Texas battalion’s good neighbor policy helps keep Helmand base secure

Posted: August 1, 2011 in Afghan Security
Tags: ,

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Ross

An Afghan child models sunglasses he received from Marines with Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment during a patrol near Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, July 28. The Marines of the Houston-based battalion frequently interact with the local populace around the camp.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Marines and sailors with the Houston-based Lone Star Battalion, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, have been conducting security and counterinsurgency operations in the vicinity of the Camp Leatherneck-Camp Bastion complex since deploying to Afghanistan in January.

The battalion is responsible for the area surrounding the bases, which are the largest coalition installations in Helmand province.

The Marines conduct mounted and dismounted patrols throughout the area several times each week, typically alongside their Afghan National Army counterparts from the 215th ANA Corps. These missions focus on safeguarding and reaching out to the local populace and keeping the base secure from potential insurgent attacks.

The battalion has an area of roughly 400 square kilometers of rocky desert and open farmland to patrol, so the Marines constantly find themselves on the road.

“Our main focus is building relationships with the local people,” said 2nd Lt. Sverre G. Sundgaard, a platoon commander with Company C, 1st Bn., 23rd Marines, and a native of Cottage Grove, Minn. “We pretty much just make sure that no one is messing with or harassing the locals.”

The local population around Camp Leatherneck is predominantly farmers who have been displaced from other parts of the province, said Sundgaard.

“Most of the people who live here are here because of the security we provide,” he explained.

This good neighbor policy has operational benefits to the battalion and the bases they are charged with protecting. By keeping the locals safe, the battalion ensures any insurgents seeking to set up shop near the installations have a hard time hiding among the population.

On a recent patrol, the Marines of Company C and a squad of Afghan soldiers visited a handful of compounds looking for a school they had been told existed in one of the small communities outside the bases. The Marines and ANA soldiers had Pashto primary readers and other supplies to give to the teacher, and hoped to get an idea of how the school was operating and how many children were attending.

While the school was not found, the Marines and their Afghan counterparts used the patrol to check up on the locals in the area where it was believed to be. The troops handed out the readers to local kids and talked about security conditions with the adults.

Aside from a handful of improvised explosive device strikes and finds and a brief exchange of small arms fire in an outlying area, things have been relatively quiet for the Marines of the Lone Star Battalion during their deployment.

The wide open desert country and local children remind Cpl. Henry Garza of his boyhood home in Texas.

“I grew up in the country,” explained Garza, a turret gunner with Company C and a native of Hallettsville, Texas. “In the summertime where I’m from, the kids just try to occupy themselves outdoors like these kids do.”

The battalion’s security-oriented mission is scheduled to continue until the end of their deployment. As with anywhere else in Helmand province, the local populace’s cooperation and well-being will have a hand in how successful their efforts are.

Additional photos here.

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