Story and photo by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Not long ago, Taliban ruled the roads of Musa Qala, a town in northern Helmand province. Bands of insurgents brandishing soviet-made AK-47s and lugging rocket launchers, crammed themselves into the backs of pickup trucks and paraded through the town, shouting oppressive slogans and terrorizing its residents.
Today, the Taliban are gone and children are everywhere, their laughter and voices mingling with the calls of vendors in the bazaars.
Optimism about the future of Afghanistan is illustrated through the difference between Musa Qala then and Musa Qala now. Col. Timothy Mundy smiled as he recalled a recent visit to the once-tyrannized town.
Currently officer in charge of the Enhanced Assessments Group for II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) at Camp Leatherneck, Mundy’s group is composed of subject matter experts at the doctorate level, an assessments branch and the Red Team.
The Red Team writes alternative views, or interjects counter logic into the thinking and planning processes at the command element level.
Battling and defeating repression is not new for Mundy. As an infantry officer, he commanded the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, in Iraq during 2005. His unit led Operation Matador, one of the largest ground offensives since Fallujah, that cleared insurgents from the villages and towns in western Iraq.
Instead of frontline fighting, Mundy’s unit in Afghanistan eradicates insurgents via outside-of-the-box thinking.
The red-team idea is novel for the Marine Corps in a deployed environment and Mundy said he has learned a lot about making it work.
“These guys are here to step back and say now hold it, maybe this is something – an assumption. Maybe we’re all heading down the same road, when, in fact, we haven’t considered some other thing that we should have,” Mundy said.
“The Red Team is not so much thinking like the enemy,” Mundy said. “It’s thinking differently about every problem we face.”
Mundy’s biggest challenge during this deployment was finding ways to fit a diverse group of military and civilian subject matter experts into the right places in the command, while working together to find inventive solutions within a conventional parameter.
“We have sewn together multiple attributes with many different capabilities within the EAG,” said Capt. Tim Merkle, an operations research analyst with the group. “We find more ways to dissect data to provide rigorous analysis from different perspectives.
The assessment team keeps current with the state of affairs throughout the area of operations, appraising the progress the coalition is bringing to Helmand and Nimroz provinces, so Mundy often visited places like Musa Qala.
Mundy said his visits made tangible the hope he has for Afghanistan and its people. “We’ve made a difference here and the Afghans seem to understand that. We’ve got (Afghan) police patrolling the streets, and people committed to trying to keep (Taliban control) from happening again.”
“We were stopping at the bazaars,” he said. “I had candy in my pocket and was handing it out to the kids. We had the provincial governor with us . . . other people, business owners, police. It was a very memorable contrast. We were walking down the street, an action that would have been contested the minute we stepped out from behind the HESCO barriers (three years ago).”
But, he cautioned that there are still days when violence leads in the headlines.
“Most of the news you see about Afghanistan tends to be the high-profile events such as an attack on some compound, or some truck bomb that goes off,” Mundy said.
The colonel counters the headlines with his firsthand experience. He has seen Afghan forces stepping up to confront violence, and finding and arresting criminals involved with insurgent activities. He said he has met innumerable people pledged to Afghanistan’s continued improvement.
Mundy is also aware of the cost of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. He said he witnessed several dignified transfers, but one particular ceremony had special significance. A Marine from 1st Bn., 6th Marines was killed Sept. 9, 2011, two days shy of the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
“We’re here because of that event,” Mundy said. “Seeing a casket carried at night and put on a plane drove home the point that it is the families who have to bear the sacrifice. It reminds you of what all of these great, young men and women do on a daily basis out there.
Having had the opportunity to command and see Marines in action is always very inspiring to me. These are by and large young men and women who volunteered knowing exactly what they would get into.”
Supporting his staff and keeping a family atmosphere is important to Mundy, especially during the holidays. He made a point to get his group of military and civilians together to celebrate Thanksgiving, sitting and eating together at the dining facility.
“That was a good day,” Mundy said. “None of us has family here, so we’ll make each other our family.”
“From a British perspective, it was an absolute pleasure to work for him,” said British Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. Richard Turner, an assessments officer in Mundy’s group. “Characters like him are few and far between in my usual line of work.”
“As we’re winding down and getting ready to leave, you can really see what everybody else has contributed,” Mundy said. “I didn’t personally go out and clear the streets of Musa Qala, but certainly I’m proud of what the coalition forces have done here.”