participated in two weeks of training, headed by the soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

"They did pretty well," said Army Spc. Chris J. Moon, one of the soldiers who trained the ANA. �They seemed like their (noncommissioned officers) were pretty squared away, and they helped out with the classes a lot by taking over and sharing their knowledge."

One of these NCOs was Mohammad, who has been with the ANA for two and one half years, and who stood out among his peers throughout the two weeks of training.

"He was definitely one of the better ones out there," said Moon, 20, from Tucson, Ariz. "He knew a lot from his experiences and his training. He was one of the guys that would take over and help us out by taking over his squad, and just being a leader in whole."

Over the past two weeks the soldiers have taught the Afghans many different things including basic movement techniques, basic rifleman techniques and medical training.

"I learned a lot of things, a lot of tactics from this training," said Pvt. Amrodan, one of the members of the ANA. "It was very good training for us. It was fantastic training."

For most of the members of the ANA, including Amrodan and Mohammad, this is the first time they have received training from the U.S. military.

"I want the U.S. military to be here and come down and teach us a lot of tactics," said Amrodan, 20, from Badkhshen province. "We need these tactics during the fighting, during the infantry patrols. They are very good tactics for us."

With this training complete, the soldiers will leave PB Shamshad and the Marines will be moving in and begin working with the ANA.

'I like to work with the Marines because they are brave, and I like them because they are like the ANA, they are funny," said Amrodan. "We got a mission with the Marines before. They were very good guys."

As the Marines take over PB Shamshad, they look to the future and the coming months that will test themselves and the ANA.

"There are many difficult days ahead, and if it were not for people like you, this country would never be able to move forward," McDonough said. "It's an honor to be fighting next to you on a daily basis, and I very much look forward to seeing you fight, seeing you operate, and seeing you work together."

Marines face two-front engagement during Operation North Star

At first glance, the area known as the Buji Bhast Pass in southern Afghanistan looks much like the rest of Farah Province. Mountain peaks tower over vast desert valleys spotted with small adobe villages, herds of grazing animals and local farmers tilling their fields.


12/2/2009 By Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, Regimental Combat Team 7

Whereas other areas in the region are proving relatively receptive to coalition forces, the pass and surrounding towns remain a haven for Taliban fighters.

Threats and kidnappings, made by armed enemy fighters in the dead of the night, have sent a wave of fear and compliance over local villagers. This forced obedience, coupled with a high number of Taliban fighters lurking in nearby mountains, has produced an area hazard to both coalition forces and local Afghans alike.

The danger was apparent when Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, visited surrounding towns of the Buji Bhast Pass area as part of Operation North Star Nov. 15-17.

The key to securing the pass, which serves as a line of communication between the populated areas of Delaram and Golestan, lies in securing the trust and assistance of the local villagers.

Before laying the foundation for a more permanent and healthier relationship with the villagers, coalition forces must first earn the respect and influence of the towns' elders.

"The elders are key to holding any kind of relationship with the local populace," said 1st Lt. Scott Riley, 25, the executive officer for India Co. "They want to help the coalition forces. They want us there, and they make it well known, and the fact that the Taliban are still [in the area] really worries them."

The operation initiated such a plan on the first day by visiting the town of Gund, which lies on the pass' southern door step, but the town quickly proved to be unlike other provincial areas.

On past patrols, India Co. has often been greeted by the curious, but sociable farmer, or local children in search of gifts. Upon its arrival to Gund, the company was welcomed by Taliban gunfire from fighting positions in the surrounding mountains.

Undeterred by an enemy incapable of matching the Marines' firepower, the patrol continued with its mission, and attended a shura with the town's elders the following day.

The Taliban's fear of elders' power and influencing could encourage local Afghans to support the provisional government was evident shortly after the meeting had concluded.

Taliban small-arms fire from the surrounding hills again targeted the Marines in a futile attempt to harass and disrupt any progressive discourse between the Marines and their Afghan hosts.

"[The Taliban] responding to the shura in that matter. (By) shooting at us, they're just trying to reinforce their presence there to the locals. They wanted to let [the locals] know, 'Hey, we're still here, we see you talking to the coalition forces, and we don't like it,'" said Riley, a native of Wake Forest, N.C.

Taliban fighters increased their efforts to reinforce their influence over the region later in the day. This third attempt by insurgents targeted the Marines, using an improvised explosive device.

"We turned around to look at how beautiful the valley was up there with all the mountains, when we saw a huge plume of smoke and dirt shoot up. Then we waited and eventually heard the explosion," said 2nd Lt. Robert Fafinski, a platoon commander with India Co. "We were pretty sure somebody had died, and eventually we were able to learn from the locals that it was the IED emplacers."

The failed emplacement only strengthened the Marines' message that uninhibited Taliban movement and violence poses the same threat to local villagers as it does to coalition forces. As the operation moved to the nearby village of She Gosa Janobi, India Co. used the incident as an example of the Taliban's disregard for the safety of those Afghans living in the Buji Bhast area, and to promote coalition support of Afghan national security forces.

Another shura was held with the elders of She Gosa Janobi, while dismounted patrols through the town allowed the Marines to speak with villagers directly.

The Marines listened to local concerns about security, shared food with those in need, briefed local farmers and businessmen about new Afghan laws pertaining to agricultural fertilizer use, and dispersed hand-cranked radios.

"We were able to pass out a good number of [radios]," said Fafinski, from Chaska, Minn. "It was very rewarding for the Marines to see the joy on the Afghan faces, when they heard music in their villages for probably the first time ever."

In addition to playing music and the call for prayer, the radios will also help keep Afghans in the Buji Bhast area better informed about their role in safeguarding the local area.

Obama Bets Big on Troop Surge

Extra 30,000 U.S. Soldiers for 18 Months; Republicans Say Timetable Poses Risk

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- President Barack Obama announced Tuesday a surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, along with plans to begin withdrawing the reinforcements in 18 months -- a potentially high-risk political and military strategy.


DECEMBER 2, 2009

Such a firm date for troop drawdowns was unexpected. Administration officials hope that will pressure Kabul to reform its notoriously corrupt government. At the same time, it allows the White House to begin bringing soldiers home ahead of the 2012 elections.

With Tuesday's address, Mr. Obama made Afghanistan his war. He spoke at the grand and stately Eisenhower Hall, before a sea of gray-uniformed cadets, who face their own turn at war.

"Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards," the president said. "There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border....In short: the status quo is not sustainable."

The 35-minute address, punctuated only five times with applause, is likely to be remembered less for its eloquence than for the course it set for the U.S.

A year from now, the administration plans to assess progress in the war and decide how quickly to withdraw the 30,000 troops in the surge.

By increasing U.S. forces to nearly 100,000 -- while limiting their deployment -- Mr. Obama appeared to be trying to thread a middle path between a plan proposed three months ago by his commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which sought an open-ended commitment, and proponents of a more limited engagement. Mr. Obama traveled here, to the U.S. Military Academy, to announce what will likely be the defining foreign-policy decision of his term.

During the 2008 campaign, then-Sen. Obama derided the war in Iraq as a senseless and costly diversion from the "right" war in Afghanistan, which harbored Osama Bin Laden before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Earlier, Mr. Obama had voted against the 2007 troop surge ordered by President George W. Bush in Iraq.

Senior U.S. officials emphasized that the speed of an eventual troop drawdown, which is to begin with the transfer of authority to Afghan forces in July 2011, has yet to be determined. "Those variables, pace and end [of the withdrawal], will be dictated by conditions on the ground," said a senior administration official.

But in choosing a date to begin withdrawals, Mr. Obama said he was trying to limit U.S. involvement. "I believed it was very important for us to define the mission in a way that speaks to the very real security interests that we have in keeping the pressure on al-Qaeda, but to do so in a way that avoids...a nation-building commitment in Afghanistan," Mr. Obama told newspaper columnists Tuesday.

Gen. McChrystal had requested more than 40,000 reinforcements. While the Obama administration is hoping to get more than 5,000 additional troops from North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, which would edge closer to Gen. McChrystal's total, the Afghan commander hadn't proposed a deadline for withdrawals.

But in a statement released by his headquarters in Kabul, Gen. McChrystal, who will testify about the new plan next week, said Mr. Obama had "provided me with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task."

Mr. Obama's decision risks angering critics on the left wing of the Democratic Party, as well as national-security-minded Republicans, who initially were enthusiastic about the White House ordering a large number of reinforcements.

"A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who raised the issue Tuesday with Mr. Obama. "Success is the real exit strategy."

The White House has tapped Vice President Joe Biden, chief advocate of a lower-profile, counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, leader of U.S. Central Command and the architect of the surge in Iraq, to defend the president's plan on television Wednesday.

Timelines were a central dispute in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill during debate over Iraq. Several Bush administration officials argued that publicizing firm dates would encourage insurgents to wait out allied troops. But Mr. Obama and senior administration officials dismissed such concerns in Afghanistan, arguing that the Taliban was an unpopular insurgency that could be isolated and degraded relatively quickly.

"The absence of a timeline for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government," Mr. Obama said in his address. "It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."

Administration officials believe that increasing Afghan military and government capacity over the next 18 to 24 months will allow Kabul to spearhead the fight once the U.S. begins to withdraw troops.

The president's announcement sets off a frenzy of military activity. The plan calls for a rapid deployment -- all new troops are to be in Afghanistan by summer -- a strategy that senior administration officials hope will lead to a quick start and finish. The first reinforcements, thousands of Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will receive their orders within days and start streaming into southern Afghanistan -- a Taliban stronghold -- by Christmas.

U.S. officials say the full complement of Marines will be in place by the end of the month. The remaining troops, as many as three brigades of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division and 10th Mountain Division, will start heading to Afghanistan in spring.

Several military and defense officials questioned the White House's insistence that all 30,000 new troops be in Afghanistan by summer. The officials said it would be difficult to get the troops there quickly because everything must be flown into Afghanistan; the country is landlocked and lacks adequate roads. The U.S. will also have to expand its existing bases and build new ones to house arriving forces.

In Kabul, Afghan officials criticized the plan's fixed timetable as unrealistic. "We couldn't solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in eighteen months? I don't see how it could be done," said Segbatullah Sanjar, chief policy adviser for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Write to Peter Spiegel at [email protected], Jonathan Weisman at [email protected] and Yochi J. Dreazen at [email protected]

December 1, 2009

200 U.S. Marines returning to Twentynine Palms this week

More than 200 U.S. Marines and sailors who have been serving in Afghanistan, both in an artillery battalion and working with local villages to improve their way of life, are expected to return to Twentynine Palms this week.


By Stacia Glenn
Posted: 12/01/2009 07:55:06 PM PST

The 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment was deployed to Helmand Province for seven months, leaving in May.

About 100 Marines and sailors from Battery 1 are scheduled to return home Wednesday. Another 100 from Headquarters Battery are expected to follow suit on Thursday.

The battalion served as part of Regimental Combat 3 and was part of the only Marine artillery battalion serving in Afghanistan, military officials said.

Marines from Headquarters Battery conducted security patrols and worked on civil affairs projects, which included establishing safe drinking water wells and improving local villages.

Other elements of the battalion provided security during the Afghanistan national elections and provided artillery support to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines - which is based in Hawaii - during clearing operations near Forward Operating Base Golestan.

'It's supposed to be hard'

Many would-be Marines find that Officer Candidates School requires a leap out of the mainstream and into a subculture like no other

Arthur Colby arrives at Quantico Marine Base by way of Groton boarding school and Dickinson College -- exclusive, private institutions that aren't exactly pipelines to the military. Officer Candidates School, he knows, will be unlike anything he's faced in his young life.


Photo Gallery:

By Christian Davenport
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

At 20, Colby has a résumé crammed with hallmarks of the young and ambitious -- president of Dickinson's freshman class, internships with the Bush and McCain campaigns, a stint with a high-powered Washington consulting firm. He'd be well on his way to a bright future without the Marines.

Instead, he's expecting six hellish weeks. Predawn hikes, obstacle courses, push-ups, sit-ups, all on very little sleep. But perhaps the biggest challenge he faces at Quantico is not so much physical as cultural.

"There's a guy here with an M-16 tattooed to his chest," he says soon after arriving to join the second-largest OCS class since the Vietnam War. "I never even picked up an M-16 before I got here."

Becoming a Marine -- especially for candidates such as Colby, with no prior military experience -- requires a leap out of the mainstream into a rough, demanding subculture. It is no surprise, then, that the official reason many candidates don't cut it at Quantico is summed up in three words: "Failure to adapt."

Dress rehearsals

The instructors don't care that Colby summers on Cape Cod, that he spent his teen years at boarding school in Massachusetts, that he is a boldface name in the Georgetown social pages. In the mosquito-infested bogs of the Quantico training course in Virginia, he is one more name to be shouted like an expletive: "Colby, hurry up! Colby, move faster! Colby, you disgust me!"

In a few weeks at Officer Candidates School, Colby learns to march (each step must be 30 inches), how to shower (in two minutes) and shave (30 seconds), how to ask to go to the bathroom ("Good morning sir, Candidate Colby requests permission to make a head call!"), how to sleep (on top of the covers and in the clothes he'll need for the next day to save time in the morning), how to salute ("willingly, promptly . . . smartly and correctly"), how to pass inspection (not a single loose thread or piece of lint anywhere) and how to climb a rope (use legs and feet as well as arms).

Slowly, Colby begins to morph into a Marine. Week five, and he's deep in the woods, leading three other candidates on an ammunition resupply mission across a river. He has been up since 3 in the morning; he has hiked 10 miles in the past 12 hours. His face is painted black and green. He has a rifle slung over his shoulder. He has shed every vestige of his prep school persona.

His team gets separated into pairs and has trouble communicating, but now he's deep enough into the training that rather than scream at him, his instructor tells a story: In Iraq on a convoy, he was unable to use radios to communicate, so his team members relied on hand signals to guide themselves through enemy territory.

In combat, he says, you must forget how tired you are. Lives are at stake.

This is what Colby is being trained to do. This is his future. This is why he has been taken to the point of exhaustion and ordered to lead a team through a fictional resupply mission. Because one day it will be real.

A new horizon

In a few weeks, Colby has traveled from a plush college campus to a spot in a forest, radically bending the arc of his future. Along the way, many candidates dropped out of OCS, even some who at the beginning seemed more suited for the Corps than Colby.

In the end, 249 of India Company's 310 candidates graduate and march crisply in formation across the parade deck. And then, just like that, they are released. Civilians again, they leave just as they arrived, in polo shirts and khakis. The only outward signs of what they've been through are their crew cuts.

Colby knows that more has changed than the length of his hair. He has adapted. This is what he wants to do.

Whether his classmates back at school will understand is another matter.

Marines to be First in Afghan Surge

President Obama's Afghan surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops will include an immediate infusion of California-based Marines, with the first elements set to be on the ground in southern Afghanistan around Christmas.


December 01, 2009
Military.com|by Christian Lowe

The Leathernecks will bolster a force of about 8,000 Marines who deployed to the region in July to knock back Taliban gains in Helmand and Kandahar provinces where insurgents linked to Mullah Mohammed Omar threaten Afghanistan's second largest city.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," said Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway, according to the Washington Post. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming."

Sources also tell Military.com that the Army will likely send three additional Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, or about 9,000 more combat forces and 5,000 support troops -- including police and military trainers, bomb squads and engineers -- as well as around 7,000 headquarters staffers to manage the war more effectively.

The Soldiers will likely deploy to eastern Afghanistan, which is under the command of Maj. Gen. Curt Scaparrotti from the 82nd Airborne Division. According to Gen. McChrystal's strategic review, RC-East includes the key provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika where Taliban insurgents are vying for control.

Gen. Conway, who recently traveled to the region, said that the Corps is poised to send as many as 9,000 Marines to bolster efforts in southern Afghanistan, where the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade has been deployed since July to back up British, Canadian and Dutch forces who command operations there. McChrystal's analysis shows that Taliban insurgents led by Mullah Mohammed Omar are making a strong push to control Kandahar, the country's second largest city and a key logistics hub for RC-South forces.

"The [Taliban] has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and the neighboring districts is significant and growing," McChrystal wrote in his August 30 assessment.

Sources say the additional Marines will likely come from 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

While Army officials won't say on the record what units are included in the Obama surge, recent history in Iraq gives an indication of how the service might carry out the new plan - a combination of truncated turnaround schedules, redirections, and extended deployments. Army documents provided to Military.com show several infantry brigade combat teams that have more than a year back home that could be part of an escalation, including the 2nd IBCT of the 82nd Airborne, the 1st IBCT of the 10th Mountain Division and nearly all of the 101st Airborne Division.

With the full complement of new troops expected to be in Afghanistan by next summer, the heightened pace of Obama's military deployment in the 8-year-old war appears to mimic the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, a 20,000-strong force addition under former President George W. Bush. Similar in strategy to that mission, Obama's Afghan surge aims to reverse gains by Taliban insurgents and to secure population centers in the volatile south and east parts of the country.

"We want to -- as quickly as possible -- transition the security of the Afghan people over to those national security forces in Afghanistan," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told ABC's "Good Morning America." "This can't be nation-building. It can't be an open-ended forever commitment."

The 30,000 new U.S. troops will bring the total in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 U.S. forces by next summer. More U.S. Marines will begin moving into Afghanistan almost as soon as Obama announces a redrawn battle strategy.

The president's long-awaited troop increase had been envisioned to take place over a year, or even more, because force deployments in Iraq and elsewhere make it logistically difficult, if not impossible, to go faster. But Obama directed his military planners to make the changes necessary to hasten the Afghanistan additions, said the official, who declined to be publicly identified because the formal announcement of details was still pending.

Officials were not specific on the withdrawal date or preconditions that Obama has in mind or the changes the military will be required to make to get the troop deployments into Afghanistan on the president's new, speedier timeline.

Military.com contributor Andrew Lubin contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.