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January 31, 2010

Marines prepare for Helmand campaign with shooting drills

CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines from Headquarters and Service Company of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, arrived at the makeshift rifle range with large packs and complete sets of personal protective equipment under rain-threatening clouds the afternoon of Jan. 23, 2010, at Camp Dwyer, Helmand province, Afghanistan.


Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

The Marines were at the range to perform various firing drills to help better prepare them for their current deployment in southern Helmand province.

"There's going to be a lot of pivoting and shooting, facing away from the target and turning around very quickly; usually engaging the target with two shots at a time," said Cpl. Sandro Ola, a field radio operator, about the shooting drills. "It's very quick and to the point," he added.
The shooting drills also consisted of firing while moving toward the target, reloading rifles quickly and correcting weapons malfunctions while under pressure.

Ola, from Anchorage, Alaska, feels that the firing drills will benefit the Marines who will be working with Afghan National Army to conduct counterinsurgency operations in southern Helmand province.

"It's very crucial that we have this training," he said. "When we have the opportunity to take that shot, we know when to take it and when not to take it (because of the training)."

The drills consisted of two separate shoots, one during the day and the other at night. During the night fire, Marines made use of night vision goggles and laser-aiming devices to help them see their targets.

“The night fire will help the Marines (get used to) utilizing their (night vision goggles,)” said Staff Sgt. William Hart, the officer in charge at the range. “The more training they have with their gear and (optics) and everything, the more comfortable they are when it comes to the real thing.”
The Marines agree that repetitive training by shooting their rifles is a key element for combat readiness for when the battalion enters their area of operation.

“The whole point of (the firing drills) are to get you used to moving around and shooting with your rifle,” said Pfc. Joseph Attaway, an administrative clerk from Statesboro, Ga. “Whenever the time comes when you have to shoot (the enemy), you just do it out of habit.”

US Marines facing a 'different war' in Afghanistan

SOUTHEAST OF MARJAH, Afghanistan — For the US Marines deployed to the battlefields of southern Afghanistan, life is fragile and thoughts focus on the day they see their families again, but something about this war is different


By Jason Gutierrez (AFP) – January 31, 2010

They are preparing for an offensive on Marjah, one of the Taliban's big urban strongholds in the southern province of Helmand, but progress is slow with the militants apparently preferring fight to flight.

The Marines will soon be joined by tens of thousands more soldiers, the lion's share of the 30,000-strong troop surge promised by US President Barack Obama in December to try and turn around the grinding Afghan war.

A foot patrol for one platoon of Marines ends with a dash under a hail of bullets across a heavily-mined poppy field.

The soldiers have been pinned down in a muddy mound, the thorny weeds cutting through skin. They recover soon enough, however, manoeuvring away from the Taliban's crosshairs and driving them away with heavy machine-gun fire.

"I pray in the morning and at night, hoping that someone up there is looking after me," says Lance Corporal Justin Blancas, serving with the Marines 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Alpha Company's 2nd Platoon.

"I have already made my peace with God because this war is different, it's not conventional," the 23-year-old bespectacled Chicago native says.

"These Taliban have learned their lesson. They adapt as fast as we do, but we are bound by our strict rules. They are not," he adds, panting after a 100-metre dash for cover behind an abandoned mud house.

"It can be a death run like this every day."

The US and NATO troop surge is set to swell the foreign force to 150,000 this year, but Afghan and Western officials are also talking about a political solution to end the Taliban-led insurgency as its enters its ninth year.

To force the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table however, US military officials have said there needs to be greater success on the battlefield -- and this is where the Marines come in.

But the challenges on the ground are immense. Fields are littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) responsible for most of the deaths of foreign troops in Afghanistan, which hit a record 520 fatalities last year.

The Taliban are also entrenched in their strongholds holding sway over the population and setting up shadow governments across the country, meaning they have the local intelligence that the Marines desperately need.

"Marjah has also been a stronghold by the Taliban for some time. They know where we are coming and can stage ambushes anytime," says one sergeant who asks not to be named.

Five Marines were killed in southern Afghanistan in two days of January alone in IED blasts and ambushes.

Platoon commander Lieutenant David Emison, a Virginia native and the first Marine in his family, still sports a busted lip and chipped teeth sustained from a recent bomb blast that killed a sergeant.

"They (the Taliban) make very powerful IEDs out here. If you step on them, you don't get a second chance," says Emison, the group's tactician, whose 25-year-old wife is pregnant with their second child back home.

He says that after the incident, he has tried to become more careful about where he treads, but knows that a blast could take any of them anytime.

The ex-college wrestler pushes away ugly thoughts and believes the unpopular war Obama inherited from the past administration will have a positive outcome.

"It does not pay to be scared," he says.

Blancas, meanwhile, arms himself with his assault rifle, two rosaries and prayer cards stuffed in his pockets as the Marines prepare a full-on assault on Marjah in the coming weeks or months.

Marjah has a population of at least 60,000. Built in the 1950s with US government help, it was intended to be a model agricultural town with an irrigation system flowing from the Helmand river.

But instead of legitimate crops, poor farmers plant opium poppy, the trafficking and sale of which bankrolls the Taliban movement.

The Marines' mission is to show US strength, assist in installing government control in Helmand province and let the local population know they have arrived.

The challenge however is huge. Taliban militants harass the villagers at night, warning them of trouble if they help US troops. Under the cover of darkness, they also plant IEDs in fields the Marines have to cross.

For father-of-one Blancas, it all comes down to one simple thing.

"We do what we have to do, but I plan to be out of the corps soon and be daddy. I just have to stay alive till then."

Marines pressing Afghan army to take larger security role

By John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, January 31, 2010

NAWA, Afghanistan — Marine 1st Sgt. Fredrick Smith was eyeballing the strange-looking convoy of vehicles that had come to a halt near a remote patrol base in the desert wasteland of central Helmand province.

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January 30, 2010

Sign dedicates I-70/Cave Springs interchange to soldier's memory

First in Heroes Way program erected at I-70 and Cave Springs

The Interstate 70 interchange at Cave Springs has become a Heroes Way, dedicated to the memory of a St. Charles native killed two years ago while serving in Iraq.

Please click above link for a photo.

By Sarah Whitney
Saturday, January 30, 2010 1:17 AM CST

Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver, who graduated from St. Charles West High School in 2005, was 20 years old when a gunman's bullet took his life during a firefight in Iraq's Al Anbar province on Feb. 21, 2008.

A memorial sign was installed Jan. 19 on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-70 honoring Weaver's memory. It reads: "Heroes Way, LCPL Drew Weaver, Marines."

Wes Weaver, Drew's grandfather, said the Heroes Way Memorial Sign Program, which was passed into law in 2009, was a way for him and his wife to publicly memorialize their grandson.

He hopes that when motorists read the sign, they will tell their children about the ultimate sacrifice that his grandson, who is buried on the north side of the interchange in Baue Memorial Gardens, gave on their behalf.

"It represents a young man who volunteered to go to war for their benefit and he lost his life," said Weaver, of St. Charles.

Two years ago after his grandson's funeral, Weaver, a World War II veteran, said he remembered several young people approaching him and asking about the War on Terror, what it was about and why anyone would volunteer to go to war.

"They claimed no one had told them about the war, how they didn't teach it in school," he said. "I hope that this will be a reminder to all young children that such things exist. He's a 20-year-old boy who gave his life for his country."

The sign is the first Heroes Way memorial sign to be erected in the state as far as Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman Andrew Gates knows, he said.

The program, which Gates compared to the Memorial Highway and Bridge naming program, allows interchanges along Missouri interstates to be named after veterans who were killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Close family members, such as a sibling, spouse or child, may make the request to MoDOT, he said. He added, however, that the $2,200 cost to install and maintain the signs can be supplied by the family, a church, a veterans group or other organizations.

For more information about the program or to request an application, visit www.modot.gov/services/HighwayNaming.htm.

"There have been a lot of requests for the application," Gates said. "Now it's just going to be a matter of time before there's more (signs erected) across the state."

January 28, 2010

'Dogs of war' saving lives in Afghanistan

SOUTHEAST OF MARJAH, Afghanistan — For the US Marines patrolling the dusty footpaths of southern Afghanistan, a bomb-sniffing black Labrador can mean the difference between life and death.


By Jason Gutierrez (AFP)

These "dogs of war" have saved countless lives and their record for finding hidden explosives has won them a loyal following.

"They are 98 percent accurate. We trust these dogs more than metal detectors and mine sweepers," says handler Corporal Andrew Guzman.

Trained to detect five kinds of threat, from military grade C-4 plastic explosive to common chemicals used by the Taliban to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the dogs play a vital role alongside their human comrades.

Bomb expert Sergeant Crush is all concentration as he leads a foot patrol by two squads of US Marines deployed to Afghanistan as part of Washington's fresh surge to end an eight-year insurgency by the Taliban.

His job along with Corporal Goodwin is to lead the men to safety through dusty footpaths and compounds where Taliban militants plant deadly bombs that have left many troops dead in recent months.

They are from a group of four Labradors, who are on average four years old and have all seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"These dogs are great. They keep our Marines alive," says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of the Marines 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Charlie Company, to which the dog team is attached.

Crush suddenly goes on a swift bound, sniffing out a corner of a compound in the outskirts of a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.

There is a quick change in his demeanour, his muscles tense up, he freezes, sticks out his tail and then lies down with his paws extended up front.

The area turned out to have been a former storage place for ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser compound recently banned by the government that the Taliban commonly use in making powerful homemade bombs.

"It's better safe than sorry," Guzman says.

Just days earlier two squads of Marines were ambushed and trapped in a compound. Two Marines died after stepping on the pressure plates of IEDs, just minutes before the dogs were to have cleared the area.

The force of the explosion threw the handlers and the dogs to the ground, but they quickly got up and resumed their jobs.

The dogs also provide an emotional crutch for young Marines facing death every day. They crowd around the dogs and play with them inside the camp. There are frequent questions about adopting them after the Labradors end their tour.

Lance Corporal George Grimm, the handler of Corporal Brooks, says most Marines feel safer with his bomb team leading the way.

Brooks, a three year-old Labrador with tan fur, has been deployed three times in Iraq and Afghanistan and has helped with the recovery of approximately 14 bombs and saved many lives.

One sniffer named Ringo gained a legendary reputation for having found as many as 30 daisy-chain landmines in Iraq, he says.

"Our life is in this boy's hands pretty much," says Grimm, a 19-year-old who has been Brooks' handler since late last year. Grimm grabs a rubber toy called a "konk" and lets Brooks nibble on it.

"They don't ask for much except to be taken care of," he says.

Handlers say the US government spends huge amounts of money to train the dogs in a civilian-led programme contracted out by the defence department.

They begin training when they are puppies, and by the time they reach two and half years old, are ready to be deployed.

The bomb squad in Afghanistan prefer using pure-bred Labradors over sentry dogs such as German Shepherds because they are easier to train. Labradors are also hunting dogs who can pick up a scent as far as 500 metres (yards) away.

With the Taliban increasingly relying on IEDs to cripple the US advance, officials say up to 70 dogs are now on operation in southern Afghanistan alone, where the insurgency is festering.

More are expected to be deployed in the coming months, officials say

U.S. Marines Make Fragile Progress in Helmand

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Marine Capt. Scott Cuomo of Fox company, 2nd battalion, 2nd Marine regiment, must have felt very confident. How else to explain his climbing into an armorless Afghan army truck -- a coffin on four wheels -- next to Haji Abdullah Jan, the Afghan district governor, with only a few Afghan army soldiers for protection, to speed down empty dirt roads almost certainly mined by the Taliban?


Balint Szlanko | Bio | 28 Jan 2010
World Politics Review

But Cuomo's confidence is not misplaced. The men make it safely to their destination: a destroyed compound beside which the barren, twisted remains of three dead trees point grotesquely to the sky. The district governor, clearly moved, walks to the building. It is his house, which he is visiting for the first time in four years because of the war. Cuomo grins excitedly. The governor is home.

"This is a big success," Cuomo says. "It may be harder to quantify than counting the number of bad guys we have killed, but it is success."

Garmsir district lies in the southern-central part of Helmand, Afghanistan's most war-torn province and home to a massive, opium-fed insurgency. Since 2006, most of the district had been Taliban country. Forays by the British army, until recently the NATO nation in charge of Helmand, had never quite managed to dislodge the insurgents, in part because the British never had enough troops to hold and build the areas that they had cleared of insurgents.

All that is changing. And this may herald the most significant shift in the efforts to stamp out the Taliban insurgency in the south of Afghanistan since its resurgence in 2006. Thanks to the recent influx of thousands of U.S. Marines, bringing the total number of Western forces in Helmand alone to 20,000, NATO has enough troops to fight a proper counterinsurgency campaign here for the first time.

And it seems to be producing some results.

Following an offensive that began last July, the Marines managed to secure most of Garmsir by the end of the year. The southern bit of the district is still under Taliban control, but most of the district is now regularly patrolled by American and Afghan government forces. And after months of fighting, the area is relatively secure.

"When this company first came here last November, we had to fight every day. Now, we haven't had a fight since the end of December," says Cuomo. And people are starting to get used to the Marine presence. "Initially, people were very cautious. Two village elders came to the shura we held in November. At the shura today, there were 80."

But Cuomo's greatest cause for optimism is the fact that of the 70 roadside bombs unearthed by his Marines, 52 were discovered based on information given by locals. Although most of the Taliban fighters are thought to be from the region, many locals clearly dislike their heavy-handed rule.

Many are also motivated by the cash-for-works programs, and the new schools and clinics the Marines have promised. The Mian Poshte bazaar, emptied and damaged by years of war, is to reopen in a few weeks, a prospect that elicits visible excitement. One elderly man, when asked what has changed since the Marines got here, wordlessly produces a small bag of medicine from under his clothes.

To be sure, the situation is still very fragile. Roadside bombs are everywhere. Riots turned bloody at Garmsir district center two weeks ago following rumors that American troops had desecrated the Quran. (The Marines deny the allegation and call the incident a Taliban provocation.) The district center's school was burnt down. And the downturn in violence is partly explained by the onset of winter, always relatively peaceful in Afghanistan.

Another difficulty is that even with the present troop levels -- about 1,000 Marines in Garmsir alone -- the Americans have to rely on the Afghan security forces to hold some of the newly cleared areas, with the northern tip of Garmsir mostly under their control already. But there are too few Afghans -- about 500 total, between soldiers and police -- and they are badly equipped. Without the Marines, they are no match for the Taliban.

More are promised, with Western nations trying to raise Afghan National Army troop levels to 159,000 by mid-2011, when the Americans are scheduled to start drawing down their forces under President Barack Obama's revised Afghanistan strategy. But so far, only a third of the promised foreign trainers have arrived.

But the Marines here are confident that they've got a grip on the situation. "When the enemy comes back in the spring, he'll find there is less poppy here, so he'll have less money [to finance the insurgency]," says Lt. Col. John McDonough of the 2-2 Marines. "He'll also find a populace that is less easy to cow because of all the security and development that we have brought."

McDonough called the riots provoked two weeks ago a sign of the Taliban's desperation, adding, "They will probably happen again. But they will only further alienate them from the Afghan people."

For their part, Afghans exhibit a mix of friendly curiosity and wariness toward the patrolling Marines, although vacant and vaguely hostile glances are not rare, either. In the bazaar in Lakari village, elders asked the Marines not to patrol on Fridays, to avoid frightening away shoppers. But others in the bazaar say that security has improved since the coalition and Afghan government forces took over from the Taliban.

At a shura meeting in Garmsir, Jan exhorts the local elders to work with the Americans. "I lost two brothers in the war against the Russians," he tells them. "But the Americans are different. They are here to help. The Taliban's war is no jihad."

Many of the elders just stare straight ahead, their faces expressionless. It's hard to tell what they really think. But when two of them stand up and denounce the Taliban for burning down the district center's school, it draws applause

Marines Help Afghans Gather in Protest Aftermath

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2010 – Ironically, when protestors in the Garmsir district here set fire to a school Jan. 12 in a fervor over allegations that a Quran had been desecrated, about 300 copies of the Muslim holy book burned with the school.


By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Jan. 28, 2010
Special to American Forces Press Service

On Jan. 19, the school's white walls were stained black from the fire and smoke that had billowed out of its broken windows just a week before. With Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, providing security, about 800 Garmsir residents sat on the grounds of that school for a community meeting called a “shura.”

Helmand Gov. Mangal; British Maj. Gen. Nick P. Carter, International Security Assistance Force Regional Command South commander; and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan commander, spoke during the shura.

"We are here to help each other and to talk about the horrible incident that happened here and why it happened," Mangal said.

After an opening prayer, tribal elders, village elders and Abdullah Jan, the Garmsir district governor, spoke to the people about the demonstrations. "During the demonstration, the district governor, the police chief, and the colonel came together and solved the problem," one tribal elder said.

Mangal delivered a passionate speech about the protests and the district’s future. "The demonstration that happened here is not like the people of Garmsir," he said. "It was terrorists, and the Taliban, that used the people of Garmsir."

Mangal added that he would start his own investigation into the accusations of a desecrated Quran, saying he believes the allegation that sparked the demonstration was planned outside the country by foreign members of the Taliban.

"There was no way for the Taliban to fight with us," Mangal said. "The only way for them to fight with us was to use the civilian people. Our enemy doesn't like us to progress. They don't like us to be successful in our lives."

Mangal noted the restraint shown by U.S. Marines during the riots as the crowd damaged their vehicles with gunfire and stones. He promised to rebuild the school, and he spoke about the future of Helmand province pledging that in a short amount of time, “we are going to take over all districts from the Taliban."

"We'll make Helmand a peaceful place and make it a great place to live," the governor said.

Carter noted that out of Helmand’s 60 districts, Garmsir is one of the greatest examples of progress. He also commented on the restraint shown by the Marines.

"The restraint shown here is evident to how much they respect you," he told the local residents. "General Nicholson's forces are here to help you and protect you."

Nicholson said it was appropriate to have the shura in the school that had been damaged in the riots.

"The No. 1 target of this entire protest was to destroy this school, and that's because this school represents the future," he said. "This is where the future doctors, lawyers, engineers, and generals come from in Garmsir."

Nicholson told the local residents of the hours of cultural training Marines receive in preparation for deployment and promised that any Marine who showed disrespect or misconduct would be sent home.

The shura's message was of hope for the future of Garmsir and all of Helmand province through continued partnership between ISAF and Afghan forces and the local populace.

"If we work together, we can ensure something like this doesn't happen again and Garmsir can become one of the great cities of this country," Nicholson said.

Shave Every Day. Shower Every Two Months.

Patrols are a constant for the Marine infantry in Afghan outposts. The Marine Corps believes that little keeps a unit as safe, as effective or as informed as having a constant — and constantly changing — presence moving over the ground.


New York TimesBy C.J. CHIVERS
January 28, 2010, 2:13 pm

But outpost life is not all patrols. There are other routines.

For members of a platoon, these include standing watch in bunkers and at two-way radios, cooking meals and burning trash or human waste. Marines attend briefings and collect into working parties to do whatever the company gunnery sergeant wants done: digging ditches and communication trenches, filling sandbags, stringing concertina wire. They exercise and clean their weapons and equipment. And, to the extent possible, they clean themselves.

This last step is not easy, especially since few Marine positions in Helmand Province have running water. Nonetheless, the Marine Corps generally does not relax its grooming standards in a combat zone — a fact of infantry life that can lead to scenes any veteran would recognize.

Early this week, at Patrol Base Brannon in the Nawa District, a squad of Marines from Charlie Company, First Battalion, Third Marines returned after sunrise from a foot patrol to learn that their battalion commander and sergeant major would be arriving at their bunkers later in the morning.

A pre-inspection scramble began, though no inspection was planned.

Out came two sets of electric clippers. The Marines hustled by turns to the lee side of a barrier, and there, protected from the gusting Afghan wind and in the proximity of a generator, they took turns shearing each other’s hair. Simultaneously, others gathered in front of a broken piece of mirror wedged against a barricade, slapped on shaving cream and shaved with disposable razors and bottles of cold water.

Almost all of the Marines were within regulations before they began their hasty cut-and-shave drill. This hardly mattered. The noncommissioned officers were not taking chances. Blades met heads. Clumps of short, matted hair fell to the sand. Blood beaded on freshly scraped chins.

An hour or so later, after a small convoy arrived, the freshly trimmed platoon stood before the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Baker, who spoke of the Marines lost so far and of missions the Marines have planned in the time ahead.

Then Colonel Baker slipped away to talk one on one with the platoon commander, Second Lt. Gregory Veteto. The battalion’s senior enlisted Marine, Sgt. Maj. Dwight Jones, took his turn. He had several things he wanted to say.

First was this: “All of you are still looking good,” he said. “I can tell you that it tells me a lot about you as a unit.”

He added, “If you can’t do it in here, you can’t do it out there.”

Everyone knew what “out there” meant — the contested territory of Helmand Province, which began a roughly a rifle shot away. Everyone also knew that the time spent scrambling to clean up had been well spent; the sergeant major was pleased. Few platoons would want it any other way.

This vignette should not be taken to mean that the troops cut and scrub only before the bosses arrive. Many of them have not had the chance to shower in weeks, even months. They crave the sensation of being clean.

Early Thursday morning, a Marine in another unit, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Roach, 19, climbed into a turret of an armored troop transport at Combat Outpost Geronimo, the battalion’s command post.

Lance Corporal Roach is a member of the battalion’s Bravo Company, the rifle company positioned along the Marine Corps’ forward line in Afghanistan. He has served his tour thus far at the edge of American and Afghan government influence, where Marines frequently skirmish with Taliban fighters.

He had been working from a pair of small and remote observation posts — ManBearPig and Junkyard — since he arrived in the country late last year. But on Wednesday, he caught a break. He was part of a patrol that escorted the Bravo Company commander, Capt. Thomas J. Grace, to the larger base for a meeting.

That night, on a larger outpost for the first time, he searched out warm running water.

In the morning he sat in a vehicle turret before the patrol back to Bravo Company’s positions began. He took off his helmet and ran his fingers through his hair. “I just took my first shower in two and a half months,” he said. He let a blissful smile linger on his face.

A few hours later, after the vehicles wound their way across the steppe and dirt roads back to the company’s position in Spin Ghar, he was sweaty and dusty again. Then he was caught in a hailstorm and soaked.

By nightfall, after trudging three more hours through the mud on a foot patrol back to Observation Post ManBearPig, his shins and feet were matted with mud. He was so soaked with sweat that steam rose from his back when he pulled off his body armor.

“I got a shower,” he boasted to his friends who had not been on the patrol to the battalion headquarters. Then he laughed. “I’m dirty again, and I probably stink.”

January 27, 2010

Former UT student, Navy sailor died in combat

A U.S. Navy Sailor and former University of Texas student was killed in Afghanistan Saturday. According to the Department of Defense, Petty Officer Second Class Xin Qi, 25, died in combat.


1/27/2010 12:54 PM
By: News 8 Austin Staff

According to the Department of Defense, Petty Officer Second Class Xin Qi, 25, died in combat.

Qi was originally from Cordova, Tennessee, but attended the University of Texas.

The Commanding Officer of Camp Mabry’s Navy Operational Support Center, Lt. Com. Michael Evans, said Qi put his education on hold to volunteer for deployment.

"Petty Officer Qi was a dedicated sailor and an invaluable asset to both his reserve unit and to my staff here at Navy Operational Support Center in Austin," Evans said.

"He always lent his time and excellent corpsman skills to my medical department on drill weekends which directly contributed to Austin's sailors maintaining their medical and dental health at 100 percent, keeping them ready to answer our country's call at a moment's notice," he continued.

Qi was assigned to the medical department of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

“I, along with the rest of staff and the entire United States Navy Reserve population, mourn the loss of a great corpsman and Navy sailor, Petty Officer Second Class Xin Qi. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time," Evan said.

Funeral and memorial services for Qi are still pending.

January 26, 2010

Marines in Nawa Honor Two Fallen Brothers, Civilian Journalist

NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Hundreds of Marines, sailors and civilians of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, gathered during a memorial service in Nawa to honor two fallen Marines and a civilian journalist.


Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 01.26.2010
Posted: 01.26.2010 07:11
Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs

At Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Jan. 19, Headquarters and Service Company, 1/3, paid tribute to Lance Cpl. Mark D. Juarez, 23, an ammunition technician, and Rupert Hamer, 39, who embedded with 1/3, and was the first British journalist killed in Afghanistan. Both were killed while the Marines were conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Jan. 9.

At FOB Spin Ghar, Jan. 20, Marines of Bravo Company, 1/3, gathered to mourn the loss of Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert, a 20-year-old from Fort Atkinson, Wis., who served with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Co., as a fire team leader. Meinert was killed, Jan. 10, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Jan. 9.

Also attending the ceremony at FOB Geronimo was Cpl. Eric D. Groves, who flew in before the ceremony and reunited with his fellow Marines of Trucks Platoon for the first time since he was injured in the IED attack, Jan. 9. He is expected to return to full duty.

The Marines were also joined by the Nawa District governor and administrator, Afghan national army officers, and Afghan national police officers to pay their respects to those killed fighting for the peace and prosperity of the Afghan people.

At the start of each service, Marines constructed a "battlefield cross" memorial stand for each fallen Marine beneath their portraits. Marines carried forward M-16A4 service rifles and planted them upside down, with the bayonet digging into the earth. The boots were placed in front and a helmet rested on top of the buttstock. The dog tags of the fallen Marines were draped from the rifle's pistol grip.

Marines also set up a memorial display for Hamer, a seasoned combat journalist from London. The display consisted of a dark blue flak jacket and black helmet that were of the type commonly worn by embedded civilians and a reporter's notepad and pen were attached to the flak jacket.

Juarez, who had completed a previous combat tour in Iraq with 1/3, was from San Antonio and was remembered as a person who would constantly sacrifice himself for the betterment of others and someone who tried to make others smile.

"Mark was the 5,225th American to make the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror," said Capt. Andrew T. Gourgoumis, H & S Company commander. "By doing so, he has joined the hallowed halls of those whom our nation will honor well after all of us leave this life."

Hamer was remembered as a man of quick wit, humor and humility who made friends quickly, despite his relatively short time spent with Marines here. Hamer dedicated 20 years, literally half of his life, to journalism and came to Nawa to tell the story of Marines and the Afghan people and their fight against the Taliban. As the defense correspondent for the Sunday Mirror newspaper, this was his fifth visit to Afghanistan, and he had seen combat previously in Iraq and Oman.

"He, like our Marines, was a man who made a choice to contribute positively to our society and civilization," said Gourgoumis. "His memory and sacrifice will stay with us. He, too, is now a member of our family."

At FOB Spin Ghar, all Marines of 3rd Platoon were present to memorialize "Slim" Meinert, who was remembered for his passions of music and sailing, his kindness and broad knowledge as a Marine. He had completed a combat tour of Iraq with Bravo Company last year as a radio operator and, although not formally trained as an infantryman, Meinert was assigned as a team leader in Afghanistan, and his Marines said they were proud to serve under him.

"Not only was he a brother to me, but he was a fearless leader who led from the front," said Lance Cpl. Jacob B. Hannah, a 20-year-old assaultman who was a close friend of Meinert. "Slim was in a league of his own. I wish I had the opportunity to tell him how much of a difference he made in my life."

Abdul Manaf, the district governor of Nawa, also spoke to Marines during Meinert's memorial service and expressed his shared sense of loss.

"This Marine was serving Afghanistan and working for the good of the people," said Manaf, a former Mujahedeen fighter who battled against the Soviets during their invasion of Afghanistan. "He died for your country and for ours. God bless the Marines who are here in this country. All Marines are working hard to help us. I give you a guarantee that in the future we will keep fighting together."

The ceremonies each concluded with the company first sergeants bellowing the final roll call, followed by three sharp cracks of seven rifles firing as they punctuated the rapt silence. The haunting echoes of "Taps" played while formations of Marines held crisp salutes, some visibly wrestling with their emotions as the bugle slowly played.

Citing the lyrics of the "Marines' Hymn," Capt. Thomas J. Grace, Bravo Compnay commander, said, "We know the streets of heaven are truly in good hands."

January 25, 2010

Cherry Hill Marine killed in Afghanistan

At 13, Jeremy Kane was deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The event shaped his life, and led him to a fateful choice.


By Edward Colimore
Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Mon, Jan. 25, 2010

"He knew he had to do something for his country, and that was join the military," said his mother, Melinda, of Cherry Hill. "He wanted to serve."

To drive home the point, Kane joined the Marine Corps on Sept. 11, 2006, during his freshman year at Rutgers University and served as a reservist.

On Saturday, three months into his deployment in Afghanistan, the 22-year-old lance corporal was killed when a suicide bomber attacked his unit in Helmand Province.

The attack apparently was in retaliation for the seizure of tons of opium and weapons the Marines had discovered, according to early reports.

Hours later, three military officers arrived at Melinda Kane's door with the heartrending news.

"I knew when I opened the door they were there for one reason," she said. "It's hard to comprehend. Everyone was worried but confident he would come back safe and sound.

"He was bright, in excellent condition, and well-trained," she said. "There was no reason to believe he would be harmed."

Melinda Kane, 52, said her son had recently phoned his girlfriend to plan a homecoming party for his return in May. "They talked about what kind of celebration they would have," she said.

Jeremy Kane graduated from Cherry Hill High School East in 2006 and studied criminal justice at Rutgers. He planned to return to the university to finish his senior year.

"He was an avid reader," his mother said. "He read books most adults would never read. He listened to classical music and hung out with friends, playing video games."

Kane's father, Bruce, was a pathologist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and had served as a major in the Army. He died in June 2008 while his son was undergoing Marine Corps training.

Kane "thought it was his duty as an American to serve his country," his mother said. "His grandfather had also been in the Marines."

He "chose the Marines because it was the most difficult and most respected," she said. "He was in communications and told me he wouldn't leave the base, but I think he said that to placate me."

Kane had two brothers: Benjamin, 16, a junior at Cherry Hill East, and Daniel, 19, a sophomore at Virginia Tech.

Yesterday, family and friends, including Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, gathered at the Kane home. The mayor's Platt Memorial Chapel in Cherry Hill is handling funeral arrangements, which were pending.

"This is a heartbreaking day for the people of Cherry Hill," Platt said. "Jeremy Kane was a distinguished and dedicated member of our community, and we're all very saddened by his passing."

Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.), whose district includes Cherry Hill, phoned the family to offer condolences.

"Cherry Hill has lost a brave and heroic young man who dedicated his life to serving our country," Adler said. "He sacrificed his life to protect our communities and families. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today."

Melinda Kane remembered his first call from Afghanistan. He asked for chocolates and pens to hand out to the children of a local village.

"I want people to know that this was someone from Cherry Hill," she said. "He had options, and this was his choice.

"He knew the dangers but wanted a rich, full life. I don't think he ever thought this would happen."

January 23, 2010

Foot on Bomb, Marine Defies a Taliban Trap

SHOSHARAK, Afghanistan — If luck is the battlefield’s final arbiter — the wild card that can trump fitness, training, teamwork, equipment, character and skill — then Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Mathison experienced its purest and most welcome form.



Published: January 23, 2010

On a Marine foot patrol here through the predawn chill of Friday morning, he stepped on a pressure-plate rigged to roughly 25 pounds of explosives. The device, enough to destroy a pickup truck or tear apart several men, was buried beneath him in the dusty soil.

It did not explode.

Lance Corporal Mathison’s weight triggered the detonation of one of the booby trap’s two blasting caps. But upon giving an audible pop and tossing small stones into the air, the device failed to ignite its fuller charge — a powerful mix of Eastern Bloc mortar rounds and homemade explosives spiked with motorcycle parts, rusty spark plugs and jagged chunks of steel.

Lance Corporal Mathison and several Marines near him were spared. So began a brief journey through the Taliban’s shifting tactics and the vagaries of war, where an experience at the edge of death became instead an affirmation of friendship, and in which a veteran Marine reluctantly assumed for a morning one of the infantry’s most coveted roles: that of the charmed man.

“Goddamn Matty, man,” said Cpl. Joshua D. Villegas, the patrol’s radio operator, allowing his eyes to roam over the intact Marine after the patrol had backed away from the dud. “Lucky son of a bitch.”

Homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, have become the insurgents’ killing tool of choice in the Afghan war, a complement to the Taliban’s assault rifles, machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. They serve as a battlefield leveler for elusive fighters who are wary of meeting Western forces head-on.

As their use has multiplied several-fold in the past two years, bomb-disposal specialists and American officers say, the Taliban’s bomb-making cells have sharpened their skills, moving away from smaller bombs in cooking pots to larger bombs encased in multigallon plastic water jugs, cooking-oil containers or ice coolers.

The bombs typically contain a slurry of fertilizer mixed with aluminum-based paint, and are triggered either via switches tripped by their victims or by a militant who detonates the weapon remotely when a victim moves near. Sometimes the insurgents use military-grade explosives from unexploded ordnance or conventional land mines.

No matter their determination or rising level of experience, those who manufacture or place the bombs still make mistakes, as evidenced by events on Friday morning on ground that the Marines call Cemetery Hill.

A foot patrol from Charlie Company, First Battalion, Third Marines left Patrol Base Brannon, a remote outpost in Helmand Province, at about 4:30 a.m., two hours ahead of the sun. The Marines said they were headed to a knoll to settle into an observation post beside a cemetery and watch over a road dubbed Blue Moon.

The cemetery, contained by mud walls and shaded by three tall trees, overlooks part of the small village of Shosharak, including a house from which the Taliban have often fired on Marine patrols. A Marine was killed here last year. It is bitterly contested ground.

The Marines reached the wall. About a half-hour before sunrise, Lance Cpl. Dario P. Quirumbay, 20, the assistant patrol leader, called softly to Lance Corporal Mathison, 21. He wanted to give him a thermal sight to scan the surrounding terrain.

Lance Corporal Mathison moved toward his friend. When he was a few feet away, the weight of his footfall depressed something hidden in the dirt. There was a muffled pop, a sound resembling a man stomping on a bottle. A small explosion — like that of firecracker — lifted his boot. Rocks peppered the two Marines.

“Don’t move!” Lance Corporal Quirumbay said.

Wary of stepping on another bomb, the patrol sat still until light glowed in the eastern horizon, when other Marines unfolded a metal detector and swept around their friend. The detector emitted a loud whine, signaling that a large bomb remained in the soil.

The Marines radioed for a team that specializes in dismantling explosives and backed off the knoll.

By the time the disposal team arrived, sweeping down Blue Moon with metal detectors, most of the Marines understood how lucky they had been. “We were what? Ten meters from it?” said Hospitalman Joseph R. Korte, 20, the patrol’s trauma medic.

“Five,” said Lance Corporal Hickson, 21.

Hospitalman Korte looked over at Lance Corporal Mathison, who was crouched against a wall. “That would have killed you and Q,” he said, using Lance Corporal Quirumbay’s nickname.

Lance Corporal Mathison is a big Marine, thick at the neck and light on his feet, and a veteran of a tour in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He seemed to be suspending belief. He listened to his friends in silence.

“I’m still calling it nothing,” he said at last. “I’m going with that it was nothing.”

He finished his thought. “Makes me feel better,” he said.

The rest of the patrol would not have it. “Well, Matty,” said Lance Corporal Hickson, his voice rising. “You might want to stop drinking, stop cussing.” Someone else mused about all the free beers Lance Corporal Mathison could expect.

Lance Cpl. Jacob M. Ohl, 19, interrupted. “Hickson was reading the Bible last night,” he said. “Been to church three times in his life, and last night he was reading the Bible.”

“I saved you,” Lance Corporal Hickson said.

He grinned. No one seemed sure what to think. They passed cigarettes, except for Lance Corporal Mathison: He pulled a lollipop from a plastic bag and popped it into his mouth.

He watched the two Marines in the disposal team working on the hill. They were busy, and moving cautiously. Lance Corporal Mathison had not wanted to accept that it was a bomb. He was beginning to shift his point of view.

“If this really was an I.E.D, then you ain’t drinking with me,” he said. “Because I’m done drinking. I’m going back to the way I was before I joined the Corps.”

An improvised bomb is a simple thing — a few batteries, a few wires, a blasting cap or two inserted into a stable explosive charge. A pressure plate serves as a switch. When depressed, the circuit is closed, the current from the batteries flows to the blasting cap, igniting the cap and setting off the full blast.

Ordnance specialists have a label for devices designed this way: victim-operated.

As simple as the system seems to be, there are many opportunities for malfunctions. But the Marines were puzzled. Up at the cemetery, a blasting cap had exploded, suggesting that the bomb maker had rigged a working circuit. Were it not for some unexplained fluke, these men knew, the bomb should have detonated, too.

Corporal Villegas, the radio operator, jogged over. “Matty, I love you,” he said as he ducked along the wall.

The arrival of the radio operator meant the Marines now had an infantryman’s oxygen: information. They could overhear radio traffic between the patrol leader and the disposal team.

Word began to reach them. The pressure plate had been connected to two 82-millimeter mortar rounds and a directional fragmentation charge weighing roughly 20 pounds. The meaning of that sunk in. If it had exploded, it would have killed more than the two nearest Marines.

“Oh God, dude,” one of the Marines said. Another strung together a profane phrase. The first word was dodged. The last was death.

“Oh Matty, get over here,” said Lance Corporal Hickson. The two men hugged. They slapped each other’s backs. They let go.

Lance Corporal Mathison was convinced. It really had been a bomb. “We’re all lucky, man,” he said. “That would have hurt us all.”

A few minutes later, Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Dreher, from the disposal team, called for the man who had stepped on the pressure plate. The staff sergeant had collected evidence from the bomb and rigged a small charge of plastic explosive to destroy what remained. He asked Lance Corporal Mathison to ignite the blast.

“If that I.E.D. had worked like it was supposed to?” the staff sergeant said. “Bye-bye, sweetheart.”

“Fire in the hole!” he shouted three times. Then the blast shook the earth. Dirt, stone and bits of metal showered the ground for several seconds — the end of a weapon that had nearly decimated a small patrol.

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit off the coast of Haiti, ready to assist relief efforts

ABOARD USS NASSAU — The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is off the coast of Haiti Jan. 23 staged to support ongoing relief efforts in Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake devastated the country last week.


1/23/2010 By 24th MEU Public Affairs, 24th MEU

The 24th MEU and their Navy counterparts of the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group were planned to sail across the Atlantic Jan. 20 aboard the naval vessels USS Nassau, USS Mesa Verde, and USS Ashland, on a regularly scheduled 7-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operation, but was given the order to push south to Haiti Jan. 19.

“We are well trained for humanitarian assistance, have a robust capability and we’re ready to help wherever we can,” said Col. Pete Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU.

The Marines bring all their capability as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force with nearly 2,300 Marines capable of a variety of tasks including engineering operations, transportation, and medical support. The MEU also has an aviation element centered around the Marine Corps’ newest aircraft the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, along with CH-53 heavy lift helicopters and UH-1 Hueys.

The 24th MEU is made up of the following units: Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (based out of New River Air Station N.C.), Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment (based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.), and Combat Logistics Battalion 24 (based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.)

There is not a definitive timeline for how long the 24th MEU and Nassau Amphibious Ready Group will be assisting in Haiti.

Bahrain military bringing security to Afghan bases

By John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, January 23, 2010

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan #8722; To Lance Cpl. Antonio Kirby, the object found in the pocket of a delivery driver hardly looked like something to smoke.CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan #8722; To Lance Cpl. Antonio Kirby, the object found in the pocket of a delivery driver hardly looked like something to smoke.

To continue reading:


January 22, 2010

One Dog, One Marine, One Mission

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Worse than turbulence, their truck sways side to side and bumps up and down along a path in Afghanistan. What would be an intolerable ride for most is just something Lance Cpl. Paul N. Krist, a dog handler for 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and his dog Max have accepted as part of the job.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Walter Marino
Date: 01.22.2010
Posted: 01.22.2010 05:12

Max, a black three-year-old labrador, sits calmly on the floor next to his master Krist who is reading a book. Both are waiting patiently for their next opportunity to work. Suddenly, the back of the truck opens.

"Get out, we need you and the dog," says Cpl. Adam S. Rogers, combat engineer for 2nd CEB.

Springing to action, Max immediately starts sniffing the area for explosive material. As they continue down the road they discover why they were called.

A white van has been halted and surrounded by Marines discussing whether or not the bags found in its trunk are indeed HME (homemade explosives).

One of the bags is thrown on the ground that Max begins to sniff. After a few moments, it becomes evident to Krist that the bags do not contain bomb-making materials.

"Max lies down if it's HME," said Krist.

For Krist, getting to this point took training and a passion for helping others.

Originally a tank mechanic, Krist became a dog handler after learning the billet would likely lead to a deployment in Afghanistan.
My Staff Sgt. told me I'd have a high chance of deploying as a dog handler, Krist said.

"I wanted to deploy," said Krist.

After arriving to IED detectors dog course, Krist was paired with Max, who quickly became his new best friend.

"When we got there, they gave us a sheet of paper that asked us what our hobbies were and what we did on our free time. It was supposed to help us pair up with the dogs. But, our tallest guy got the biggest dog, our meanest guy got the meanest dog and I got Max," said Krist, with a laugh.

From then on the two have constantly been perfecting their IED detection skills.

Their first find came early in Krist's and Max's deployment when they were still learning their area of operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

"I didn't expect to find anything, said Krist. "Then Max laid down and I was like, 'oh dang, I'm kind of close to this.' So I backed up and gave him his toy; that's what he gets for finding an IED, then he ran away and Explosive Ordinance Disposal Marines dug it out."

Later, Krist learned they had uncovered two IED's carrying 50 and 60 pounds of HME.

Although their discovery was an incredible feat that more than likely saved lives, Krist is not out for the recognition.

"When I came over here as a dog handler I wanted to find IEDs. Not to say that I did, but to use my dog for what we were trained for," said the 19-year-old Krist.

With his dog and his M-4, Krist continues to hit the road time and time again, with 2nd CEB, to contribute to the fight against roadside bombs.

"I really enjoy what I do, and the guys I work with. They really care about their job and the safety of others," said Krist. "My drive comes from knowing that we're keeping people safe, and it's not long before I go home. I hope I have a chance to do something this relevant in winning the war on my next deployment, and I hope Max can come too."

22nd MEU delivers aid to Haiti's southern coast

COTES DE FER, Haiti — As the roar of the CH-53E Super Stallion came closer to shore, scores of men, women and children began looking to the sky in hope of relief.


1/22/2010 By Staff Sgt. Wayne Campbell , 22nd MEU

As the aircraft from Marine Helicopter Squadron 461 (Reinforced) touched down, crowds ran to gather family members and friends. Within minutes, approximately 300 Haitians formed a crowd around Marines who lined the perimeter of the landing zone.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit provided relief on Haiti's southern coast Jan. 21 to supply aid to a village devastated by the earthquake that rocked the country more than a week ago. This was the first significant aid many residents had seen since the earthquake occurred.

"It's about getting the supplies to the people that need them," said 1st Lt. Kevin Stuart executive officer for Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU. "Some people can't come and get it and some are not in the big cities where the aid centers are. The challenging part is getting the food and water to the people who really need it the most."

Stuart explains that the local Ministry of the Interior workers who joined the distribution contributed to the crowd being calm and understanding.

"We have some people who speak their language, and they help us liaison between us and the locals," Stuart said. "These [Ministry of the Interior workers] are here day in and day out, so having them here working with us is huge because it allows the locals to see that cooperation."

The village was without water and food since the earthquake, Roudy Devil, director of ACDI VOCA, a non-profit aid organization said.

"Before the earthquake happened we were preparing for a hurricane," the Cotes De Fer native explained. "Now we are using those resources to help the people affected by the earthquake."

The Marines brought with them approximately 80 cases of nutritional biscuits and approximately 100 cases of water, some of which went straight to injured earthquake victims who where unable to make it to the distribution point.

According to the only doctor in the village of 3,000 residents, Dr. Marie Michelle Dorceus Rock, there where 23 injuries during the earthquake. With no clinic or hospital, Rock is forced to treat victims at the local elementary school.

"They are happy we are here," said Lance Cpl. John Hercules, translator for the 22nd MEU and native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. "Some of them haven't eaten since yesterday or three days ago. They appreciate the U.S. Marines coming and trying to help them."

The distribution point in Cotes de Fer was established for the day and the Marines from Weapons Company were extracted back to USS Bataan in the afternoon. Cotes de Fer is the second distribution point opened by the Marines from the 22nd MEU in three days. The first location in Leogane, Haiti, west of the capitol of Port-au-Prince, was opened Jan. 19, just four days after the 22nd MEU and the Bataan Amphibious Assault Group deployed to join the relief.

The ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast of Haiti Monday to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for earthquake survivors and bolster relief operations already underway in support of Operation Unified Response.

This sea-based force will bring added capabilities to aid the relief efforts without taxing the already strained infrastructure ashore. Comprised of heavy-lift and utility helicopters, trucks and Humvees, assault amphibian vehicles, and logistics capabilities to include water purification and limited medical support, the 22nd MEU will further enhance the humanitarian relief efforts ashore.

The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission capable force comprised of Aviation Combat Element, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and its command element.

II MEF Commander Fields Questions From 22nd MEU Families

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Nearly two hundred family members of deployed Marines and sailors packed Camp Lejeune's Ball Center for a town hall style meeting with Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Jan. 21.


1/22/2010 By Master Sgt. Keith A. Milks, II MEF

For the second time in as many days, Hejlik met with the spouses of 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines and sailors currently deployed to Haiti where they are assisting in relief efforts in the wake of an earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country, Jan. 12.

"They don't have shelter, they don't have food, they don't have water," said Hejlik, illustrating the bleak conditions facing the Haitian people. "There's no government and there's no police."

"Without the U.S. military, USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development], and the other nations providing support, the Haitians would not stand a chance."

At the heart of the discussion was the rationale behind sending the 22nd MEU to Haiti less than six weeks after it returned from a seven month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters.

Hejlik reminded the assembled spouses that the decision to redeploy the recently returned MEU was his and that it was not a decision taken lightly.

"I understand it is hard on all of you," Hejlik explained. "We looked at the forces available ... and the 22nd MEU was the right choice. I know we made the right decision."

Less than 24 hours after the earthquake hit Haiti, the 22nd MEU finalizing its plans to reembark aboard amphibious shipping and sail to the Caribbean. The 1,700 Marines and sailors of the slightly scaled back MEU departed the United States the evening of Jan. 16, steamed straight to Haitian waters and was in position to begin contributing to relief efforts on the 19th.

After giving the family members a quick rundown on the MEU's ongoing operations, Hejlik opened the floor to questions.

The questions ran the gamut from the expected length of the deployment to the impact the unexpected mission would have on pay, transfers, connectivity via phone and e-mail, legal matters and post deployment health care.

Hejlik relied on assembled members of his staff such as the staff judge advocate, personnel officer, surgeon and chaplain to provide detailed responses to these queries.

When one of the spouses questioned the living conditions of the Marines, Sgt. Maj. Carl Green, II MEF's senior enlisted Marine, stepped forward to relate a message he had recently received from Sgt. Maj. Carl Chapman, the 22nd MEU sergeant major.

"Their attitude is very positive," said Green. "The Marines down there clearly understand why they are there."

After the town hall, Hejlik and his staff mingled with the spouses fielding questions.

"I told the general I really appreciated him coming down to talk to us," said Barbi Suggs, whose husband is with the MEU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. "It is important for us to see General Hejlik. He was open and honest, and that did a lot to reassure the ladies."

The uncertainty of military operations meant that Hejlik could not answer the most pressing question – when the MEU would return home – but Suggs took this lack of definitive news in stride.

"Even though there was no real answer, we know we'll eventually find out."

Suggs' husband of nine years is on his fourth deployment and attributes the length of her marriage and experiences thus far with helping her cope with the unexpected redeployment.

"It's harder on the younger wives," Suggs said, "but we all have to be patient because it's the Marine Corps life."

Frank Smith is the 22nd MEU Family Readiness Officer.

"For most of the families, it [the Haitian deployment] is hard because the unit had only been back for 45 days or so."

As for Hejlik's decision to meet with the families, Smith added, "The spouses like hearing from the higher ups confirming the word they've been told or dealing with rumors they've heard. I think they appreciated the fact that General Hejlik dealt with them as a human being ... not just as a general ... and he's here offering his support."

Emily Garofalo, another 22nd MEU spouse, gave her advice on the best way for the families left behind to deal with their loved ones' deployment.

"Just learn to be patient and be proud of your husbands and what they're doing."

January 21, 2010

Welcome to ‘The Mansion’

Anyone who has spent much time in the Afghan war could guess the sights and the living-standard particulars of Combat Outpost Sullivan, the home in Helmand Province for much of Weapons Company, First Battalion, Third Marines.

Click above link to see photos at end of the article.

January 21, 2010, 4:15 pm

The outpost is like many others. A constantly smoldering trash pit is situated against one wall. The dented barrels that pass as toilets and the PVC pipes sloping deep into the ground that pass as urinals are lined up against another. Gravel has been spread from corner to corner to control dust and mud. Video cameras from a tower overhead watch over the approaches and nearby terrain. The Marines stand watch in sandbagged machine-gun positions and are ready with mortar tubes, each with a poncho covering it to keep out dirt and rain.

A cat roams the place, along with the mice, as do chickens and fighting cocks owned by the Afghan National Army soldiers who live here, too. There are no showers, though Weapons Company is midway through assembling a makeshift set of them. The water could be switched on by the end of January, possibly providing the Marines here with their first good wash since they arrived two months ago.

The gym? Mismatched dumbbells on a building’s roof: a stray 85-pounder beside a stray 45-pounder beside a pair of 30-pounders. There are also a few heavy sandbags that can be used for exercises, a pair of push-up handles and — this being a Marine position — the ubiquitous pull-up bars. (The pull-up is central to Marine Corps fitness culture, so much so that one day it might be worth revisiting with a separate post.)

Outside the wire is the steppe, which is dotted with villages and laced with a network of irrigation canals that allow Afghan villagers to farm the arid ground — a large part of which is dedicated to the cultivation of poppy for the heroin trade.

That’s Combat Outpost Sullivan.


The outpost, in fact, has one feature that separates it from others. It sits in what was to be the sprawling home of a drug lord. On official military maps, this place is marked as Combat Outpost Sullivan, but not many people call it that. They call it The Mansion.

The Mansion is boxed off by high mud walls that defend three large and almost completed concrete houses. Two of the houses have ornate tile exteriors, spacious balconies, windows that testify to fine finish carpentry and crown moldings that almost manage to lend the interiors a refined touch. The inner staircase of the main building spirals and is made of polished white granite. Think Tony Montana decorates for jihad.

Before the Marines fought their way down the roads last year and claimed the compound for their joint American-Afghan base, the buildings were being erected by Haji Adam, one of the main poppy lords in the Nawa District.

Haji Adam timed his real estate move poorly. He was detained last year by First Battalion, Fifth Marines, and is now in an Afghan prison, accused of running heroin from Helmand into Pakistan and being a Taliban collaborator. He did not get to see his mansion finished, and his detention has provided the Marines with a forward base. The place is unfinished, unheated and without plumbing, but given its location and its owner’s current circumstances, it’s a tenant’s dream deal.

“We don’t have to pay him rent,” said Capt. Paul D. Stubbs, the Weapons Company commander.

But these forfeited buildings rising from the dusty fields speak to more than housing on the cheap. They are a reminder of the vast wealth amassed by those near the top of Afghan poppy production and the disparities between poppy farmers and the men who organize the trade.

The villages surrounding the base are impoverished and plagued with public health problems. Local cemeteries, crowded with tiny graves of stacked stones, suggest the most pressing story in Helmand Province, as in much of rural Afghanistan. The stacked stones mark the resting place of a child. In one cemetery the Marines patrolled past a few days ago, the child-sized graves outnumbered the adult graves by at least three to one. Many graves were less than a yard long, hinting at high rates of infant mortality.

These are indicators of deep social distress, as are some of the conversations Marines have with Afghans on patrols.

The Afghans often ask for medicine. This is no surprise. Water quality is poor. Pastoral incomes, aside from poppy production, are almost negligible. There is not a school in sight. And much of the income produced in the fields around the Mansion is clearly concentrated in the hands of men like Haji Adam. The contrast is beyond clear — it’s inescapable.

Decades of war and the drug economy have left the province in abject shape. Life here is often short.

The photographer Tyler Hicks and I have been working from The Mansion this week, patrolling with the Marines, and we plan to be in various places along the Helmand River for at least a few weeks more.

In the months since our last extended trip together, in the Pech and Korengal Valleys last year, The New York Times began the At War blog. After years of covering Afghanistan as a pair, Tyler and I had had a longer-than-usual absence from the field. (This was my fault; I took several months to finish writing a book.) But now we are reunited and have plans in works to roam together this year in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Now and then, between articles or between trips, we will use this blog to file brief reports that might not fit readily into what we are otherwise working on, and to show vignettes, activities, missions, places, equipment and people that without an outlet like this would be stuck in our notebooks and hard drives.

We begin with a glimpse of The Mansion, the home at the moment for Weapons Company, First Battalion, Third Marines. We’ll send more as we go, and when the schedule allows us to stop.

3/6 Arrives in Helmand Province, Prepare to Integrate With Afghan National Army

CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan – Marines and Sailors from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment labored to get through the massive pile of gear in the center of the CH-53E Super Stallion and out into the burning sun of southern Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2009. Almost instinctually, they hastily grabbed their bags and formed a neat pile of equipment several feet away from the flight line.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Courtesy Story
Date: 01.21.2010
Posted: 01.21.2010 02:55

By Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

Despite the fact that the Marines had been moving equipment all day before finally flying into Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, they remained eager to move their gear into their living quarters.

Loading and unloading bags, trying to find a comfortable enough position to get some sleep aboard an aircraft, and all the other difficulties that come with traveling long distances became a common occurrence for 3/6 Marines who voyaged halfway around the globe in just a few days.

Lance Cpl. Tim Gwin, a mortarman with Headquarters and Service Company from Wilburton, Okla. could feel the strain of travel but remained upbeat and ready to push on with the mission.

"The ride out here was long, but we have an important job to do," he said.

Third Bn., Sixth Marines originally departed from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. earlier in the month. Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, the battalion made stops in Maine, Germany and Kyrgyzstan. Once in country, the battalion made stops in Kandahar and Camp Leatherneck before arriving at Camp Dwyer.

The battalion is in Helmand province to support Operation Enduring Freedom and will work closely with the Afghan national security forces to help create a secure environment for the people of Afghanistan said Lt. Col. Brian S. Christmas, the battalion commander. "We look very forward to integrating with the Afghan National Army and other members of the Afghan national security forces. They have a great reputation with the people of Afghanistan and have been very successful in past operations," he added.

For the Marines of 3/6, coming to Afghanistan has already proved to be a very unique experience. Cpl. Ken McKinley, a field radio operator with H&S; Co. from Jacksonville, Ala., has already witnessed many differences between Afghanistan and the United States during his short time at Camp Dwyer.

"I've seen things in a totally different light since I've been over here," he said. "You see the people here and see how much freedom America has and you value life so much more," he added.

Christmas insists that the people of southern Helmand province just want the insurgency to end.

"Success will be defined by the positive hand off of our area of operation to the Afghan national security forces, which are welcomed by the Afghan people," he said.

That will be a challenge, as there is an extensive lack of infrastructure in the current area of operation in southern Helmand province. Nevertheless, the service members of 3/6 are confident that the battalion will accomplish its mission.

"Adapt and overcome," said Cpl. Steven McNeely, a field radio operator with H&S; Co. from Fredericksburg, Va. with a serious tone. "It's what we do (as Marines)."

24th MEU to arrive in Haiti this weekend

CAMP LEJEUNE — Marines and sailors from Camp Lejeune’s 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit pushed south from Morehead City Wednesday night, expecting to enter Haitian waters this weekend, officials with the 24th MEU said Thursday.


January 21, 2010 5:18 PM

A combined total of 4,000 Marines from the 24th MEU and Nassau Amphibious Ready Group received orders to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response in the country on Tuesday.

While the specific mission of the troops in Haiti has not yet been announced, they will join about 2,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune’s 22nd MEU, who arrived in Haitian waters early this week.

After arrival, 22nd MEU troops hit the ground in Leogane, Haiti, the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country on Jan. 13, and began work with U.N. Forces to deliver pallets of food and water to survivors.

A spokesman for Camp Lejeune’s II Marine Expeditionary Force said there has been no indication that any additional forces from II MEF will be sent to Haiti.

Bombs and ambushes as Marines inch into Taliban bastion

SOUTHEAST OF MARJAH, Afghanistan — The crisp crackling of AK-47s breaks the morning silence as US Marines inch towards the outskirts of a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.


By Jason Gutierrez (AFP) – 1/21/10

Within minutes, three squads of the Marines' 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment's Alpha company are pinned down in an open, dried-out poppy field by gunfire from unseen Taliban militants hiding in mud houses metres away.

"Stay down, stay down. Get me an eye on these guys," Staff Sergeant Stephen Vallejo barks as he directs his men into an embankment facing the gunfire.

At least two suspected Taliban militants are sighted, one of them lighting up a haystack as a signal for reinforcement. More gunfire ensues, the smell of gunpowder wafts in the cold air, and then silence.

In the distance, women and children are in the firing line of the Marines -- either forced by the Taliban to stay there as human shields or they are unperturbed by the fighting.

"We can't engage them because there are civilians in the direct path," Vallejo says, calling in the unit's position to base and asking for exact coordinates to pin down the enemy fire.

His men positioned in the embankment let off a volley of machine gunfire, sending fragments of the mud house flying into the air. Nearby, an elderly man herds his family away to safety.

Young Marines in their early 20s are visibly shaken.

Soldiers from Afghanistan's army, who are being trained by the Marines to take over once they begin gradually pulling out in 18 months, provide seemingly chaotic support to those up front.

One interpreter props himself down on the earth and begins to pray during a lull in the fighting.

The Marines are on one of the patrol missions to inch closer to Marjah in Helmand province, which produces the bulk of the world's opium poppies, the main ingredient in the production of heroin.

Marjah is described as one of the last bastions of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, and dislodging them from this area is part of the US government's overall strategy to push them away from population centres.

Some 10,000 Marines have already poured into the region, and an all-out push into Marjah is on the drawing board. Related article: Taliban part of 'political fabric' of Afghanistan

The Taliban could either fight to the death or abandon the town, but pushing them out without bloodshed is preferred.

"The best battles are won are without a fight," says one lieutenant.

The initial push into Marjah, however, has met resistance. Taliban fighters hidden in farming communities take potshots at advancing Marines.

Heavy sporadic fighting over the past few days has left at least three Taliban fighters dead. Forces also arrested an elderly man whose shed yielded over 500 kilograms (1,200 pounds) of processed ammonium nitrate and other materials used in making bombs.

One US sergeant was killed during an earlier patrol after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) planted in an open field.

"Watch out for disturbed earth, these are clever fighters, they plant IEDs where they know we may be going," Vallejo says.

"What really angers me is that we are prevented from making further contact. They are either using the women and children as human shields or they (the women and children) just don't care about the fighting," he said.

"Most likely, it's the former. They know our rules of engagement," he said.

The radio crackles into life some 20 minutes later. It's the forward operating base calling them to pull back. For now, the operation ends.

"But we'll be back to get these guys," Vallejo vows. Moving away, a rifle grenade explodes into the Taliban position, sending a plume of smoke into the air as artillery fire is heard in the distance.

Marines Draw Out Taliban in Southern Helmand Province

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Stepping gingerly over rocks and uneven ground, Marines from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and the Afghan national army soldiers attached to them, patrolled to the north of Observation Post Huskars, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2010.


Story by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark, 1/21/2010
(Source: Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs)

The patrol stalked through a small barren crop, just large enough to sustain the inhabitants of a nearby compound, which now lay abandoned. As the column made its way past homes and farms, there was a rising sense that something was amiss; there wasn't a villager in sight.

Passing through a small archway in a mud wall and out across an open plateau, the Marines' suspicions were realized as several flat and hollow cracks rang out. Dust kicked up around ankles and clumps of dirt flew from the walls as bullets impacted all around the patrol. Sprinting to get behind cover in order to return fire, the men of Alpha Co., 1/6, had achieved their objective; they had located the Taliban.

For the next five hours, Marines and ANA soldiers traded fire with insurgents. The sun had set by the time the patrol withdrew, and they had uncovered a cache of approximately 1300 lbs of ammonium nitrate, which is a prime ingredient in homemade explosives and against the law to own, under Afghan law. One suspect was detained, several insurgents were wounded or killed, and there were no ANA or Marine casualties.

"The original goal of the patrol was to do [census operations] and see who was living in the buildings," explained 1st Lt. Shaun Miller, the executive officer for Alpha Co., 1/6. "We wanted to get the lay of the land and interact with local leaders and elders."

Although the initial plan was to interact with villagers in the north, each time the Marines of Alpha Co., 1/6, pushed beyond the walls of Observation Post Huskars, they took fire from insurgents.

"Every time we've gone out on patrol we've gotten into firefights," explained Miller, who paused for a moment to speak over a radio to a Marine on patrol who had reported seeing a rocket-propelled grenade gunner. "We've been here for five days and have launched over 20 patrols and as soon as we go more than one mile outside of the wire, we encounter heavy enemy resistance. It's like [the Taliban] are drawn to us."

The increase in patrols and subsequent engagements with insurgents serves to buffer friendly villages to the south of Observation Post Huskars from the Taliban north of the Marines' position.

"To the north, the majority of the compounds are abandoned and are being used by insurgents," explained Miller. "However, in the south, villagers have asked for our help, even led us to where improvised explosive devices were planted so that we could destroy them."

As the light began to fade and the Marines switched to night vision, infrequent tracer rounds and pop shots would clip and skim over the compound where the patrol had taken refuge. Meanwhile, they waited for explosive ordinance disposal Marines to arrive and destroy the homemade explosive ingredients found earlier in the day.

With the events of the day behind them and the HME ingredients destroyed, the patrol set off towards their camp to catch a few hours of rest before going out again the following morning.

St. Louis Based Marines Among The Last to Leave Iraq

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI-FOX2now.com) - Some 500 Marines from the St. Louis area are going to be part of a special place in history. They are among the last combat battalion of Marines to leave Iraq. The marines are part of the 3rd Battalion, 24th regiment based at Lambert. They should all be back in the U.S. by the end of January. It's a major step in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; a step that many spouses of the marines can't wait to happen.


3rd Battalion 24th Marine Regiment Due Back By January's End
By Chris Regnier FOX2now.com
January 21, 2010

The Marine Corps and third battalion 24th Marines is closing the book on the Iraq war, said Marine Major Darin Harper.

The 3rd Battalion 24th Marine Regiment is a reserve unit that was mobilized as part of the Iraqi war effort. They deployed last May and arrived in Iraq in September.

Their mission: provide military policing and convoy security along with training Iraqi forces. When they're gone, there will be no more combat Marine units in Iraq.

It's a great end to a long chapter in our history which is the Iraq war, explained Major Harper.

He added, "They're very excited about getting home. Anybody whose been deployed for a significant amount of time always looks forward to getting back to the states and getting back to their loved ones and life."

"I'm overwhelmed with pride," said Laurie Portell of Wentzville.

She cant wait for the marines to get back.

Laurie's husband, Andy Portell, is one of the marines in the unit.

"I'm counting down the days," explained Laurie.

She added, "I've been worried about him. I try to keep myself busy and my mind off of it. I work a lot but yeah you're always going to be worried about him."

Laurie's father, Russ Avery, spent 32 years in the Marines, many as a reservist. He deployed twice to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion 24th Regiment.

Russ knows being the last ones to leave can make this unit a target. Being the last unit to be pulled out of any situation is always very dangerous and very difficult, said Avery.

Major Harper continued, "This is the al Queda's last shot at a Marine Corps unit before were gone.

Major Harper says so far everything appears to be fine. He, Russ and Laurie can't wait for the historic homecoming.

"He's looking forward to that day we get to lay on the couch and do absolutely nothing but be there with each other, and that's what were going to do is just spend a lot of time together," said Laurie about Andy coming home.

Russ added about the homecoming, "It will be the best day, it really will."

A homecoming ceremony for the Marines is being planned.

The 3rd Battalion 24th Regiment has a total of 15 hundred marines.

Some are already back stateside; others have already been sent to Afghanistan.

The St. Louis based Marines coming home shouldn't face another deployment for about five years.

Fortunately, nobody in the 3rd Battalion 24th Regiment has been hurt or killed so far in this deployment.

MEU Diverted to Haiti From Afghanistan

FORT BRAGG, N.C. --- The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it would send a second Marine unit to Haiti to support what has become an expanding relief effort for the Defense Department, deepening the American military’s role there.


January 21, 2010
Christian Science Monitor|by Gordon Lubold

About 4,000 Marines and Sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejeune, N.C., who were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan this week, will instead steam to Haiti to support humanitarian relief operations. The unit will still continue on to the Arabian Sea for its scheduled deployment in the coming weeks.

But the decision to re-route the Marines points up the depth of the need for humanitarian assistance in Haiti, which experienced a severe aftershock Wednesday. It also presents the Pentagon with a delicate balancing act, since the already-overstretched U.S .military can ill afford to get mired in a security-and-stabilization mission.

The U.S. must do as much as it can while taking care not to create a false expectation, says Tony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.

“There are strong reasons not to deploy U.S. forces to Haiti because if you do, you get a mission of dependency,” says Cordesman. “We have to be very, very careful about our rhetoric; amidst a crisis, you want to assure people we will do what we can, but we cannot do what we can’t.”

Avoiding a long-term entanglement
Military officials recognize the need to stay out of Haiti for the long term, especially as they manage two wars that have already taxed their vast resources.

“We’ll be there only as long as necessary,” said a senior military official at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “But between being there as quickly as possible and staying as long as necessary, a lot of those things will be conditions-based, as opposed to time-based.”

The official, who spoke at a briefing by agreement without being named, said it is still too soon to tell if the military’s stay will be weeks, months or longer.

But while other countries and relief organizations are providing much help, the capabilities of the American government may make it difficult for President Obama to extract the military from Haiti, which has long suffered from enduring poverty, instability, political corruption and debilitating class divisions. That problem will become even more serious if unrest, now sporadic, expands across the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Those security problems have been limited to “pockets of instability” stemming from he desperation of people in need of food, water and medical supplies, according to Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, deputy commander of Task Force Unified Response, who briefed reporters Tuesday. But so far the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake last week has been marked by calm.

Haiti first, then Afghanistan
Military officials said the deployment of the 24th MEU to Haiti does not mean its mission to Afghanistan will be scrapped. Instead, the 24th will push off to conduct its mission in in the Arabian Sea – where it will provide support for troops in Afghanistan – only after it's job is done in Haiti.

The 24th will arrive in Haiti with helicopters and ship-to-shore landing craft, and is expected to provide mostly logistical support, lightening the burden on a flotilla of about 20 other Navy ships already there, including the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

Marines from the 24th are not expected to go ashore, though that mission could change. Other ground forces are already headed in. The 22nd MEU arrived in recent days and has already sent about 800 Marines onshore to conduct a humanitarian-assistance mission. Meanwhile, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, based here, have begun to flow into Haiti to help distribute relief supplies and, if needed, help secure areas of unrest.

The 82nd is arriving with the support of the 43rd Airlift Wing based here.

The wing commander said U.S. ground forces and their equipment are starting to flow into Haiti fairly smoothly now.

“You’re seeing better flow, but still, it’s not like you’re going into Chicago,” said Col. James Johnson, the 43rd’s commander.

January 20, 2010

US surge tightens noose round Taliban stronghold

CAMP FIDDLER'S GREEN, Afghanistan — US Marines participating in President Barack Obama's surge in Afghanistan are slowly tightening the noose around an opium-growing region described as the Taliban's last bastion.


By Jason Gutierrez (AFP)
Jan. 20, 2010

Some 10,000 Marines are strategically positioned in the southern province of Helmand preparing for an assault on Marjah, likely to be the first major offensive since Obama committed more troops in December, aiming to push back a resurgent Taliban.

"We're very, very close now to Marjah," said Lieutenant Colonel Calvert Worth, commander of the Marines' 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, which has started approaching the outskirts of the town.

"If the Taliban or the narco-traffickers decide that they do not want to willfully accept a return of a legitimate governance of the region, they would have to make a decision -- they can choose to fight and resist, or they can join the legitimate government of Afghanistan."

The mission aims to re-establish government and a military presence in the area under newly appointed district governor Haji Zair, who has not yet been able to live there, Worth said.

"We are here to facilitate the reintegration of Zair as a representative of the government," Worth said.

The Marines are prepared to take casualties as they take the fight to the Taliban in Marjah alongside Afghan troops integrated into their ranks, said Worth.

He said platoons in areas near Marjah had already engaged the Taliban, resulting in enemy casualties.

For security reasons, no timeframe for the attack was given, although some military officials have said it could be launched by early February, as troops are now beginning to patrol peripheral areas.

US troops will assist Zair during the transition phase, but he will have to come up with his own plan to govern the impoverished region, where subsistence farmers are forced to plant poppy to survive.

Helmand is the world's biggest opium-growing region, in a country where drug money has for years funded the Taliban insurgency.

If the military mission is a success, Zair will have his work cut out.

Marjah was planned and built partly by the US government in the 1950s as a model agricultural area irrigated by a network of canals.

In recent years, however, it has mostly not been under direct government control, but instead a territory of operations for drug traffickers and the Taliban, often in tandem.

A Marine offensive in 2008 flushed out Taliban fighters in nearby areas, and they have since sought refuge in Marjah.

Military officials said the Taliban may also be preparing to dig in for what is likely to be the first major operation of Obama's latest surge.

"The American people understand what we are doing here. The Marines too understand the sacrifices that need to be made," Worth said. "If casualties occur, that is part and parcel of being a participant in a conflict like this."

Gators deliver Marines, aid to Haiti

By Mark D. Faram - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jan 20, 2010 9:41:46 EST

LEOGANE, Haiti — About 120 Marines with Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, landed via helicopters in Haiti on Tuesday morning, securing a landing zone and a water distribution point in this town west of Port-au-Prince.

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Click above link for news video.

Nassau ARG, 24th MEU, tapped for Haiti

By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jan 20, 2010 9:35:48 EST

The Nassau Amphibious Ready Group, carrying the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is being diverted from its scheduled deployment to the Middle East and is instead heading to Haiti for relief operations, the Navy said Wednesday morning.

To continue reading:


January 19, 2010

22nd MEU, Bataan Amphibious Ready Group arrive off Haiti Coast

The ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast of Haiti Monday to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for earthquake survivors and bolster relief operations already underway in support of Operation Unified Response.


22nd MEU 22 MEU Public Affairs

Marines and Navy conducted reconnaissance and assessment flights on Monday to determine how best to focus the added capabilities of the U.S. Naval forces against relief efforts within their assigned area.

MEU and ARG leadership met with Rear Adm. Ted Branch, Commander, USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and his staff on board Vinson to discuss future operations.

According to 22nd MEU commanding officer, Col. Gareth F. Brandl, the Navy and Marine Corps units will begin providing assistance as soon as possible.

“We are here to support the Haitian people in an area that has been hard hit by this disaster.” said Brandl. “As relief operations continue, we will further assess the needs of people in the area and refine how we can best support them with the capabilities we bring.”

The major earthquake destroyed buildings and caused devastation throughout Port Au Prince and the surrounding areas Jan. 12. The 22nd MEU was ordered to assist the next morning and was fully embarked and underway aboard the ships USS Bataan, Fort McHenry and Carter Hall on Jan 16 in the morning hours. The ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group were underway from Norfolk to pick up the Marines and their equipment on Jan. 14.

“Something that normally would take weeks to plan execute happened in a matter of days,” said Capt. Sam Howard, Commanding Officer of USS Bataan.

This sea-based force will bring added capabilities to aid the relief efforts without taxing the already strained infrastructure ashore. Comprised of heavy-lift and utility helicopters, trucks and humvees, assault amphibian vehicles, and logistics capabilities to include water purification and limited medical support, the 22nd MEU will further enhance the humanitarian relief efforts ashore.

The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission capable force comprised of Aviation Combat Element, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and its command element.

January 18, 2010

Marines exit Iraq in first wave of forces out

By Lara Jakes - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jan 18, 2010 5:26:10 EST

AL-ASAD, Iraq — The base loudspeaker no longer wakes them up with calls for blood donors; armored trucks sit idle in neat rows. The Marines who stood at some of the bloodiest turning points of the Iraq war are packing up and leaving.

To continue reading:


Combat experience guides battle-hardened DIs

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jan 18, 2010 5:55:47 EST

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — Even today, Staff Sgt. Alex Ayala lives with the burden of Operation Phantom Fury.

To read the entire article:


January 17, 2010

Marines, ANSF Respond to Local Riot

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A riotous crowd gathered within the Garmsir District Center bazaar, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 12. The riot was believed to have been orchestrated by the Taliban, on false pretenses of the desecration of a Koran by coalition forces earlier in the week.


Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 01.17.2010
Posted: 01.17.2010 01:40

Inside of the district center were the Marines of the Police Mentoring Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, the district governor, Abdullah Jan, and members of the Afghan National Police.
The first responders were the Marines of Jump Platoon, 2/2, located just up the road in Forward Operating Base Delhi.

"We went out with two vehicles," said Staff Sgt. Dennis M. Gould, the platoon commander of Jump Platoon. "There were roughly 300-400 people close to the district center, and they started throwing rocks at us."

The crowd blocked the entire road to the district center. The first vehicle was pelted by rocks and gunfire to the point that the ballistic glass on the front, driver, and passenger side began to crack. The Marines then retrograded back to FOB Delhi to refit and return with more vehicles and personnel.

Upon returning to FOB Delhi, the Marines from Weapons Company, 2/2, began to prepare their gear and vehicles to enter the bazaar with Jump Platoon.

After some quick coordination with Afghan national security forces, the Marines were on their way to secure the district center.

At this point the crowd had set multiple vehicles and motorcycles on fire. A National Directorate of Security complex, located between FOB Delhi and the bazaar, had been attacked. A newly built school, right across from the district center, had been set on fire along with approximately 300 Korans located inside. Street lights which lined the road through the bazaar had been broken as people climbed on them.

The Marines reached the district center and ensured the Marines inside and the district governor were safe. Then ANSF and local village elders began speaking to the crowd.

"The [International Security Assistant Forces] partnered with ANSF to try and diffuse the situation," said 1st Sgt. Charles R. Williams, the Weapons Company first sergeant.

The entrances to the bazaar from both east and west are bridges, one crossing the Helmand River and the other crossing a large canal. To secure the bazaar, the ANSF, with the help of local elders, convinced the crowd to clear the bazaar and assemble on the other sides of the bridges.

"The ANSF and elders started telling them to go home and let them clear the area," said Williams. "After 10 to 15 minutes they started to clear out."

As the locals began to clear out, the Marines continued to interact with them as they would any other visit into the bazaar.

According to Lance Cpl. Robert C. Treichler, an anti-tank guided missile missileman with Weapons Company, after being there for around 30 minutes, the crowd had receded from the area with the exception of six local children. Treichler took out a bag of sunflower seeds, took a mouthful, and then distributed the rest of the bag to the children who were asking for some with outstretched hands. Seeing this, one of the older children offered Treichler a glass of tea. As he sipped his tea, Treichler taught the child how to say tea in English while the child taught him how to say it in Pashto.

Pfc. Jacob P. Shepherd, an anti-tank guided missile missileman with Weapons Company, moved forward as the crowd subsided from their area.

"We were basically there watching their movements when we noticed a guy on crutches by himself," said Shepherd. "He reached down to pick something up and fell."

After seeing the man fall, both Shepherd and his section leader quickly ran to help him up and retrieved what he was trying to pick up.

"It was a piece of a watch chain or something like that," said Shepherd. "We could sort of notice that the people who were there sort of stopped and were wondering what we were doing with him."

The Marines had left Delhi around noon and by 3 p.m. the bazaar began to operate as it did normally.

"Around 3 p.m. we brought our forces back into the district center," said Gould. "Then the road was open again and the shop owners started opening up shop again."

The order was restored without the need for violent force by the Marines as they stuck to their rules of engagement and escalation of force, and worked to peacefully resolve the situation with great restraint.

"I would say the real successful part, between the ANSF and ISAF forces, was we were able to deescalate the situation without any shots being fired," said Williams.

Boots Hit the Ground With Shovels in Hand; Marines Arrive, Fortify Observation Post Huskars

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A mounted patrol rolls up a mud path past spools of coiled concertina wire, which are uncurled as the column of vehicles passes and pulls into Observation Post Huskars, in Helmand province, Jan. 14, 2010.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Date: 01.14.2010
Posted: 01.17.2010 01:48

Marines from Alpha and Weapons Companies, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and attachments from 2nd Combat Engineers Battalion, stand in green short sleeved shirts, cammie trousers and boots painted light brown with mud. Most of the Marines clutch shovels or hold open sandbags, those who don't, man posts and crouch behind M-240 medium machine guns.

The Marines and the Afghan national army soldiers of Alpha Co., 1/6, arrived at the post just days before, taking charge of it in place of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment and quickly began reinforcing the defenses and constructing billeting for the incoming troops.

Sitting in a freshly-dug mortar pit, Staff Sgt. Nelson A. Adames, a section leader with 81 mm Mortars Platoon, Weapons Co., 1/6, described the first few days at the post.

"When we hit the ground and came out here, it was actually really motivating to see how fast they dug in," said Adames, referring to the practice of building a fortified weapons position for the section's mortar systems. "We had a lot of support and help from everyone out here. The other Marines came out and did more than their part."

Overall the purpose of increasing the number of Marines and Afghan national army soldiers at the observation post is to increase the coalition forces' presence in the area in order to move Marines and soldiers closer to the Afghan people, and in doing so, reduce the Taliban's control over the region, explained Adames.

"Although we haven't had any engagements yet, being in theater so far, it's clear to me that these guys will rise to the occasion and do their jobs well," said Adames.

When the Marines from 1/6 first arrived at the observation post, they had only the bare bones of an outpost and quickly set about installing hygiene facilities, a medical center and reinforcing the gun positions, said Lance Cpl. Henry D. Kornegay, an M-249 squad automatic weapon gunner with Alpha Co, 1/6.

Although the fortification of positions is a necessity, Kornegay touched on the sense of anxiousness to finally begin combat operations, saying, "Everybody wants to get started, it's why we're here – It's our job."

The outpost will work as a launch pad for future operations in the area, said Staff Sgt. Sean Warren, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Co., 1/6 as he explained the significance of manning Observation Post Huskars.

"We're starting to implement security further west, into the [area of operations]," said Warren, who is originally from Colfax, Calif. "We're about to start patrols in order to give the [Afghan national army] soldiers we're out here with, the chance to get some more experience before larger operations begin."

As the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, which pulled in earlier, prepare to leave, a flat boom puts men on their guard, and a second explosion which comes just a few minutes later holds their attention. Out across the flat brown plateau two plumes of smoke rise, and off in the distance helicopters can already be seen as they head towards the impact zone of two improvised-explosive devices

The Marines return to work filling sandbags in earnest, and the vehicles drive back out and down the road. As they leave, they amble past the concertina wire which is pulled back in place barring their return.

MMA fighters teach Marines skills for combat

At 5 feet 6 inches and 140 pounds, Damacio Page may not look intimidating to a burly, battle-hardened Marine.


By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jan 17, 2010 11:43:40 EST

But Page, a pro cage fighter nicknamed “The Angel of Death,” taught several Marines a very important lesson during a recent mixed martial arts clinic at Camp Pendleton, Calif.: Never underestimate your opponent.

“I was trying to show them some moves, and they weren’t really listening,” Page said. “So I grabbed the biggest guy out of the group. He was probably 6 foot 2 inches and 240 pounds. … When I hit him with a double leg, I swear his feet went four feet in the air. They started listening then.”

Page joined about a dozen other pro MMA fighters and coaches in October for a swing through three West Coast Marine bases, a tour that proved so successful Marine officials are negotiating to bring similar events to the East Coast this spring and possibly Afghanistan in the summer. Camp Lejeune, N.C., is likely to be the first stop, said former Cpl. Lex McMahon, who coordinates the events with support from Marine officials.

McMahon, son of the late Ed McMahon, a retired Marine colonel perhaps best known for his role as Johnny Carson’s longtime sidekick on “The Tonight Show,” also hopes to bring several prominent fighters back to the West Coast for a big-time event in front of 10,000 Marines. Details are still being worked out, he said.

“I care about the Marine Corps so much because I’ve been in the boots, and I’ve been downrange,” said McMahon, a former machine gunner and military police officer who deployed to Somalia twice between 1991 and 1994. “This is a no-brainer. It’s my way of giving back to the Corps and all the Marines that were there for me and my family when my father died.”

MMA combines combat skills from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Thai boxing, wrestling, kickboxing and judo. The clinics held late last year included big-name teachers from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, such as five-time UFC champion Randy Couture and undefeated UFC fighter Gray Maynard.

East Coast clinics
The East Coast event will likely mirror the first three, which taught boxing and wrestling techniques along with lessons from combat-experienced fighters on how to incorporate MMA on the battlefield.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Walsh, an active-duty Marine who fights on the pro circuit, and Army Staff Sgt. Tim Kennedy, a Strikeforce fighter, spent two hours with each group of Marines they taught at Camp Pendleton; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and MCAS Yuma, Ariz. Most of the moves they taught focused on ways to retake your position, gain space and regain your weapon if caught by surprise.

“It seems pretty basic, and it is, but basic is what works,” said Walsh, a brig guard and former reconnaissance Marine who has served several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “You have to keep it simple ... just to make it easy muscle memory, and you have to be able to do this with all your gear on. I don’t want to be on my back with 60 pounds of kit on.”

The takeaway, said Kennedy, a Green Beret with nearly 10 years’ experience in Special Forces, is how to protect your space, whether it’s from an insurgent or a curious Afghan child.

“We carry magazines, guns, knives, radios and pretty much all the important stuff that we need for our survival on our chest in front of us,” Kennedy said. “Everything about [fighting] is space and timing, but for a combat person, space is the most important piece. You need to make sure you are protecting your stuff.”

To illustrate his point, Kennedy told a story from his first tour in Iraq, when he and several other soldiers were clearing a room and they came upon an unarmed man acting strangely. The situation could have gotten ugly fast.

“I turned the corner and there was this crazy guy there — whacked out of his mind. I didn’t want to shoot him because he was unarmed, but he grabbed me,” Kennedy said. “I had to make distance. Somebody who didn’t have those [MMA] skills would have had to shoot the guy, but I was able to de-escalate the situation without it getting to that point.”

Paying it forward
Gunnery Sgt. Cesar Espinoza, assigned to 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, was one of the handful of Marines who stood watch over Ed McMahon last year during his final days in the hospital, making sure paparazzi didn’t take any photographs of the ailing retired Marine. He also helped fold the flag at the funeral.

Espinoza’s kindness inspired Lex McMahon to give back by taking a troupe of fighters downrange later this year. He’s working with Marine officials on three options.

The first would be a clinic like those on the West Coast. The second option, McMahon said, would bring fighters into theater for a meet-and-greet morale tour, which would most likely require a partnership with the United Service Organizations.

The final option would be a live fighting event, similar to an upcoming event proposed for Camp Pendleton in the spring called “Pure Combat,” likely to be held in the football field behind the Paige Field House on base.

“At the end of the day, we all want the people who are protecting us to get something and let them know they are appreciated,” McMahon said.

January 16, 2010

Cut From the Same Stone: Marine, Afghan Platoon Sergeants Lead Troops on Joint Ops

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Two men don flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, one set coyote brown, the other forest green, each with an emblem of their nation. Stepping out of their tent and walking with their squad leaders in step, Staff Sgt. Galen P. Hafner, a Marine platoon sergeant with Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and Staff Sgt. Gulwazir Harin, an Afghan national army platoon sergeant, attached to Alpha Co., 1/6, prepare to set out on a patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 15.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Date: 01.16.2010
Posted: 01.16.2010 06:47

Throughout the battalion and within each infantry company, Marines and Afghan national army soldiers train, live and are preparing to fight alongside one another.

Until two weeks ago none of these men had ever met.

U.S. Marines and sailors stand on Afghan soil half the world from home and several steps away from the Americans, Afghan national army soldiers stand in equally unfamiliar territory – as many of them hail from northern Afghanistan.

Afghan interpreters work with Marines and Afghan national army soldiers to translate Dari, Pashtu and English, bringing new meaning to Afghanistan's moniker as the melting pot of the Middle East, a title it earns due to the ethnic diversity of the country.

The two platoon sergeants for 3rd platoon travelled dramatically different paths to reach the road they patrol today. Staff Sgt. Galen P. Hafner, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, grew up in Bushnell, Ill. Searching for direction after high school, Hafner found it in the Marine Corps and enlisted 11 years ago, when he was 19.

"I screwed off a bit in high school and didn't have a lot going for me," said Hafner, who comes from a family of service members.His father was a sailor and his grandfather and uncle were both Marines. "I knew I was going to enlist. I just had to decide what service."

Hafner went on to explain that he spoke with recruiters from different services before deciding that the Marine Corps would take him where he wanted to go.

Hafner described his parents' reaction to his decision to enlist, saying "my mom, right off the bat, was very proud; maybe a little frightened that I wanted to go into the infantry, but very proud of my service. My dad was nervous, mainly because he knew how crazy Marines could be and would throw away the recruitment flyers and brochures that were sent to the house."

On the other side of the world, Gulwazir found himself drawn into service as well, albeit for different reasons.

Growing up as a refugee in Pakistan, Gulwazir described his time there as one of tribulation and adversity, before he made his way to Afghanistan to fill the rising need for soldiers, saying that he "had to come."

"A lot of people decided to join, many of them refugees, or poor farmers," said Gulwazir, who enlisted six years ago, when he was 16. "I want to do well for my country and for my ANA," he said, using the abbreviation for the Afghan national army.

As he works with his soldiers, instructing them in a clipped tone and the creases across his brow tightened, Gulwazir seems less like a young 20-year-old and much more like the seasoned veteran he is.

Gulwazir described the death of his platoon commander who had served as a role model when he first enlisted, as "one of the greatest tragedies of his life," adding only that the time he spent in Pakistan and the experiences he had there as a refugee marked the second greatest.

However, for all the hardship he faced, Gulwazir breaks a smile as he talks about home and about his wife and infant son that he has not yet met and is just now nearing a month old.

"I love her very much," said Gulwazir, who has been with his wife for just over a year after their arranged marriage. "I knew her before, and liked her, but am falling in love and missing her now."

Also separated from his family and children, Hafner met his wife while stationed in Naples, Italy, with Marine security forces, and has been married for six years.

Hafner, who has a 5-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter, commented on the challenges that military life can have on a family.

"Through training and work-ups and deployment you miss a lot of family stuff. On the last deployment the poor conditions and minimal communication made it difficult. We've been fortunate enough to work through it," said Hafner, whose daughter was born while he was deployed with 1/6 last year in Garmsir, Afghanistan. "Hopefully I can be home for her next birthday."

Although they come from wildly different backgrounds and can't hold a conversation without a third party, there are poignant similarities between both men. Each one is far from home. Each one has a family waiting anxiously for their return. Each one has come willingly and with a sense of purpose.

"I'm interested in seeing how [the integration] goes," said Hafner, who alongside Gulwazir, will be leading the Marines and Afghan national army soldiers in the months to come. "We're part of their group and they are part of ours."

January 15, 2010

Marine from Bergen County killed in Afghanistan will receive Bronze Star

WESTWOOD -- On Christmas Day, Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek called home to Bergen County from Afghanistan with the news he had been nominated for a Bronze Star.


By Star-Ledger Staff
January 15, 2010, 8:55PM

A fellow Marine, a master sergeant, had been gravely injured by a bomb buried in the dirt. Under heavy enemy fire, Hrbek and a Navy corpsman had rushed to the man’s aid, applying tourniquets to the stumps of his severed legs and carrying him to safety.

Family members learned today Hrbek will receive the award posthumously.

Hrbek, 25, a married Westwood native, was killed Thursday when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province, his family and the Department of Defense said. He had previously served three tours of duty in Iraq.

“He was born a Marine. He wanted to die a Marine,” said Beau Hodges, 28, Hrbek’s stepbrother. “He was proud to die for his country.”

Hrbek is at least the 14th service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. At least 96 others have died in Iraq since 2003.

A full-size flagpole springs from the lawn of the brick, colonial-style home where Hrbek grew up with his mother, Cheryl, and stepfather, JayMee Hodges. An American flag and a Marine Corps flag flew at half-staff today. Relatives gathered throughout the day, by turns crying and laughing as they shared stories.

Once a slight kid who had been afraid of the dark well into his teens, Hrbek grew into a fearless, muscled warrior who planned to make a career of the Corps.

“He loved it over there,” said another stepbrother, Jim Hodges, 31. “He wanted to do this for the rest of his life.”

Hrbek made the point to one of his two sisters, Amy Dellentash, in a recent phone call home, after she had learned of his nomination for the Bronze Star. He had spoken of three-hour firefights and of coming under attack every time his unit went out on patrol. Dellentash, 33, knew American service members were falling.

“I knew he was at war and in a terrible situation, and I just wanted to know if he was really okay,” she said.

She said her brother responded, “Are you kidding me? I love what I do.”

Hrbek’s admiration for the Marine Corps took root as a sophomore at Westwood High School, where he was a member of the wrestling team and something of a class clown, relatives said. He began reading and watching movies about the Corps after scoring well on a physical evaluation used by the service, his family said.

Seven months after graduation, he was off to Parris Island for basic training. His service brought him to Iraq three times, first in 2005. He served again from February to September 2007 and then from August 2008 to March 2009. He left for Afghanistan in November. Hrbek was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Family members said Hrbek might have taken a different route, fighting fires instead of wars. Both his stepbrothers are firefighters in New York City, and his stepfather is a member of the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department. Hrbek, too, began volunteering at age 16.

The lure was strong. Beau Hodges said his stepbrother had a place in the academy last year in the New York Fire Department but chose instead to re-enlist in the Marines.

Hrbek’s career kept him away for long stretches from his wife, Jamie Hrbek, 23, but in an interview this evening at her Emerson home, she said distance and time never seemed to take anything from their relationship.

When they first saw each other three years ago, it was only for a few seconds, she said. She was a waitress in a local restaurant. He was a customer. Hrbek was about to talk to her when he was summoned to a fire scene. It would be a month before he got her number from a friend.

“We could have said we loved each other without really seeing each other,” she said.

They talked for six hours in that first phone conversation. Late in 2007, they married.
“I could say a thousand things about him,” she said. “He was filled with a sense of adventure.”

Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Hrbek also is survived by his father, Richard Hrbek of Emerson.

By Tomás Dinges and Mark Mueller/The Star-Ledger

Deployed Marines Learning Professionalism Through MCMAP

FORWARD OPERATING BASE CAFERETTA, NIMRUZ PROVINCE, Afghanistan – In addition to fighting the Taliban, Marines in southern Afghanistan are fighting to win the confidence and trust of the Afghan populace.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 01.15.2010
Posted: 01.15.2010 01:35

To win this fight the Marines must convince local Afghans their intentions are true and their motives honorable. One method used to prove their commitment to the locals is setting the example of professionalism.

How Marines present themselves, respect each other, respect the laws of war, treat civilians and manage their gear amongst many other things, are professional traits that have separated them for other military forces and one of the many traits distinguishing them from the Taliban.

While there are many ways Marines learn professionalism, including classroom instruction, senior Marine mentoring, peer to peer sharing and the study of professional reading material. A small group of Marines here have been learning that professionalism with the aid of arm bars, hip throws and blocking techniques through the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

"First of all MCMAP is a mentorship program. So there are several things you are teaching, not just on the physical side, but your also teaching them to be good leaders and be overall good Marines," said Sgt. Michael Atkins, a MCMAP instructor currently instructing a gray belt course here. "That way they'll be able to transfer that into real life situations in the Marine Corps."

After each set of techniques or manipulations is taught for use in self defense, the program requires instructors to hold a class where both instructor and student have an open discussion that cover topics related to the moves they have learned. The goal is to give the Marines additional guidance about the moves and how to use them.

"You learn multiple things and more than just self defense," said Lance Cpl. Jeffrey B. Jensen, a forward observer with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. "We covered our core values and it's very important to go over those. They're what we live by. They're what the Marine Corps is all about. Having a constant reminder [of Marine Crops core values] helps us grow."

These tie ins, which include leadership, camaraderie, respect and escalation of force, help teach Marines about the appropriate use of MCMAP as well as other professional traits and customs.

"[MCMAP] is not only to help the Marines become physically fit, but also to help mentally prepare them for combat, prepare them for stressful situations and to build their character so when they're facing situations they know what to do," said Atkins, a native of Rapid City, S.D.

It is this strengthening of character and decision making that makes holding MCMAP instruction in deployment zones beneficial.

"A lot of the stuff we teach ties into combat stress. Other things include dealing with scenarios like [prisoner of war] handling," said Atkins. "They're several practical applications that these Marines may possibly encounter in country. By them getting these classes, it's going to keep [the material] fresh in their minds and give them guidance on how to be better leaders and how to look for the stress getting to their Marines."

Any Marine in a combat theater may face the challenge of detaining a prisoner of war. For that reason MCMAP instruction is designed to provide a good balance of teaching Marines how to protect themselves while still practicing appropriate use and escalation-of-force methods.

"We've gone over continuum force which is basic [escalation of force]," said 20 year old Jensen from Glen Wood Springs, Colo. "Being in a combat environment it definitely helps to go over EOF because we use it every day."

"In gray belt, one of the required classes for each Marine to receive a gray belt is continuum of force or escalation of force. We teach them that if someone is just yelling at them but not acting on it then they need to withhold themselves, versus if someone tries to touch them and possibly grab a weapon, then you start moving up that continuum force level," said Atkins. "We teach responsibility of force, to distinguish between temper and intent. These are all things that fall under MCMAP. [Incorporating MCMAP] moves with how they are responsibly supposed to use them."

The interaction between Marines and Afghans is becoming common practice in southern Afghanistan, the opportunity for these Marines to have a deep and long lasting impact on the area increases every day.

The professional attitudes and actions they display help garner trust from civilians, provide a positive role model to local children and instill proficiency in Afghan national security force members.

Some may find it hard to believe, but Marines are building that professionalism on blue gym mats with knife hand strikes, forward rolls and bayonet techniques.

January 14, 2010

Marine vet repels knife-wielding attacker

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Jan 14, 2010 13:36:32 EST

A 68-year-old Marine veteran fended off a knife-wielding, 6-foot-tall, 300-pound attacker in a Cumberland, Md., parking lot during a minutes-long struggle on Sunday, local media reported.

To continue reading:


Conway: 22nd MEU tapped for earthquake relief

By Dan Lamothe and Amy McCullough - Staff writers
Posted : Thursday Jan 14, 2010 10:56:00 EST

The Marine Corps will send the North Carolina-based 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to earthquake-ravaged Haiti as part of an extensive U.S. relief plan for the island nation, the service’s top officer said Thursday.

To read the entire article:


22nd MEU deploys in support of Haiti relief effort

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is deploying to Haiti to assist in disaster relief efforts in the wake of an earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation January 12.


22nd MEU Capt. Clark Carpenter
Capt. Binford Strickland Cell: 252-904-6556
Master Sgt. Keith A. Milks Cell: 910-451-7489
[email protected]

The 22nd MEU is scheduled to embark aboard the amphibious ships USS Bataan, Fort McHenry and Carter Hall, and consists of its Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461; and its Command Element.

The MEU is composed of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors, and recently returned from a seven-month deployment to U.S. European and Central Commands.

“Our Marines and sailors are trained and ready to make a difference,” said Col. Gareth F. Brandl, commanding officer of the 22nd MEU. “We will deploy with our Navy team of the Amphibious Ready Group to support the Haitian government’s efforts with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

With disaster relief and humanitarian assistance as one of its core competencies, the MEU is capable of providing a wide range of support to the people of Haiti, including but not limited to: engineering support, medical aid, and water purification. Camp Lejeune area Marines have seen service in Haiti several times in recent years, including stability and support operations in 1994 and 2004, support to Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, and providing humanitarian aid in the wake of storms that killed hundreds of Haitian citizens in 2008.

22nd MEU spokesmen will conduct a press conference at the Camp Lejeune main gate at 1 p.m. today. Contact the II MEF POC listed above for coordinating instructions and to RSVP.

January 13, 2010

BLT 2/7 ready for first-time experience

KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA, Japan — Though Marines have been deploying alongside their Navy brethren for more than 234 years, there is still room for new adventure and first-time experience within the Corps’ ranks. The Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (BLT 2/7) can testify to that fact as they prepare to embark on the unit’s inaugural deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).


1/13/2010 By Staff Sgt. Michael A. Freeman, 31st MEU

“This is the first time 2/7 has served as an amphibious landing force since Inchon, and our first opportunity ever to serve as a battalion landing team,” said Lt. Col. John Reed, the BLT 2/7 Commanding Officer.

Based in the Mojave Desert at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., the unit trained for and participated in desert operations during two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom between January 2005 and August 2007. From April to August 2008 they engaged in heavy fighting, conducted Counter Insurgency (COIN) Operations and assisted with the development of the Afghan National Police Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

During this deployment however, the Marines of 2/7 will face a new set of circumstances, terrain and weather conditions, including exercises in the heat and humidity of Thailand’s jungles and the tropical rainforests of the Republic of the Philippines. More than 1,100 BLT 2/7 members arrived in Okinawa Jan. 8-10 in anticipation of the MEU’s spring patrol, and Reed said his Marines and sailors are up to the task.

“We’re absolutely ready for it,” said Reed, citing an intense period of work-ups the unit conducted in preparation for the deployment. “We have had the advantage of great people and the time to really focus. We can’t wait to get on ship with the 31st MEU.”

Staff Sgt. Kevin A. Buegel, a rifle platoon sergeant from Company F, BLT 2/7, mirrored Reed’s confidence in his men.

“My Marines are more than ready and as excited as I am about this deployment,” he said.

Reed added that his Marines and sailors are not simply prepared for the deployment, but excited about it as well.

“We are fortunate as a battalion to be really focused on a few of the Commandant’s key priorities,” said Reed. “We can focus training on amphibious operations, getting back to naval traditions and being at the forefront of combined arms fire and maneuver.”

Cpl. Jonathan Metzger, an amphibious assault vehicle crew chief from Company D, BLT 2/7, said that when he deployed to Iraq, his unit was trained and employed as an infantry company. However, now he will finally have the opportunity to do the job for which he originally enlisted – executing amphibious operations in an expeditionary environment.

“I know this is what I signed up for,” said the Enid, Okla. native. “It’s a great opportunity to be given this chance.”

The MEU’s Commanding Officer, Col. Paul L. Damren, greeted the first wave of incoming BLT 2/7 Marines and sailors on the Kadena Air Base flight line, offering his welcoming remarks, the latest college football scores, and his confidence in the incoming unit.

“BLT 2/7 is making history with this deployment,” said Damren. “Their recent combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their thorough pre-deployment training program have prepared them well to fill a critical role as the ground combat element of the MEU. They understand that service with America’s only full-time forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Unit carries with it a significant amount of responsibility, and I know without a doubt that they will live up to the high expectations that we have for them.”

During the MEU’s Spring Patrol, BLT 2/7 will deploy alongside fellow MEU subordinate elements, including Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN), Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311) and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31). The 31st MEU is slated to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 2010 in the Royal Kingdom of Thailand and Exercise Balikatan in the Republic of the Philippines.

Marines defend troops after shots at Afghan protest

DELARAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine commander in south Afghanistan blamed provocateurs for using religion to stir up a violent demonstration that has raised the political temperature in the country's most volatile region.


Wed Jan 13, 2010 4:09pm GMT
By Jonathon Burch

Afghan officials said Tuesday's protest ended with eight protesters dead at the hands of Afghan troops after they tried to storm a building in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, Afghanistan's opium-growing heartland.

U.S. Marines also opened fire during the demonstration, but say they did not shoot at civilians and killed only a sniper who fired first at an Afghan official on a U.S. base.

The demonstration was triggered by reports, which the Americans say were false, that U.S. troops had desecrated holy books or abused women during a raid two days before.

Colonel George Amland, second in command of the Marine brigade in Helmand, said the U.S. troops -- who have been urged in recent months to make protecting civilians a priority -- behaved extremely well in the face of a difficult situation.

"The Marines ... acted with a great deal of restraint and actually got the local leadership in Garmsir out in front and defused the situation," Amland told reporters.

"There were other elements in that crowd obviously, actively trying to incite a greater civil disturbance," he said. "People will sometimes try to employ the lowest common denominator which is -- they can't think of anything else to do but find a religious issue to take exception to and exploit."

Provincial officials and Marines met villagers at a shura -- a traditional Afghan meeting -- to discuss the incident.

NATO forces have said they shot only an "insurgent sniper" after he targeted an Afghan official inside the main base in Garmsir district.

A deputy provincial police chief in Helmand said Afghan troops killed eight demonstrators and wounded 13 when they opened fire after demonstrators tried to storm a government building.

Civilian deaths caused by Western and government troops are among the most sensitive issues in Afghanistan and have sparked several demonstrations in recent weeks.


A new UN report showed that a record number of civilians were killed in 2009, although the number killed by foreign and government troops actually declined by a quarter, while the number killed by insurgents rose by 60 percent.

Insurgents killed roughly two thirds of the 2,400 who died, while NATO and government troops killed nearly 600.

Assadullah Shirzad, a provincial police chief, said a delegation representing the provincial governor attended the shura and will investigate the reports of civilian casualties.

The demonstration took place near the district centre of Garmsir, a comparatively secure area in the volatile lower Helmand River valley, most of which was seized by the Marines in July during the biggest operation of the eight-year-old war.

24th MEU awaits call to assist in Haiti

Troops from Camp Lejeune’s 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit may be called to Haiti to assist in disaster relief efforts, as base officials report that all units are at the ready and waiting for word from the commander-in-chief about upcoming missions.


January 13, 2010 12:55 PM

On Tuesday, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, laying waste to its capital, Port-Au-Prince. No casualty total has been released, but thousands are feared dead.

Master Sgt. Keith Milks, public affairs officer for II Marine Expeditionary Force, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, “No II MEF units have received deployment orders to Haiti, but humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are among our mission-essential tasks and we are prepared to execute such missions upon the President's order.”

The 24th MEU — which consists of of 2,200 troops and includes 1st Battalion, 9th Marines; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced); Combat Logistics Battalion 24; and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 — was previously scheduled to leave on a routine MEU deployment on Monday.

The head of U.S. Southern Command, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, announced Wednesday that a MEU would be dispatched to aid in the relief efforts, along with a Navy aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Carl Vinson, and possibly a large-deck amphibious ship.

The U.S.S. Bataan and dock landing ship U.S.S. Fort McHenry, both recently deployed with Camp Lejeune’s 22nd MEU, have also been ordered to Haiti out of Norfolk, Va., according to Navy Times reports.

The 24th MEU has a history of humanitarian relief missions, including a deployment in 2005, when elements from the MEU and troops from New River and Cherry Point air stations traveled to New Orleans to assist in relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

VMM-162, an Osprey squadron, may become the first of its kind to aid in a humanitarian effort if ordered into Haiti.

An Army brigade from North Carolina’s Fort Bragg may also be called into the country.

U.S. uses Predator drone to hit suspected insurgents in Afghanistan; 13 killed

DELARAM, AFGHANISTAN -- Using a Predator drone, the U.S. military this week fired a Hellfire missile into a crowd of suspected insurgents in Helmand province, killing 13 people and wounding three others, military officials said Tuesday. It was one of two such attacks by unmanned aircraft on the same day.


By Joshua Partlow
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Since taking over as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has cautioned his troops against relying on aircraft to bomb targets unless there is a clear insurgent threat, as such bombings have killed civilians and inflamed anti-American sentiment among Afghans. Still, the use of Predator and Reaper drones to fire missiles, while not as frequent as in Pakistan, is increasingly common in Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officials.

"Not unusual at all," said Maj. Dale Highberger, the second in command of the Marine infantry battalion that has just opened a major operation in the Bar Now Zad area of Helmand province. "We use those more and more all the time as they become available."

The attack that targeted a crowd of suspected insurgents took place about 4 a.m. Monday, a couple of hours after two Marine companies dropped in by helicopter in Bar Now Zad, a Taliban-controlled area to the northwest of Now Zad, where about 1,000 Marines entered last month to try to wrest the town from insurgents. The Marine arrival early Monday -- intended to capture or kill Taliban leaders operating there, as well as those who had fled the earlier operation -- came as a surprise, according to Highberger.

"We caught them sleeping," he said. "We caught them with their pants down."

But the Taliban responded, in groups of up to 50 people, using hit-and-run attacks with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting prompted Marine reinforcements to be flown in from the battalion headquarters in Delaram. Sporadic fighting continued Tuesday, but the Marines said they have taken about three-quarters of the area they set out to control.

When military surveillance officials spotted a group of Afghans carrying guns outside what was believed to be a Taliban safe house, they called in the Hellfire missile. Highberger said that 11 of the 13 people killed were confirmed Taliban members and that the two others were known associates. During the Bar Now Zad operation, the Marines have killed 20 or fewer suspected insurgents, according to one Marine officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing.

The other Hellfire missile strike occurred Monday in the Nad Ali district of Helmand, killing three suspected insurgents carrying weapons, according to a U.S. military statement.

The CIA has made heavy use of remote-controlled aircraft to pursue Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where American ground troops are not allowed to operate. The bombings have angered Pakistani politicians and residents, who consider the attacks a violation of sovereignty, but U.S. officials defend their effectiveness. In August, a drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud. His death, in turn, was cited as the motivation for the recent suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan by a Jordanian double agent.

In Afghanistan, military officials said, the drones are regularly used during big operations when the aircraft are available.

"It has pinpoint precision and it limits collateral damage," the Marine officer said about the use of drones. "The other good thing is you can't see it or hear it."

January 12, 2010

U.S. Marines tell Afghans: we're not here forever

DELARAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The bearded Afghan men in traditional dress sat cross-legged on the floor listening to the U.S. colonel address them -- a common sight in Afghanistan in recent years, but now with a subtly changed message.


Jonathon Burch
DELARAM, Afghanistan
Tue Jan 12, 2010 1:25am EST

"International forces and Americans and Afghan National Army will come soon in greater numbers," said Colonel George Amland, second in command of more than 10,000 Marines, addressing a "shura", or council meeting, on a base in southern Afghanistan.

"They will provide, once again, that opportunity for you to choose the path that the people of Delaram and your community will take," he added. "But I'm also bound to tell you that this window of opportunity that is presenting itself to you will only be open for a short period of time."

Gone are the phrases "we are here to stay" or "we are not going anywhere", often heard at past shuras.

Last northern spring, U.S. Marines moved into Delaram, a small desert town in the northern tip of Nimroz province only a few kilometres from Helmand province, the opium-growing Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan.

They set up a base just outside Delaram from where they launch operations into Helmand's north and conduct patrols inside the town.

Now the Marine force in Afghanistan is set to double, with thousands more already arriving in the south as part of a wider 30,000-troop push by Washington to try and turn the tide in an increasingly unpopular war which began in October 2001.

There are already more than 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including nearly 70,000 Americans.

But in announcing the extra forces, President Barack Obama also said troop levels would start to be scaled back in 18 months, and the White House has said it does not want to have troops in Afghanistan another eight or nine years from now. That message is now being delivered clearly on the ground.

"I just want to remind everybody here that ... eventually Americans will leave and the window will be once again closed. You have to choose and we are here to help you," Amland said.


Washington has said any pullout of troops will be "conditions based" and would involve a gradual handover to Afghan troops. Talk of a timeframe could worry many Afghans, who welcome the new security but are still sceptical about the future.

"The security in the city is okay but 2 km outside the city belongs to the Taliban," said one man at the shura.

"We have been promised many things before but we haven't seen anything. We have no electricity, no clean water," he said.

The man, who did not give his name for fear of retribution from the Taliban, also said he and other farmers would go back to growing opium poppy next season because the government hadn't delivered on its promises to help with alternative crops.

The Marines say they have money to spend in the area and already have several development projects planned.

But Barilay, a 25-year-old shopkeeper from Delaram, said the help did not reach those who needed it most.

"It's good that help is coming. But the help doesn't reach people like me. It goes to those with power, those with money," he said after the shura. Like many Afghans he uses one name.

Mohammad Khawas, 40, a money changer, said things were better in Delaram but no amount of U.S. troops would bring peace to Afghanistan without involving the Taliban.

"Not 30,000 troops, if you bring even 20 times that, even the whole of the United States, fighting will not bring a result," said Khawas. "The solution is we have to sit at one table with the Taliban to solve the problem."

January 10, 2010

No secret as U.S. Marines plan for Afghan assault

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Haji Zair, 45, has just been appointed the new district governor of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in the center of Afghanistan's Helmand province. His first goal is just to be able to live there


Jonathon Burch
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan
Sun Jan 10, 2010 9:34am EST

The area is still controlled by the Taliban, the last major bastion of the fighters in the southern part of Afghanistan's most violent province, and for now, Zair only enters the district by day, retreating to his home outside by nightfall.

He is counting on a huge extra force of U.S. Marines that President Barack Obama has dispatched to southern Afghanistan to change that, in what is likely to be the first big military push of Obama's new "surge" strategy.

"The Taliban cannot resist the Marines. They have crushed the Taliban all over the province," said Zair. "I hope the situation will get better and I can go and live there."

Some 10,000 U.S. Marines are already Helmand. Most arrived in the first half of last year as part of an earlier escalation ordered by Obama. Obama's latest push to turn the tide against a worsening insurgency will nearly double the Marines contingent over the next few months.

Last July, in the biggest operation of the eight-year-old war, around 4,000 Marines pushed south of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, into Taliban-controlled areas, setting up patrol bases along the way to try and secure the area.

They left one area largely untouched: Marjah, a town surrounded by a dense warren of irrigation canals.

With the new reinforcements on their way as part of Obama's 30,000-strong troop drive announced last month, the Marines' commander does not bother to keep his plans a secret.

"Well it's pretty obvious, there's only one place left: that's Marjah. I don't think its any great leap of logic to say where we're going next," said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of all the Marines in southern Afghanistan.

"We're bringing in 10,000 Marines. It's not a secret. There's only one place left in the entire area of operations where the enemy is at," he said.

Marjah is strategic, lying just west of the provincial capital. The town is surrounded by lush farmland crisscrossed by canals that water the opium poppy crop, making it a hub for the narcotics trade in central Helmand.


Taliban insurgents are thought to have sought refuge in Marjah after a U.S. Marine operation in Garmsir to the south in April 2008 scattered fighters into other areas. Militants drove out the weak police force, killing the police chief and wounding the then district governor and created a relative safe-haven.

British and Afghan forces carried out isolated offensives there, but without enough forces to hold the ground, they could not prevent the Taliban from reclaiming the area once they had left. Now with much larger numbers, the U.S. Marines plan to go into Marjah and stay there.

"We're preparing for a fight," said Nicholson. "Really the enemy has three options in Marjah."

"One is to stay and fight and probably die. The second one is to make peace with his government and reintegrate. And the third one is to try to flee, in which case we'll probably have some people out there waiting on them as well," he said.

The focus on Marjah and other towns along Helmand's "green zone" -- the lush area either side of the river -- plays into overall commander General Stanley McChrystal's new war strategy of protecting population centers and driving insurgents from towns.

Militants are still able to wage their campaign outside towns, frequently attacking smaller patrol bases and laying an increasing number of roadside bombs.

Last year was the deadliest for foreign forces in Afghanistan since the war began. More than twice as many Americans died in 2009 as in 2008, and violence has continued into this year despite the winter that normally sees a lull.

A U.S. Marine and a British journalist were killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday in the Helmand valley.

Nicholson said he hoped the influx of new troops would eventually allow him to move beyond the towns.

"I'm pretty confident that when we get the rest of our Marines in here, when we get the rest of the Afghan security forces in here and we get the rest of the British -- because the UK is building up as well -- we will have enough security forces here to get after those last pockets where the enemy's at."

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

Marines Interact With Locals in New Territory

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Laki, a village in Afghanistan, located in the southern portion of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's area of operation in the Garmsir District of Helmand province has never had a conventional coalition force visit or even walk down its streets.



Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 01.10.2010
Posted: 01.10.2010 04:18

The Marines and sailors of Weapons Company and Jump Platoon, 2/2, were the first to break this streak as they entered the village and patrolled the streets of Laki Jan. 4-7, 2010, to familiarize themselves with the local populace and to begin providing security in the area.

One such patrol began in the midmorning hours of Jan. 5, as Marines and local members of the Afghan National Army set off with the hopes of meeting with the local village elders of Laki.

Their first stop on the trip across the muddied roads and fields of Laki was at a local physician's office and pharmacy where Navy Lt. Malcolm Brown, the battalion surgeon, met with the doctor to find out what kind of medical equipment and medicine he needed.

The office was a small, white compound located down a road that connected to one of the main roads that went through the village. Surgical equipment sat on a small metal tray next to the front entrance. Off to the side, in a smaller room, the doctor and Brown sat talking to one another about the hospital, what equipment or medicine it may need, and how to get it to Laki.

"I think initially he was nervous with us being there," said Brown. "Fear of the unknown from us and the Taliban a little bit."

Along with the main doctor, the office also employed a doctor who administered injections and female nurses which allowed them to also care for female patients. Having two doctors and a few nurses enabled them to see around 50 patients a day using the provisions provided by their government.

"He seemed well equipped with the exception of not many medications," said Brown. "He seemed pretty satisfied with the process of asking the central government for funding and supplies."

After the meeting with the doctor the Marines set off across the fields of alfalfa, through tight alleyways, and one-lane roads, stopping for anyone who would stop working long enough to talk to them. They eventually ended up in an open area, surrounded by compounds, where a group of men sat drinking tea.

"We're (International Security Assistant Forces) and we're here to ensure that the Taliban are not destroying anyone's way of life," said Capt. Matthew J. Kutilek, the commanding officer of Weapons Company, as he began a short dialogue with the men.

The older men identified themselves as the village elders of Laki and discussed with Kutilek the current security situation in the area and how they could help one another with the searches of the compounds.

With respect to their culture, the elders simply asked that the Marines inform them when the searches would be done so that they could call their farmers in from the fields.

"We are happy about this," said one local elder. "There was 20 to 30 years of conflict in this area. We are happy you are here."

The short conversation brought about positive results as the Marines and elders took the chance to get to know each other.

"The elders here are very strong people with good leadership skills who have the respect of the local populace," said Kutilek. The people here do not support the Taliban. They were just under their control. They don't like the Taliban."

With the hot afternoon sun overhead, the Marines passed through more alleyways and fields and talked to farmers in the fields and groups of men meeting beside the roads.

As they continued their patrol they came across an older man sitting on the road with two of his kids. After speaking to him for a few minutes he informed the Marines of a possible improvised explosive device in the road ahead because of wire he had seen laid and buried across the road.

"We've had multiple people tell us about locations of weapons caches, IEDs, and command wire," said Kutilek. "The people here have been very helpful."

After a thorough search of the surrounding area the Marines located and gathered up the command wire but were unable to find any roadside bombs. However, it showed that the locals had a willingness to help the Marines despite being in an area where Taliban intimidation was expected.

"I believe they see the U.S. as liberators from the oppression of the cowardly foreign Taliban," said Kutilek. "I think most people here desire peace and the Taliban does not offer that; they offer instability."

With one more day done, and one more possible IED found the Marines of Weapons Company will continue to establish a relationship with the Laki locals and continue to work to provide security.

"I think we're well on our way to providing security for this area because the elders have not allowed the Taliban to have a stronghold, which is a welcome surprise," said Kutilek.

Marines, ANA Clear Laki Compounds

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Throughout Jan. 4-7, the Marines and sailors of Jump Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, rose from their dew covered sleeping bags, grabbed a meal ready to eat and prepared for a patrol.



Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 01.10.2010
Posted: 01.10.2010 02:00

There were clearing compounds within the vicinity of the village of Laki, in Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, along with, the Marines and sailors of Weapons Company, 2/2, and their counterpart Afghan National Army.

A conventional coalition force had never visited the village of Laki which meant that every compound had to be searched for any weapons or improvised explosive device making materials. They also had to talk to the owner of every compound to record their name and picture.

After they gathered up their gear, the Marines and ANA began clearing the last compounds of the section of Laki with which they were assigned.

They moved through the muddy fields and along the dirt paths in between compounds. Each haystack was checked by a Marine with a minesweeper and they left no stone unturned as they meticulously checked each compound and the surrounding areas.

Over the four days in Laki the Marines of Jump Platoon thoroughly searched 85 different compounds.

"That's a lot," said Cpl. Joseph R. Opinski, an assaultmen with Jump Platoon. "We got a rhythm down, we had the same guys sweeping, the same guys searching, the same guys interviewing and the same guys working with the ANA."

A vital aspect to their many searches was respecting the culture of the area by always having the ANA sent in first and they would also would ask the owner of the compound to have the women and children living there moved into the courtyard, out of the way, so they could search the entire compound.

"It's very important that the ANA goes first and they search the boxes so you don't touch their Koran or other materials like that," said Opinski.

Without the ANA's help, the locals of Laki may have been less receptive to the presence of the Marines, especially when it came to searching their compounds.

"It's important that we partner with the [Afghan national security forces] as much as possible," said Capt. Matthew J. Kutilek, the commanding officer of Weapons Company, 2/2. "Every patrol we sent out had ANA on it and every house we searched had ANA in it."

Through the diligent searches by both Weapons Company, Jump Platoon, and the ANA turned up a weapons cache, a few older IEDs, and random bits of suspected Taliban propaganda.

"Every day I'm more and more impressed with the performance and work ethic of Weapons Company," said Kutilek. "I'm impressed with the physical and moral courage of each and every Marine."

Sgt. Jeremy P. Shirey, a squad leader with Jump Platoon, added that there was an expectation of firefights breaking out during the searching, but that never came to fruition.

Over the past four days of searchers a relationship has been established with the locals of Laki that will hopefully help with any possible further operations in that area.

"It was good," said Opinski. "Now we know what goes on down there."

Afghan Government Leaders Join Nawa, Marjeh Citizens in Historic First Meeting

NAWA, Afghanistan – Dozens of elder men from Nawa District's Shorshorak area and the city of Marjeh took part in a historic first official meeting between Afghan people and their governmental leaders near Forward Operating Base Fiddler's Green Jan. 8.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 01.10.2010
Posted: 01.10.2010 04:01

More than 50 people attended the "shura" and some of the citizens took the opportunity to speak their minds to representatives from Nawa and Marjeh. They explained how some had not had direct interaction with their government in years in Shorshorak and at best, only saw officials campaigning through an area.

"There was a lot of pent up frustration at this shura because many of them have not seen government representatives in decades in some cases," said Maj. David J. Fennell, civil affairs detachment team leader, 4th Civil Affairs Group. "This is the most productive thing I've seen [in Shorshorak] since I've been here. The government officials had the confidence to come down here, there is security for the people, so they came here. Everything we're doing in this region keeps gaining momentum and continues to speed up. It's going well."

Marine commanders of Regimental Combat Team 7; 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment; 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment; and 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, joined the meeting to be introduced and to hear some of the concerns of Afghan citizens they protect.

"In the recent weeks, you've seen hundreds of Marines in this area," said Lt. Col. Cal L. Worth, commanding officer of 1/6, whose battalion will arrive in the Shorshorak area in coming weeks. "I am here to bring a thousand Marines and hundreds of Afghan soldiers here to improve stability in this region. We will form a team for long lasting peace here. I look forward to serving you both here and in Marjeh."

During the discussions, citizens brought up their key issues, such as security, land rights, building infrastructure and working with Marines and other NATO International Security Assistance Force units. The importance of securing Shorshorak was an issue for both parties due to Taliban influence stemming from Marjeh to their west.

"I encourage you to do this the right way and support us to rebuild a strong Afghanistan," said Haji Zahir, district governor of Marjeh, who led many of the conversations for the government representatives. "We want to make sure you keep your land. The Marines are here to help us. They are not only bringing safety and security, but they are helping with the roads, hospitals, mosques and schools."

To showcase some of the achievements after discussions ended, the group walked down the road and symbolically cut ribbons to christen two new bridges spanning waterways and a new water well pump.

"Here we are standing on this new bridge," said Zahir to the group after cutting the first ribbon. "Afghans built this bridge. It is for us. The Americans will leave here one day and it will be on us to build together for our future here and in Marjeh."

Each of the construction projects is significant to Shorshorak not only because they were needed and wanted by the people in the area, but the work was done entirely by Afghan contractors, said Fennell.

"Once the people were able to go see these completed government projects firsthand after the meeting, I think that speaks volumes to the positive impacts of future projects," said Lt. Col. Todd R. Finley, commanding officer of 3/10, whose Marines helped organize the day's events. "It also helps build people's confidence in their government."

Although some elders who attended said tension still persists between them and their government, they agreed it was a good starting point for their future.

"There are a lot of good people here who will work with Marines and the government," said one white bearded man from Shorshorak who has seen more than 30 years of conflict amongst his people. "We are happy they are building mosques and schools for our children to be engineers, doctors and teachers. We will try to help the Marines here and in Marjeh in the future."

Fennell said he and other Marines who attended the shura said they shared hope for more successful cooperation between government leaders and their constituents in this key region of Nawa.

"I think today there was some venom that needed to be spilled and it will allow future discourse between the two," said Fennell, a 36 year old Denver native. "It was bound to happen, and it's better now than later. This is a huge positive step for us to be ready to move into Marjeh."

Parents of the deployed are at war, too

It once was called "The Forgotten War," but for many North Texas residents, the conflict in Afghanistan has never been far from their minds.


Posted Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010

For some, it is so close that it propels them into their own internal war fought on a daily basis. They, too, are in the thick of the battle, from the time they awake until they lay down for another night of fitful sleep.

These are the parents of the deployed military.

I am a mother of an infantry Marine who fought in Iraq during the 2007 "surge" and in Afghanistan last year as the war was heating up again.

My son left for boot camp in 2005 with three other buddies right after their graduation from Birdville High School. There has been a certain frustration ever since that the average civilian doesn’t understand what the families of the deployed go through, regardless of how one may feel about the war in general.

While our son was deployed, a typical day began with a slightly sick, anxious feeling. Thoughts fired as rapidly as the machine gun our son might have used while we slept during his day half-way around the world: Will he be able to get to a satellite phone to call today? Is he warm enough in those tents in the mountains of southern Afghanistan? Does he have enough to eat? Is he alive? Will the Marines come to our door today?

Feet are not the first part of the body to hit the floor each morning. There is a bed-to-knees slither as parents all across this area beg God to protect their sons and daughters through another day of war. Each day’s motivation is the responsibility of praying that our child comes home safe and whole, knowing too well that all do not.

As positive and strong as parents try to be when a child is deployed, the unwelcome "what-ifs" can’t be silenced. They are the thoughts all parents of the deployed have but don’t speak aloud for fear they will take too real a shape. They are the echoes that haunt each day and zap its beauty.

When a son is on the front lines, the most exquisite cuisine loses its flavor, movies are no longer exciting, conversations of pettiness can’t be stomached, and the company of others going through the same experience is the only solace. Connections are made locally and all around the country with other parents of deployed sons. Their sons become ours.

I realized through this time that, as much as I thought no one loved their son as much as I love mine, other parents love and beg and hope just as I do. Life and plans are put on hold when a child is fighting a war. Everything exists around counting down the months, the weeks and finally, oh, finally, the days before he returns. Excitement comes only from knowing and hoping each new day brings time closer to seeing him again.

Ironically, through all of the agony, true joy is found.

When one is parched deep in a valley, the minutest source of refreshment is quenching to the soul. The phone call after 21 agonizing days of "not knowing" would cause weeping in thankfulness. Each day I rounded the corner to our home and didn’t see an unfamiliar car parked in front of the house was a great day. Little acts of kindness from strangers and friends took on a whole new perspective of gratitude.

And who has words to describe that day when parents stand eagerly waiting for their son to get off the bus? To hold him in their arms again after months of suffering the torture of the "unknown" is joy complete.

Cheryl Eager of North Richland Hills is a member of the 2010 Star-Telegram Community Columnist Panel. [email protected]

January 9, 2010

All-female teams reach out to Afghan women

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 9, 2010 9:16:34 EST

Cpl. Sara Bryant is training like an infantry Marine about to hit the front lines.

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January 8, 2010

Combat Center units leave for 31st MEU

Hundreds of Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment and their augments said goodbye to families and friends this week as they boarded buses, to begin a journey which will take them through the South Pacific as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.


1/8/2010 By Pvt. Michael T. Gams, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Also deploying from the Combat Center as supporting elements of the MEU are Kilo Battery, 3rd Bn., 11 Marines; 1st Platoon, Company D, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion; and 1st Platoon, Co. A, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

Second Bn., 7th Marines and its augments will become Battalion Landing Team 2/7, and serve as the ground combat element for the 31st MEU; a first in the regiment’s history, said Lt. Col. John Reed, the commanding officer for 2nd Bn., 7th Marines.

Reed said as part of the 31st MEU, his Marines, sailors and augments from other battalions will be forward deployed as a force in readiness and serve as the primary contingency force in the Pacific theatre.

According to the Commander’s Message on the MEU’s official Web site, they are slated to make stops in Thailand, Singapore and the Republic of the Philippines.

Reed said the MEU will work with partner nations in training exercises throughout the six-month deployment and serve as a rapid response force in the Pacific.

The MEU will work with Marines from Thailand during Exercise Cobra Gold, and then with Marines from the Republic of the Philippines in Exercise Balikatan.

The units faced distinctive challenges preparing for the amphibious deployment, namely adjusting to a new environment.

“Training for an amphibious deployment while stationed in the desert posed logistical problems as there was no water in which to train,” said Reed. “We overcame this by traveling to [Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.] and to [Coronado, Calif.] to do training which required water.”

Training in the desert did have its advantages and opportunities, mainly in the form of the kinetic, live-fire ranges which dominate the Combat Center’s landscape, he added.

Many of the Marines and sailors deploying from the Combat Center said they were looking forward to getting the opportunity to deploy and see other parts of the world.

“I’m really excited to go,” said Lance Cpl. Sam Engebose, an artillery mechanic with Battery K, 3rd Bn., 11th Marines, from Lake Oswego, Ore., who has never deployed before. “I want to see other cultures in other parts of the world – I can’t wait.”

“It is an absolute privilege to be deployed as an amphibious force,” Reed said. “Given the history and traditions of the Marine Corps, it’s an honor.”

Afghan Soldiers Learn Infantry Basics From Marines

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The soldier's fingers gingerly curl around the hand guards of his brand new M-16A2 rifle, Jan. 5, at a Marine Corps range here in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Pushing the weapon into his shoulder and pressing his cheek against the buttstock he takes aim. The rows of wrinkles which span his haggard face seem to lengthen as he concentrates on the green target downrange. When he slowly, steadily squeezes the trigger, it marks the third time that he's fired his rifle.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Date: 01.08.2010
Posted: 01.08.2010 02:59

However, for all the time and care he took, he braced for recoil as he fired and his shot went wildly high, clipping the wood frame that held the target, missing it entirely. He still has much to learn and little time to do it, but he is not alone. To his left and right, fellow Afghan National Army soldiers stood along the firing line, and behind each group of three was a Marine noncommissioned officer and an Afghan Army sergeant who watched their progress and helped direct them back on target.

Through the course of the day and on to the next, Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers went through the basics of infantry tactics. They covered combat marksmanship and squad attacks. Additionally the Afghan National Army soldiers equipped with rocket propelled grenade launchers and M-203 grenade launchers, ran through ranges for their respective weapons.

"The purpose of this training is to let them become familiar with their weapons," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Vallejo Jr., a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and the senior training advisor for the company's Afghan National Army soldiers. "During their boot camp they only fired their rifles once. They haven't done training like this. We'll be teaching them our tactics and procedures and hold them to the same standards that we hold Marines to."

Over the course of the next week the soldiers will begin to train with their Marine counterparts at the platoon level, but time is an obstacle that hangs over their heads each day, explained Vallejo, who worked with Afghan national security forces on his previous deployment.

"It hit home yesterday," said Vallejo, "Marines have two months of weapons handling before they ever fire their weapons. These guys have had six days since they got their rifles. It's a slow and tedious process, but they are learning."

Speaking through an interpreter one of the Marines demonstrated the course of fire and proper weapons carriage to an Afghan soldier. Nodding, he sighted in again and received a thumbs up from his coach, who stepped back and took his place next to one of the Afghan army sergeants.

"Marine Corps recruits get more time by far," Vallejo said, as he glanced over at another Marine. "These guys have a fraction of that time, but they're making progress because these Marines are on them."

Beyond teaching the basics of marksmanship and small unit tactics, the training served another purpose. The Afghan Army NCOs worked with their Marine counterparts during the training in order to develop skills as small unit leaders.

"Having the Afghan army sergeants out here being safety officers and overseeing the range makes a large difference," Vallejo said. "We've seen them stepping up, correcting themselves. The enlisted side is getting there. We're all looking forward to integrating them during training and operations, so they can see how our NCOs work with junior Marines."

Standing on line next to his soldiers, Sgt. Aziz Ullah, one of the Afghan National Army soldiers attached to Alpha Company, took aim with his rifle, fired two rounds into the chest of his target and one to its head, and received nods of approval from the men in his squad.

"Today is going much better," Ullah said, while speaking through an interpreter. "It's becoming more interesting and it is a great moment to be working with Marines – helping one another. It's our pleasure to be a part of that. To learn and train so that we can clear the area and bring peace to Afghanistan."

The following day Afghan National Army soldiers conducted drills without live rounds for hours before moving on to a live fire squad attack course. Before they began, the Marines tasked with training them ran through the course themselves.

Moving among the ranks of his platoon, Staff Sgt. Gulwazir Harin, an Afghan National Army soldier who has worked with ISAF forces before during his six years in service, spoke to his men to explain what the Marines are doing, so the Afghan army soldiers can emulate it when it's their turn.

"We train and brief based on how Marines fight and mentally prepare ourselves for the task ahead," said Harin through an interpreter. "I volunteered for this and am ready. I want to be with Marines on all missions."

"I love the Afghan National Army, and am glad to face any challenge," said Harin, who has a 10 day old son that he has yet to meet. "People were proud when I enlisted. I became an Afghan National Army soldier on my behalf, to serve my country."

January 7, 2010

Overseas military will have to register again to get ballots this year

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes online edition, Thursday, January 7, 201

WASHINGTON — Military members serving overseas will have to resubmit their voter registration this year if they hope to cast a ballot in the November midterm elections.

To continue reading:


6 tons of illegal drugs seized in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Jan 7, 2010 13:34:03 EST

Marines and Afghan border police recently seized more than six tons of illegal drugs during operations in southern Afghanistan.

To read the entire article:


January 6, 2010

Countering the Insurgency With Band-aids Instead of Bullets

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Recently during Operation Cobra's Anger, a multi-day operation led by Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, to rid the Now Zad area of Taliban control, members of the company's severe trauma platoon extended an invitation to members of the battalion's civil affairs group to take cover from the rain in their mobile severe trauma bay.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 01.06.2010
Posted: 01.06.2010 07:33

Within the security and warmth of the STB the members of the two parties began talking about the day's events.

"We started talking about stuff on the battle front," said Cmdr. Tom Craig, the officer-in-charge of the emergency medical facility, Severe Trauma Platoon 3. "What CAG said was that there were a lot of females that needed to voice complaints and that if we could get a female in the battle zone to talk to these people, we could probably help a lot of folks."

CAG's observation about the female population was correct. In the Now Zad area medical treatment is scarce, often out of reach and varies in level from town to town.

Memories of Taliban repression still cause women to second guess leaving their home in search of help. For any type of surgical treatment, women must travel many miles to Lashkar Gah, where they receive no post-operational care and due to cultural practices women in the area are often uncomfortable seeking treatment from men.

"There is no doctor in the villages of [Khwaja Jamal], Changwalak, and Dehanna that the women feel comfortable going to," said Lt. Amy Zaycek, the severe trauma platoon nurse with the FCT.

The end result of this scarcity, fear, long distance and potential embarrassment is the women of the Now Zad suffering unnecessarily.

It is because of this reason, upon returning to his forward operating base, Craig relayed this message to his command at Combat Logistics Regiment 2 and requested female support at his position.

The response to this request was the Female Corpsman Team an all female medical team consisting of a nurse and three corpsmen.

"I was on a twelve-hour notice," said Zaycek. "Cobra's Anger had ended, people were coming to the villages, and from what Dr. Craig had gauged, female medical care was needed."

In the wake of Cobra's Anger the team visited surrounding areas, including the village of Changwalak, which reflected how valuable it was to have female medical personnel on hand.

"We saw approximately 40 patients there; 27 women and 13 children," said Zaycek a native of Wall, N.J. "Something to gain from that, was that I was told we were seeing women, but the women brought their children. So, that was an unusual circumstance. In addition, it's something that's never gone on before."

The FCT eventually had to move on to different operations but recently returned to Now Zad on Jan.3 to assist members of the Female Engagement Team, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan to further the process of treating, educating and engaging the women of Now Zad.

"The FET is really riding shotgun on this but they only have one female corpsman with them so that is why we requested more help," said Craig from Chesapeake, Va. "Of course seeing how Zaycek and her team were tried and true in the past, the command element picked them."

Based on the teams last visit to the area the FCT will be confronted with numerous medical conditions ranging from dehydration, to joint and dysentery problems.

Another area the FCT is tackling is creating instructions for FET members on how to educate Afghan women about basic hygiene principles.

Ideas include creating a flip book for FET members which will include instructions on how to teach dental hygiene, hand washing, the importance of three meals a day and practices that will prevent clean water from becoming contaminated.

FCT members are also helping with the effort to re-establish those medical teaching aids which were once in place in Now Zad.

"Right outside the wire there is a public health area and we were able to find scrolls that had been used four or five years ago as teaching aids," said Zaycek. "The [medical] education was here in this country. It needs to just come back."

Basic medical assistance is not the only the service the FCT provides. While Now Zad's male population is forthcoming about their physical medical concerns, the area's female population has shown an anxiety about emotional concerns. FET and FCT members have shown the ability to provide the female population an emotional outlet where they can voice mental issues and concerns.

"What [the FCT] has been able to provide is really, truly an open door. When we've gone out into the villages to see people, [the female population] tend to open up to the female providers," said Craig. "When I looked at the list of complaints that the females were providing to the [FCT] it was fear of Taliban, fear that my son is going to be brought into the Taliban, fear for my family, fear for my home. A lot of fear components which the guys don't say at all."

Another secondary effect of the FCT is giving female medical personnel valuable field experience and knowledge, through working with the FET, which can be passed to others.

"It's a good opportunity. A lot of corpsman will never get to come here and will never get to experience this," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Latese Smith, a hospital corpsman with FCT from Chicago, Ill. "I'm looking forward to teaching [the women] to better take care of themselves and their families."

"We'll take all our lessons learned, our knowledge gained, and give it to [other corpsman]." said Zaycek. "The plan is to train up other corpsman and nurses so they feel comfortable doing these missions in different locations"

While smaller than most units operating in the Now Zad area, the FCT is showing size doesn't matter. It's not just the impact they are having on the insurgency but the means they are using to make that impact. They are fighting the insurgency with knowledge and band-aids. Not bullets.

In recent weeks the mood in Now Zad has changed from one of constant tension to one of reconstruction. The area still presents challenges and dangers to both civilians and military forces but the positive results that Afghan national security forces, Lima Co., the FET and FCT have made are undeniable.

"It touched my heart while we were out in Dehanna seeing the kids come up us." said the 51-year-old Craig. "Knowing that they're actually coming to us, trusting us without fear of retribution from the Taliban, lets me know that's a blow for freedom,"

Afghan Soldiers Stand With Marine Counterparts

CAMP DWYER, Helmand province Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – It's mid-afternoon on New Year's Day, and a sea of men in green, brown and black camouflage uniforms shuffle awkwardly inside the crowded beige tent. Men with thick black beards and hard faces sit next to clean shaven youths with full smiles. Each one wears the uniform of their nation's military, and each one carries a weapon. They comprise the full company of Afghan national army soldiers, fresh out of boot camp, that has arrived at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, and is being integrated directly into Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Date: 01.06.2010
Posted: 01.06.2010 04:19

Olive colored cots are lined up and used as benches for the Afghan soldiers during their welcoming brief, and Alpha Company, Marines, form a ring around the edge of the tent. Pairing the soldiers of a host nation with coalition forces is not a new practice; this time however, the soldiers will be integrated with Marines at the smallest operating level. Each infantry company will nearly double in size, which means that Afghan soldiers and Marines will be working side by side.

"We've never worked this extensively with the [Afghan national army] before," said Sgt. Neil Terranova, a squad leader with Alpha Company, 1/6.

Integrating the forces is designed to build up the strength of the Afghan national army through mentoring and joint operations. It will start at the company level and move down, all the way through the platoons and on to the fire teams, explained Terranova, who is on his third deployment to Afghanistan and was one of the Marines who flew to the Kabul, Afghanistan, to pick up the first group of soldiers.

Saying he was, at first, reluctant to take part in the training, Terranova explained that he came around when he thought farther down the road and about the outcome of the war and the toll it could take on future generations. "I have a son and I don't want him coming back here in 20 years. If we do this right and they do it right, we might not have to come back."

The development of the Afghan national army's non-commissioned officers is the primary focus of the training and mentoring. To this end, Marine NCOs will be working closely with their Afghan counterparts in the hope of developing their small unit leadership, said Sgt. Ryan White the assault section leader with Alpha Company, 1/6.

"We'll be mentoring them on the fly, giving a crash course in basic Marine infantry training," White explained. "The goal is to see them grow and develop, see them stand on their own and defend their country for themselves."

"Integrating the companies directly allows for information to be passed quickly since the two companies will be set up like mirror images of one another; with each platoon down to the squads and fire teams being paired with their Marine or Afghan counterpart," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Vallejo Jr., a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1/6, and one of the Marines that is in charge of training the Afghan army soldiers attached to the company.

"The NCOs are our main focus. All the [Afghan national army soldiers] graduated in the same class and the most mature became their sergeants," said Vallejo, who is on his second deployment to Afghanistan and has worked with the Afghan national security forces before. "We'll be starting with basic individual tasks, like weapons handling and cleaning, before moving on to team level training where we'll be giving the NCOs more leadership and responsibility."

Vallejo explained that to make the effort successful, they'll have to overcome their largest obstacle, which is neither language nor culture, but time.

"What we put into it is what we'll get out of it," Vallejo said. "This puts an Afghan face on everything that we're doing here. If they can grasp just a piece of what we're teaching we'll be successful. Personally, I feel we should give full respect and trust from the get-go. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's all about respect and getting to know them, their families, and who they are."

As the Afghan soldiers listened to Lt. Col. Calvert Worth Jr., the battalion commander for 1/6, speak through an interpreter and welcome them in, soldiers who had slumped on cots or leaned against the buttstocks of their weapons sat a little straighter, and their platoon commanders and sergeants stood at parade rest among their counterparts in Alpha Company.

"The main goal is getting these guys to take responsibility for their country," Vallejo said. "They want to do this. They want to be a part of this and want to get out of it the same things that we want – to have it be Afghan driven."

Afghan girls flourish in new school

Marines rebuild a chance to learn

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan | Zarmina and Sharifa have very big dreams for very little girls.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010
By Richard Tomkins

One of the sisters from the Now Zad district of Helmand province wants to be a teacher; the other wants to be a doctor. And thats understandable. Both saw their first teacher and doctor only recently, and neither had ever imagined before then any kind of life beyond farming, child-rearing, cooking and menial labor.

"Our mother and father told us to come," said Zarmina, who thinks she is about 11 years old. "We didnt go to school before, because there was no school.

"We like this. We are learning things. Its safe, and were not afraid to come here," she said.

The two are among the 100 to 200 children attending classes every day in a school started in an abandoned building by U.S. Marines and their interpreters after Taliban gunmen were expelled from the town in early December.

On the first day, only about 80 children showed up. Five of them were girls, whom the Taliban had forbidden to get an education. On the second day, attendance was nearly 200 children younger than 13 and just two girls. Now the number, although it fluctuates each day, averages more than 100 boys and 20 girls who walk to class from villages as far as four miles away.

"It was chaos on the first day," said Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who handles female engagement for the civil affairs team working with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. "The building was packed with yelling and talking kids. So the first day was instilling discipline and order."

She added, "They are all excited about learning to read and write, and many want to learn English also."

The classroom at Now Zads school is just a large room in what was once the district government center on the edge of town. The school has no chairs for the children, just frayed rugs on the damp and dusty concrete floor. It has no lighting or heat.

The children are divided into four groups. The girls make up their own group in one corner of the building.

"We divided it because we only have four teachers," said Mansur, the newly hired school principal. "The girls are separate because in our culture, we dont do coed activities." Mansur, like many other people in this northern area of Helmand province, uses only a single name.

Mansur said children are taught first-grade-level reading, writing and arithmetic, but he hopes that in time theyll be able to complete lessons up to a fourth-grade level. The few books that the school has came from the United Nations via the Marines. The Marines, with the help of troops' care packages from the United States, provide supplies such as pencils and notebooks as well as bags filled with games and candy.

Teddy bears and other stuffed animals sent to troops from U.S. schoolchildren were given to Zarmina, Sharifa and other girls.

Basic toiletries such as soap, toothbrushes and skin moisturizer are periodically sent home with the children as well.

The Marines interpreters taught the classes at first. Within two weeks, however, four men in the district with teaching experience were located, were convinced that Now Zad was safe and were hired at $6 per day.

"There was no school in Now Zad for four years," Mansur said. "There was no school because there werent even humans here." Now Zad, Helmands second-largest town, was deserted from 2006 until last month. British troops, and later Americans, held an outpost on one edge of town while an estimated 100 to 200 Taliban gunmen at any given time controlled all surrounding areas, U.S. Marines said. Now Zads residential neighborhoods and bazaars were abandoned by Taliban decree, and people moved to surrounding villages.

Since the Marines retook the town in Operation Cobras Anger, people are returning, albeit slowly. The Taliban booby-trapped many homes and seeded improvised explosive devices throughout the area. Although resettlement progress will be slow, Now Zads school is now the fixture in many lives.

According to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, an estimated 63 percent of rural Afghan men and 90 percent of rural Afghan women are illiterate. In Now Zad, those illiterates are sending their children to school in defiance of threats from Taliban operatives.

January 5, 2010

VMGR-352 Raiders Transport Troops, Cargo for MEB-Afghanistan

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan — For the Marines in Afghanistan, the need for ammunition, fuel, water and other supplies is constant. But unlike in Iraq, most supplies need to be airlifted throughout the country due to fewer secure ground transportation routes.


1/5/2010 By Lance Cpl. Samuel A. Nasso, Marine Aircraft Group 40

The Marines of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, provide the needed air transportation using KC-130J Hercules aircraft to transport cargo all around Afghanistan to give the troops what they need.
But in addition to regular Hercules flights transporting troops or pallets of supplies from one installation to the next, VMGR-352 accomplishes a host of other missions.

"We conduct battlefield illumination, rapid ground refueling, command and control missions, obviously transport troops and supplies, and also fixed-wing aerial refueling," said 1st Lt. Jon Baker, a co-pilot with VMGR-352.

The commanding officer of Marine Attack Squadron 231 and Marine site commander for Kandahar Airfield, Lt. Col. Robert Forrest, agrees.

"With the aerial refueling keeping us in the fight longer, the movement of parts, supplies and logistics, they are indispensible," said Forrest.

The establishment of Camp Leatherneck and other built-up operating bases has increased the need for VMGR-352. A two-hour trip by air saves a great deal of time compared to a ground convoy that can take more than a day to complete.

"The performance of our Marines has been outstanding - our KC-130J's have to be pretty darn close to setting records for the amounts of flights and cargo they've been transporting, and that is with the bare minimum crew," said Master Sgt. Robert Hull, the staff-noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the detachment.

The Raiders of VMGR-352 are at the forefront of that aviation effort, transporting nearly 8 million pounds of cargo and more than 16,000 troops in less than three months.

"We are constantly flying out here at a high-tempo pace and it is challenging," said Baker. "We're landing on small runways, and it's very expeditionary."

The number of flights in and out of Kandahar varies every day, but frequent flights require an adequate amount of maintenance.

"The maintenance guys are the big piece of the puzzle and they really make it happen," said Baker.

Sgt. Caesar Macapagal, an avionics technician, knows firsthand how much work is required to keep the aircraft in the air and takes a lot of pride in coming in to work every day.

"Even though we don't see where the supplies go or who we transport, the Marines and I working on the planes know the work we do keeps the planes in the air supporting the Marines who need it," said Macapagal. "That, in itself, is the most rewarding part of being in Afghanistan, and that is why I extended to be here."

The Raiders arrived here in April from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and are a split-detachment, with the Sumos of VMGR-152 from MCAS Iwakuni making up the other half of the detachment. Both parent commands continue to send Marines here in a rotation and ultimately will increase the detachment from 80 Marines to approximately 140 over the next few months.
Hull said the squadron has been efficient and, like every other unit, deals with the ups and downs of being deployed.

"The integration of two units has probably been the biggest challenge, but even that has gone smooth," said Hull.

MACG-28 Marines Overcome Challenges, Provide Aerial Surveillance for MEB Commanders

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — More than a month ago, Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, took control of the airspace over the MEB's area of operations from their United Kingdom counterparts.


1/5/2010 By Staff Sgt. Roman Yurek, Marine Aircraft Group 40

Marines with the Tactical Air Operations Center, Marine Air Control Squadron 2 Detachment, Marine Air Control Group 28, had numerous challenges to overcome in order to set-up the center and transition controllers.

One of the first challenges the team had to overcome was finding a way to get the Marines accustomed to the airspace with which they would be working, even though the TAOC site was not yet ready for them to move in to.

Most of the Marines and equipment arrived here in late September, but the site they were scheduled to use was not ready, according to Master Sgt. Michael Reidy, the detachment chief. The area was an expansion of Camp Leatherneck that was not yet completed.

As the Marines waited to set up the center, move in to the new real estate and conduct turnover with their UK counterparts, they put together a temporary site that would allow their controllers to listen to air traffic. They also linked their computer system with the UK's to be able to physically see the airspace. Additionally, they sent Marines over to the UK site to observe how operations were being conducted.

"Instantly, we saw this was more robust than Iraq," said Capt. Michael Pruden, the detachment commander. "There are numerous joint aircraft, to include French, Belgian and Russian."

The observation time with the UK jump started the center's abilities once their location was completed and all their assets were in place. It took every Marine to get the center up and running, to include putting up barrier walls around the compound.

Time spent with the UK air controllers gave the Marines a solid picture of what they would be doing in Afghanistan. Now with the TAOC set up and being run by Marines, it has provided all the commanders of MEB-Afghanistan with surveillance of the airspace, said Pruden.

This allows everyone, from the MEB-Afghanistan commanding general down to the infantry commanders to see what aircraft are in the area, who they are and where they are going.

"I am very proud and pleased with the outstanding job these Marines have done," said Pruden. "I believe we will continue to provide a better service to both aircraft and the troops on the ground."

January 4, 2010

Marines Help Develop Afghan Security Force Discipline

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The shooter, one of many Afghans who have joined the Afghan national security forces, prepares himself as he's been taught. He bends at the knees, torso square to his target, elbows squeezed tight against his body. The grimace on his face shows discomfort, a sign he's positioning himself correctly. He isn't supposed to feel comfortable.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 01.04.2010
Posted: 01.04.2010 07:06

The command comes from the line.


The shooter squeezes off two shots in the direction of the green silhouette down range. The command comes again and two more shots ring out. The process continues two more times.

When the shooter approaches his target the disappointment is clear and he mumbles to himself. The shots are low and did not strike within the circle, which represents a potentially fatal wound. The comrade next to him points at his own target where the shots are also low but near or within the circle's circumference.

The accuracy of the shooter's comrade only frustrates the shooter more.

When one of his instructors, Sgt. Tyler Brown, approaches the shooter's target, he's silent, but when he addresses the shooter he points out the shooter's shots are low, but in a tight group.

Brown explains the shooter is already improving from minutes earlier, when his shots merely peppered his target, and with a little work, the tight group can be raised so the shooter hits his intended target dead center.

"The majority of them have progressed very well," said 1st Lt. Christopher M. Doty, a platoon commander with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and liaison to the ANSF. "They've gone from not being able to do anything in the prone position to being able to shoot controlled pairs within a diameter of 10 inches."

For weeks Marines like Doty and Brown, from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, have partnered with ANSF members to help educate Afghan troops on basic combat marksmanship fundamentals.

"Since we are working alongside [the Afghan national security forces] they have to be as effective at engaging a target as we do," said the 25-year-old Brown. "They're training should be valued just as much as any Marine's or soldier's [training] in Afghanistan."

ANSF soldiers are taught zeroing techniques, work on engaging targets at increasing distances, practice shooting hammered pairs, and conduct failure-to-stop drills.

While the communication barrier and learning techniques make the marksmanship program here a sometimes slow and frustrating process the Marines have not been deterred and use the course not only to instruct on shooting but to teach professional soldiery.

"The whole idea of the marksmanship program was to increase the proficiency of the Afghan soldiers," said Doty a native of Longwood, Fla. "Marksmanship ties into being an infantryman. So it ties into how you conduct yourself, what your appearance is, how you look on patrol and how the [Afghan] people view their soldiers."

One of the key things Doty and others focus on when teaching professionalism, is teaching the ANSF non-commissioned officers how to act, obedience to orders and other basic military disciplines.

"[Marksmanship] ties into how you wear your gear, weapons maintenance and gear maintenance, and that all ties into discipline," Doty said.

The Marines have already seen such discipline in ANSF members with whom they are currently working.

"They're maintaining their weapons, their maintaining their gear and their fundamentals of marksmanship," said Brown from Lebanon, Mo.

Although being able to accurately engage a target is important, the affect of ANSF members engaging in professional soldiery may prove more significant in securing the Now Zad area.

"I would say the discipline is more important than their marksmanship ability," said 25-year-old Doty. "If they can shoot someone from 300 meters away, awesome, however if they aren't disciplined and treat the citizens here with less respect then they deserve that's going to lead to secondary and tertiary affects which will be negative."

With ANSF members acting as more than just foot soldiers but as representatives of the Afghan government, the need for discipline and professionalism is extremely vital to the country's stability.

"[The Afghan people] see the [Afghan national police] and [Afghan national army] as instruments of the government of Afghanistan," said Doty. "So I always tell [the ANSF] the way the public perceives you is how they are going to start respecting the government."

Amongst the ANSF, bearing of the country's flag over vehicles and command posts is a common sight, however the banner is seldom seen flying over homes in the Now Zad area.

As 3/4 continues to build professionalism amongst the ANSF, it is hoped the flag will soon represent not just ANSF proficiency but the proficiency of the government.

Until then, Marines like Doty and Brown, and ANSF members, will continue their efforts to improve the Now Zad area one shot at a time.

Marines back on base thanks to USO

Group picks those on leave up from airport
Palm Springs International Airport terminal Sunday was lined with government-issue duffel bags and teeming with young Marines.


Victor Morales • The Desert Sun • January 4, 2010

Hundreds on leave were returning from hometowns like San Antonio, Naylor, Mo., and Lancaster County, Penn., to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.

Many of them got a ride back to the high desert base courtesy of the city of Beaumont.

The Palm Springs USO at the airport registered 248 Marines on Sunday and 200 more on Saturday, USO volunteer Dick Casey said. Twelve volunteers manned the USO from 5 a.m. to midnight during the weekend, Casey said.

In a 24-hour period about 350 Marines were ferried back to the base, said Erica Stone, the founder of the SOS organization that provides free rides for Marines from the airport to Twentynine Palms.

“It's like a godsend,” said Marine Ed Tisdal, 21, who was returning from Dallas.

A 40-passenger Beaumont city bus picked up some of the Marines Sunday night. It was donated by Beaumont Mayor Jeff Fox, said Beaumont Traffic Manager Jerry Triolo, who was at the airport Sunday night.

Stone said a 15-passenger van donated by Aztec Rental Car of Palm Springs had been running nonstop for three days and that 42 volunteers in their own vehicles drove Marines to Twentynine Palms.

“This is the way it is. It's amazing, I just got 20 more guys that flew in,” Stone said about 9 p.m. Sunday with a voice raspy from coordinating rides. “This is the way holidays are.”

Marines coaxing residents back to Helmand ghost town

Now Zad was a bustling city, the second largest in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, before Taliban fighters moved in and made it a stronghold several years ago. Now it is largely abandoned.


By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010

Capt. Andrew Terrell and his Marine Corps company have been charged with coaxing Now Zad back to life. The operation is part of a strategy to use the influx of U.S. troops ordered by President Obama to increase security in Afghan population centers and drive insurgents out.

Terrell and his company from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment pushed into Now Zad in a major operation launched early last month, curtailing Taliban attacks and seizing explosives and other materials for hundreds of bombs.

"This is the most heavily IED'ed city in all of Afghanistan," said Terrell, referring to the bombs known as improvised explosive devices that are planted everywhere in Now Zad. With his troops facing only sporadic Taliban small-arms fire on the northern outskirts of Now Zad, Terrell's main job is to clear out the bombs and encourage Afghan civilians to move back in.

Last month, when Washington stores were packed with Christmas shoppers, Terrell was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first bargain-hunters at a newly reopened bazaar in Now Zad.

"I had a produce shop open today," he said by satellite phone on Christmas Eve from Now Zad, where scores of his men are encamped in tents on dusty outposts.

"This was the first day we had people coming to buy things," said Terrell, a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who graduated from Virginia Tech with a geography degree in 2002.

In the bazaar, which begins just beyond the east wall of the Marine camp, Terrell is using U.S. commanders' emergency funds to pay about 300 to 450 Afghans $5 per person each day to clean up shops under a cash-for-works project. In all, 600 to 1,000 people are visiting the bazaar each day, he said. Other Afghans are working under the program to repair an underground irrigation system to get water back into fields and orchards where apples and pomegranates once grew.

Terrell said he hopes residents will begin to return soon. "No one is living in the town yet, but a lot are repairing their houses," he said, adding that about 50 families are expected to move in this month.

After the Marines made sure the town's school was not rigged with bombs, classes began, and more than 100 Afghan children are attending each day, Terrell said.

Col. Randy Newman, who is overseeing the operation as commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team 7, said that many Afghans displaced from Now Zad are living in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and smaller surrounding villages. "We are assured by our Afghan partners that people want to go back," Newman said in an interview last month.

A new district governor for Now Zad recently moved into the Marine compound with Terrell, and about 100 Afghan soldiers and 50 police officers who patrol with the Marines are living nearby. The last company that served in Now Zad suffered high casualties, but Terrell's company has not lost any Marines. In one encouraging sign, some Afghan civilians in the vicinity have started tipping the Marines off to planted bombs, Terrell said.

"Their trust in us is our security," he said.

Karzai, McChrystal visit citizens, Marines in Nawa

NAWA, Helmand province, Afghanistan — Dozens of Nawa citizens lined the district center’s main street in the rain to see President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai during his visit here Jan. 2.


1/4/2010 By Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, Regimental Combat Team 7

Karzai was joined by Mohammed G. Mangal, Helmand provincial governor, and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of NATO International Security Assistance Force and US Forces Afghanistan, to meet with citizens, district government officials, Afghan security forces and US Marines.

After arriving by helicopter, Karzai reviewed a formation of newly-graduated police officers wearing their grey wool dress uniforms, and took time to shake each officer’s hand thanking them for their service to their country and people.
He then entered a mosque and spoke to about 100 citizens there about the successes earned throughout the Nawa district and the bright future for the area.

Karzai then took to the streets of the Nawa district center with his entourage to meet with people on the street, entering storefronts along the marketplace and talking to citizens as he went. He even took time to stop for tea with Mangal and McChrystal at one store and listened to comments and concerns from local elders.

After he finished his tea, Karzai presented small gifts in front of the surrounding crowd to the chief of police, district governor and Brig. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan.

“It’s a great honor – it’s not often that the president of a country presents you anything,” said Nicholson, whose command includes 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, currently and serving in Nawa. “I’m very proud and honored, but I can only accept this on behalf of all of the Marines who have contributed to the success in Nawa.”

Once his tour of the market was finished, Karzai met privately with about 25 of Nawa’s community council leaders at the office of the district governor nearby to discuss their agenda.

“He told us he is very glad to be here,” said Haji Hayatullah, deputy of the Nawa district security subcommittee, of Karzai’s comments to the council. “The president said he was very happy with the Marines and how they’ve brought peace and security here.”

As Karzai spoke, McChrystal met with Marines of 1/3 and MEB-Afghanistan waiting outside of the office.

“For me, this visit is important because I get to see the Marines here and see the partnership between the Afghan security forces and coalition forces – in this case the Marines – who I’m very proud of,” said McChrystal. “It’s the synergy and partnership which matters here at the end of the day that to me defines success.

“It’s very important to the president to be able to come here and speak to his people, and to see the forces here in Nawa,” said McChrystal. “Not just the police and security forces, but the government forces as well. We’ve certainly seen a stunning change in the situation here in Nawa. Six months ago, you could not have done this here, but we can do it now. Six months from now, we will be able to do this in places we can’t do it today.”

Marines Help Develop Afghan Security Force Discipline

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The shooter, one of many Afghans who have joined the Afghan national security forces, prepares himself as he's been taught. He bends at the knees, torso square to his target, elbows squeezed tight against his body. The grimace on his face shows discomfort, a sign he's positioning himself correctly. He isn't supposed to feel comfortable.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 01.04.2010
Posted: 01.04.2010 07:06

The command comes from the line.


The shooter squeezes off two shots in the direction of the green silhouette down range. The command comes again and two more shots ring out. The process continues two more times.

When the shooter approaches his target the disappointment is clear and he mumbles to himself. The shots are low and did not strike within the circle, which represents a potentially fatal wound. The comrade next to him points at his own target where the shots are also low but near or within the circle's circumference.

The accuracy of the shooter's comrade only frustrates the shooter more.

When one of his instructors, Sgt. Tyler Brown, approaches the shooter's target, he's silent, but when he addresses the shooter he points out the shooter's shots are low, but in a tight group.

Brown explains the shooter is already improving from minutes earlier, when his shots merely peppered his target, and with a little work, the tight group can be raised so the shooter hits his intended target dead center.

"The majority of them have progressed very well," said 1st Lt. Christopher M. Doty, a platoon commander with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and liaison to the ANSF. "They've gone from not being able to do anything in the prone position to being able to shoot controlled pairs within a diameter of 10 inches."

For weeks Marines like Doty and Brown, from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, have partnered with ANSF members to help educate Afghan troops on basic combat marksmanship fundamentals.

"Since we are working alongside [the Afghan national security forces] they have to be as effective at engaging a target as we do," said the 25-year-old Brown. "They're training should be valued just as much as any Marine's or soldier's [training] in Afghanistan."

ANSF soldiers are taught zeroing techniques, work on engaging targets at increasing distances, practice shooting hammered pairs, and conduct failure-to-stop drills.

While the communication barrier and learning techniques make the marksmanship program here a sometimes slow and frustrating process the Marines have not been deterred and use the course not only to instruct on shooting but to teach professional soldiery.

"The whole idea of the marksmanship program was to increase the proficiency of the Afghan soldiers," said Doty a native of Longwood, Fla. "Marksmanship ties into being an infantryman. So it ties into how you conduct yourself, what your appearance is, how you look on patrol and how the [Afghan] people view their soldiers."

One of the key things Doty and others focus on when teaching professionalism, is teaching the ANSF non-commissioned officers how to act, obedience to orders and other basic military disciplines.

"[Marksmanship] ties into how you wear your gear, weapons maintenance and gear maintenance, and that all ties into discipline," Doty said.

The Marines have already seen such discipline in ANSF members with whom they are currently working.

"They're maintaining their weapons, their maintaining their gear and their fundamentals of marksmanship," said Brown from Lebanon, Mo.

Although being able to accurately engage a target is important, the affect of ANSF members engaging in professional soldiery may prove more significant in securing the Now Zad area.

"I would say the discipline is more important than their marksmanship ability," said 25-year-old Doty. "If they can shoot someone from 300 meters away, awesome, however if they aren't disciplined and treat the citizens here with less respect then they deserve that's going to lead to secondary and tertiary affects which will be negative."

With ANSF members acting as more than just foot soldiers but as representatives of the Afghan government, the need for discipline and professionalism is extremely vital to the country's stability.

"[The Afghan people] see the [Afghan national police] and [Afghan national army] as instruments of the government of Afghanistan," said Doty. "So I always tell [the ANSF] the way the public perceives you is how they are going to start respecting the government."

Amongst the ANSF, bearing of the country's flag over vehicles and command posts is a common sight, however the banner is seldom seen flying over homes in the Now Zad area.

As 3/4 continues to build professionalism amongst the ANSF, it is hoped the flag will soon represent not just ANSF proficiency but the proficiency of the government.

Until then, Marines like Doty and Brown, and ANSF members, will continue their efforts to improve the Now Zad area one shot at a time.

6 tons of illegal drugs seized in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Monday Jan 4, 2010 17:02:04 EST

Marines and Afghan border police recently seized more than six tons of illegal drugs during operations in southern Afghanistan.

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Deployed U.S. Marines Focus on Target Identification

20:17 GMT, January 4, 2010 CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan | Adjusting his body armor, a designated marksman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, tracked the progress of a patrol of Marines from his perch atop a rocky hillside. The marksman followed the line of tan figures as they plodded along toward the platoon attack course at Range 3 here Jan. 2.


Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James W. Clark

The patrol rounded a bend and approached a cluster of barriers that represented the first set of houses the Marines would encounter. After a brief sputter of chatter across the radio, the patrol separated into squads, then further into four-man fire teams. Each element pushed toward a predetermined objective, but also had to remain cognizant of the situation as it developed and targets were identified.

As the patrol neared the houses and responded to simulated enemy fire, the Marines had to determine which targets were hostile and which were friendly as they prepared to return fire.

The exercise simulated a patrol taking on an enemy position without the use of indirect fire, due to the risk of indirect fire causing civilian casualties. This forced the Marines to rely on accurate small-arms fire, explained Marine Corps 1st Lt. Mark A. Greenlief, the company’s executive officer. The purpose of the training exercise is to further develop the Marines' ability to quickly acquire enemy targets and engage them, while minimizing the risk to civilians, he said.

"Coordination is essential at the individual Marine level, and all the way up,” Greenleif said. “The goal is to teach that the kinetic solution isn't always the best one."

As the Marines moved through the course, they came across silhouettes marked by different colors meant to indicate a hostile or friendly target.

"The exercise gave us the chance to distinguish between targets in the heat of the moment," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon C. McConnell, a team leader. "It's pretty easy [during training]. In the real world, it won't be like this, and you'll have only a few seconds to make that judgment. The biggest challenge is trying to determine who's friendly and who isn't."

McConnell, who was with the battalion on its last deployment to Afghanistan as a part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, described the challenge of making careful and good decisions in the middle of combat.

"You have to maintain control,” he said. “You're getting shot at by one person, and you want to just shoot back at everyone, but you know you can't."

The success of counterinsurgency operations relies heavily on the ability of Marines and sailors to reduce civilian casualties, Greenlief said, which requires each Marine to take great care in acquiring every target.

January 3, 2010

Marines grope with complex Afghan drug woes

By Sebastion Abbot - The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Jan 3, 2010 8:40:21 EST

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — The arrival of Marines has disrupted the illegal drug trade in opium-rich Helmand province — and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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Al-Qaeda target British soldiers returning from Afghanistan

British-based Islamist radicals are targeting Army soldiers - especially snipers - returning from fighting in southern Afghanistan, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
9:30AM GMT 03 Jan 2010

In one case, a police armed response unit was called to the home of a sniper last September amid fears he was about to be murdered or abducted by al-Qaeda terrorists.

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Construction Begins on New Chapel, Gym, Rec Center for Marines in Afghanistan After Damage

NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – After a helicopter's strong winds leveled the base gym and floodwaters inundated the chapel tent at Forward Operating Base Geronimo three weeks ago, construction is now underway to rebuild and expand these facilities to better serve the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment here.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 01.03.2010
Posted: 01.03.2010 06:02

Construction began about a week ago on four facilities with the help from a team of civilian carpenters who built raised wooden floors for the tents to protect them from future flooding as southern Afghanistan enters its rainy season.

The chapel, which currently doubles as the base's morale, welfare and recreation center, will soon move into a new, larger tent and make more room for the MWR activities. The gym has already moved to a larger tent which boasts aluminum aircraft cargo pallets as flooring to protect it from any dropped weights.

Where the chapel/MWR used to be, a new facility is being constructed for a commercial telephone and computer center which will be an extension of the MWR. With these new systems, Marines will be able to call home or e-mail friends and family when not conducting or supporting counterinsurgency operations in Nawa district.

"Between the helicopter and the flood, if those two things had not happened, I don't think we'd be doing this at all right now since everything would still be working," said Navy Lt. Carl P. Rhoads, 1/3's battalion chaplain, who expects all of the facilities to be mostly finished in a week's time. "These three things, the chapel, MWR and gym, touch everyone here at Geronimo in some way.

"The new chapel building will actually serve three functions – a chapel, a classroom and a theater," said Rhoads, 40, from Weippe, Idaho. "It has an open wood floor and I hope to be able to seat 100 people there comfortably. That's a lot better than the old chapel/MWR tent, where it felt crowded with only 20 people."

One of biggest benefits of separating the MWR and the chapel into different tents is it will minimize conflicts of activities, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Bradley C. Smith, the religious programs specialist who serves alongside Rhoads.

"People won't have to end their phone calls when we start playing a movie or people won't have to stop watching personal DVD players or get off computers when a religious service starts," said Smith, a 21 year old Reno, Nev., native. "The new chapel will also have a bigger wall we can project on for movies, video games, classes or Armed Forces Network television. This is going to be a big morale boost, especially once we get the XBOX 360 and Nintendo Wii there."

Once the chapel's assets are moved out of the MWR tent, it will also allow Rhodes more storage space for care package items to hand out to Marines.

"People think I'm the coolest guy in the world because I have this great stuff to give away, but I could not do it if I didn't have so much support from back home," Rhoads said. "Sometimes I feel like the mainstream media has forgotten us here, but the American people certainly have not."

January 2, 2010

The Resurgence of Now Zad

NOW ZAD, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – In early December, the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, breached Now Zad and rid the second largest city in Helmand province of its Taliban presence during Operation Cobra's Anger.



The Resurgence of Now Zad
Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 01.02.2010
Posted: 01.02.2010 06:28

The Marines are now bearing witness to the results of an effective combat operation – Afghan children are back in school, markets are reopening and people are slowly returning to their homes.

Just a few years ago, Now Zad was a thriving city, home to 30,000 Afghan residents, complete with health clinics, schools, electricity, paved streets and adequate water supplies.

The city's residents fled in 2006 due to a Taliban takeover, and were forced to pay rent to live in other villages. Constant fighting between coalition forces and Taliban fighters to lay claim to the city quickly turned the area into a no man's land. The collateral damage associated with such fighting, coupled with neglect resulted in the city slipping into ruin.

Nevertheless, in the recent weeks the mood in this once somber area has been lifted, as citizens from the Now Zad area have returned to reclaim and rebuild.

Businessmen have returned to their shops, residents to their home and children to school.

"Cobra's Anger gave us the chance to displace Taliban leadership, locate and destroy Taliban supply storages, [improvised explosive devices] and weapons, as well as the opportunity to further push out and secure the local populace," said Capt. Jason Brezler, the team leader for the 3/4 civil affairs group. "In conjunction with that, we started going out and leveraging folks to return, because we know the greatest source of instability is them being displaced for such a long period of time, with really no economic means and really no economic opportunity."

Shortly after sunrise, men of all ages arrived at the Now Zad district center with shovel in hand and swept sidewalks, removed dirt from drainage ways, salvaged bricks, cut down overgrowth and hauled trash away.

"They get paid daily 250 [Afghan dollars] ,which is a very good day's salary for them," said Brezler, 31, from Bronx, N.Y. "They have a legitimate means of income to put food on their tables for their families and take care of their basic needs without having to resort to working for the Taliban."

While their fathers are busy removing the stains of Taliban repression, the younger Afghan generation is busy receiving an education at the Now Zad District Center.

"The first day we put up a school, got some kids to come, told some workers we'd pay them to help start cleaning up the bazaar and district center, and then it started to build," said Brezler. "We went from 30 workers a day to upwards of 500 a day and having 30 kids a day in school to having 160 kids a day in school."

"In the last few weeks, everything that has happened has far exceeded my expectations," said Brezler. "I thought even just the things that have happened to date would take potentially months."

The reconstruction effort received a greater momentum with the arrival of Sayed Murad Agah, the Now Zad district governor, who recently toured the district center, school and bazaar.

"It's a great thing that reconstruction is going on in the Now Zad district," said Agah, through an interpreter. "We are showing the people that we are helping them. We can show them that the enemy, the Taliban, never helped them this way and we are here to rebuild and return them back to their own areas."

While progress has been made, more is still to come. The future holds a continued effort to clean up the market and repair shops, homes, the schoolhouse, mosques, health clinic and basic life services.

Much work stills remains ahead in order to return Now Zad's market and district center back to its former condition, but local villagers seem patient and determined to not only restore the area, but make it better then it was before. With the help of God, Afghan national security forces and a few Marines, the people of Now Zad are walking in the direction of peace and prosperity and setting an example for all of Afghanistan to follow.

"We still have a lot of limitations and a lot of challenges we need to overcome," said Brezler. "But every day we're finding ways to leave the city a little bit better at the end of that day, than it was previously."

What's Your Type?

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Wearing my body armour and helmet and carrying my rifle, pistol and camera, I climbed into an M1151 up armoured humvee for a mission outside the wire of Forward Operating Base Farah.



Farah Provincial Reconstruction Team
Story by Master Sgt. Tracy DeMarco
Date: 01.02.2010
Posted: 01.02.2010 10:14

When my gunner entered the vehicle through the turret I instantly saw his boots. In fact, the gunner's legs, boots and occasionally his hands are all I ever really see of my gunner on missions, except when I dismount and see him peeking down at me. But something caught my eye on this particular morning; a very decorative "A+" was drawn on the top of his combat boot.

After that mission, I began to watch for where service members displayed their blood type.

Walking by a construction site on the FOB, I spied Soldiers on top of a roof wearing tan shirts with bold stencils announcing their blood type, "B POS", or "O NEG".

Waiting in line to wash my hands at the dining facility, I met an Air Force Airman whose blood type was sewn under his name on the patch on his chest.

Blood type is pressed into the metal of our dog tags, written on a strap on our helmets and even tattooed into some servicemembers' skin.

Blood, an oxygen carrying liquid, is vital to life. We all know that. But for American service members, it's vital for them to see their families again, vital for them to return home.

The average person has approximately five liters of blood.

"Cardiac output, the output of your pump, [the heart], changes depending on what your body needs and it can be anywhere between three to ten liters a minute," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Hackworth, an anaesthesiologist assigned to the Forward Surgical Team at FOB Farah. "If you just got blown up by an IED, [improvised explosive device], your heart's probably pumping closer to ten liters than three so you have less than a minute before you bleed out."

Though time is critical when someone is bleeding heavily, the medical staff at the Forney Clinic, located on FOB Farah, will always type a patient's blood to either discover or verify that person's type before treating them with a bag of blood. Why? Because giving the wrong blood type will, in fact, kill the patient.

"As soon as they come in we cut off the clothes, put in an IV and then use the IV for drawing the blood," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Ward, a corpsman with the FST. "I'd say when the patient gets here, within three to five minutes that patient is already being typed," he said.

The different blood types are o-negative, o-positive, a-negative, a-positive, b-negative, b-positive, ab-negative and ab-positive.

When you examine how the human body uses blood, you can begin to understand how blood can be tailored to treat a critically wounded patient.

After a qualified person donates his or her blood, the blood is separated into one of three substances, packed red blood cells that increase a patient's oxygen carrying capacity, platelets for clotting, or fresh frozen plasma, which includes proteins that work with the platelets to form clots.

Hackworth compares the human vascular system to a railway system. The vessels are the train track and the components of the blood are the train.

He refers to red blood cells that carry the oxygen as boxcars.

"We can pull out the platelets and store them in a bag," said Hackworth. "We can pull out the proteins that cause clotting and store them in a bag. We can just put the boxcars in a bag and that way when you come in and you're having a problem, we can draw your blood and say, 'Oh, she's got low boxcars, she's got plenty of platelets and plenty of proteins, all she needs is the boxcars'," Hackworth said.

The universal donor for PRBCs is o-negative which all people can have. However, for plasma, the ab type, either positive or negative, is considered the universal donor. One might think, why worry about blood type then, just give everyone o-negative boxcars and ab plasma.

But, it's supply that is the issue.

The most common blood type varies from region to region and storing blood can be problematic. When the clinic on FOB Farah runs out of the universal donor blood or specific plasma they have on hand, they must either get more blood flown in on a medical evacuation flight or initiate the "walking blood bank."

"In the banked blood you have universal donors and universal accepters," Hackworth said, "in whole blood you don't. You have to match very specifically in whole blood."

Blood from a direct donor given immediately to a patient is also called fresh blood. But "whole blood" is a more proper term since the blood is not broken out into individual parts like the stored blood.

Donors for the "walking blood bank" must first fill out a questionnaire. Second, their blood is typed to verify it's the same as the patient's and third, the donor's blood is screened using a rapid test kit for infectious diseases. Because the risk of passing on infectious diseases is greater through using the "walking blood bank," it is seen as a medical last resort and all the stored blood would have to be exhausted before the donors are paged.

Arguably, why then do we wear our blood type all over our bodies? The medical facility caring for any one of us will type our blood as soon as we arrive and in the mean time, they will give us universal donor blood or plasma until our type test card develops. So why the infatuation in the U.S. military to ensure our blood type is prominently displayed?

The most common answer I received could be summed up this way, "So if I get blown up, they know what blood to give me." A sobering thought.

But perhaps the best conclusion can be drawn from a tactical medical professional's perspective.

"The redundancy of blood type patches and or dog tags are less for the accuracy during a physical blood transfusion and more in line with the need required due to high stress treatment scenarios," said a U.S. Special Operations Forces medic.

He then described a situation all military members deployed to Afghanistan wouldn't want to find themselves in. He explained that if someone is wounded in the field and he doesn't have the means to type that patient nor the time to find the injured members dog tags, he appreciates the blood type displayed in numerous places. "The bigger the better," he said.

So I guess what it really comes down to is this.

Until the war is over and all our military men and women are safely home, blood type, whether it is sewn, drawn, stencilled, imprinted, tattooed and otherwise scribed on our persons is the combat zone's most popular accessory and I need to find a marker so I can add an "O+" to my boots.

January 1, 2010

12 things Marines can expect in 2010

Staff report
Posted : Friday Jan 1, 2010 10:06:09 EST

Call it a year of renewed focus. The Marine Corps’ primary combat mission and deployments in 2010 all appear to be clear. A surge of 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, including 8,500 Marines, is underway, and the Corps expects to stand up an expanded command structure led by a two-star general based in Helmand province in the spring.

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