Story and photo by Cpl. Adam Leyendecker
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines with the Houston-based 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, also known as the Lone Star Battalion, provided security and guidance to Afghan National Army soldiers traveling through Helmand province, Aug. 5.
The 650 ANA soldiers were traveling from basic training at the Consolidated Fielding Center in Kabul to their assigned battle-space in the heart of the city near the Iranian border. The Marines and an Italian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team escorted the ANA kandak, or battalion, from Forward Operating Base Ramrod on the Kandahar-Helmand border to FOB Delaram.
It was the Marines’ duty to ensure that the Afghans were provided safe passage through the Regional Command Southwest area of operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. The Italian OMLT remained with the ANA for the entire nine-day, 1110 km journey.
The newly trained Afghan soldiers were being led to their assigned units, where they will use the skills they learned during training to help bolster security.
“Though they are already trained in combat, we provide them with more experience and firepower in case they are attacked on their journey,” said Sgt. Joey M. Garcia, guide for 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, and a native of Brownsville, Texas. “It’s also great for Afghans right off the bat to be able to work with and witness how coalition forces operate.”
The Marines and ANA soldiers stuck to Route 1, a paved highway, for most of their part of the escort mission. The route is a major supply road which connects the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah to the rest of Afghanistan.
Route 1 is known to have a significant improvised explosive device and insurgent activity threat, said Maj. Vincent J. Lazar, current operations planner for Regional Command Southwest, and a native of Cleveland.
“It’s imperative that we provide security along Route 1,” he explained.
The coalition presence also provided the ANA soldiers with assets the Afghan unit does not yet possess.
“The Afghans are more than capable of traveling this distance themselves, but we provide them with a Joint Terminal Attack Controller,” said 2nd Lt. Edward E. Arrington, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Company C, and a native of Charlotte, N.C.
The JTAC provides the coalition and Afghan forces the ability to direct and call in air support in case the convoy is attacked by heavy insurgent gunfire.
Although the only conflict encountered during the escort was a vehicle break down, the Marines were still able to provide guidance, direction and security throughout the trip.
“It’s good for the junior Marines to be able to see more populated areas of Afghanistan and interact with other cultures,” said Arrington.
At the end of the journey, the Marines turned over the ANA soldiers to a U.S. Army convoy waiting at Delaram in eastern Nimroz province. From there the Afghan troops will continue west toward their new units.
Additional photos here.