Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

Story by Cpl. Anthony Ward Jr.

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — The lack of medical care was rampant throughout Afghanistan five years ago, but with the steady and solid work of the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces, a complete turnaround occurred.

The task of aiding the ANSF and Afghan ministries of Public Health and Defense in Helmand and surrounding provinces lies with the Combined Medical Department for Regional Command Southwest.

“Four to five years ago, Afghanistan had the second worst medical system in the world,” said Navy Capt. Jeffrey W. Timby, medical director for RC(SW). “The leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 was diarrhea and dehydration.”

Fast forward to the present. Now, the Five Surgeons Shura is held quarterly between ANSF leaders, Ministry of Public Health leaders and NATO leaders in Lashkar Gah to discuss the improvements made to the healthcare system and how to establish even better counter measures to improve the quality of life among the population which is trauma care.

“The objective of the shura was to continue the dialogue that Capt. Timby initially established to gain the Afghan commitment to delivering a more integrated and coherent healthcare program in Helmand province,” said British Army Lt. Col. Ian G. Harper, deputy medical director for CMED.

This point of view allows better decisions to be made regarding each ministry and ANSF organization working collectively and pooling resources to do a much needed thing, establish emergency services, said Harper.

Kabul is the only city in the country that currently has an ambulance emergency service. Establishing one to service Helmand and surrounding provinces would greatly aid the mission of NATO and ANSF forces, said Timby.

“Ninety-five percent of the population can walk to a health clinic or health post within two hours of their front doors,” said Timby. “Establishing an ambulance care would be a huge feather in the cap for the ministries.”

The resources exist to provide Helmand and the surrounding provinces with an ambulatory system, they just need to be pooled together. The Ministry of Public Health possesses the hospitals needed for the ambulance service, with the ANSF and Ministry of Defense possessing the manpower and vehicles to transport casualties and provide point of injury and life support care to the injured.

“It’s a big job, but it’s important and coming together nicely,” said Timby.

As the drawdown of NATO forces nears, the Afghan forces will continue to assume more responsibility and provide care and security to their people.


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.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Story and photos by Sgt. James Mercure

COMBAT OUTPOST PENNSYLVANIA, Afghanistan – If someone saw how fierce Sgt. Phil Farmer is during a firefight, they would never guess he only has one fully functioning lung.

Farmer is a squad leader with 3rd platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and on his third combat deployment. He leads his Marines on patrols, finds improvised explosive devices and has partnered with Afghan National Security Forces to help make Afghanistan a safer place.

On his second deployment, Farmer, a 30-year-old Matawan, N.J., native, had his observation post in Ramadi, Iraq struck by a suicide bomber driving a dump truck laden with explosives and chemicals, releasing a noxious cloud of gas after the massive explosion.

After the blast, a complex ambush ensued.

“I fired my .50 cal machine gun as the truck drove toward my post, and after it blew up, they fired volley after volley of rockets on our position, disabling my .50 cal. So I ducked down, grabbed an M240 Bravo machine gun, and me and my guys opened up on the insurgents. We didn’t stop fighting for another three and a half hours. It was chaos.”

Two weeks after the attack, Farmer coughed up blood, but he felt fine after and continued to push on with his deployment.

“When I got back to the States, the doctor thought I had asthma until he walked in with an X-ray and said my lung had essentially sealed off like a burnt cigarette wrapper during the deployment,” Farmer said. “My only real concern throughout the whole process was being able to still serve as a Marine.”

Farmer now has the symptoms of Bronchial Inflammation Disease and must use and inhaler from time to time, but the Marines he serves with wouldn’t have known about the issue unless he told them.

“We served together as instructors at the School of Infantry, and he’s working for me again here,” said Staff Sgt. Adam York, platoon sergeant, 3rd platoon Bravo Co., 1st Bn., 8th Marines, and a 30-year-old Plymouth, N.H. native. “After he was injured in Iraq, you would think that would make someone take it easy, but Sgt. Farmer hasn’t stopped, he hasn’t slowed down, and he refuses to quit his Marines or himself. It’s his ability to lead from the front that sets him apart. For example, if his squad finds a suspected improvised explosive device, he verifies the find instead of sending one of his junior Marines.”

For Farmer, the reason he has been able to carry on in stride despite having one lung is his training as a Marine.

“It’s the Marine mindset that allows you to conquer anything,” Farmer said with a faint New Jersey accent. “The stories I read about Marine amputees still deploying or winning marathons motivates me, and if they can do it, I have no excuse not to keep moving forward.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Story and photos by Sgt. James Mercure

COMBAT OUTPOST PENNSYLVANIA, Afghanistan — Historically, insurgents will fight with increased tenacity during the summer months, and during the winter and early spring they prepare.

Unfortunately for the enemy, the Marines and Afghan National Security Forces thwart their plans by tracking them down and destroying their fighting positions.

Partnered with the ANSF, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment recently demolished one of these complex fighting positions March 5.

“One of our earlier patrols found the position, so it was our job to verify the find and destroy it,” said Staff Sgt. Adam York, platoon sergeant, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Co., 1st Bn., 8th Marines and Plymouth, N.H., native. “Once we checked for improvised explosive devices, we spoke with the village elder to make sure his village was okay with us destroying it, and he was completely for it. The whole village wanted to help us out because they don’t want them here any more than we do. They live nearby, and their kids play around here, so the last thing they want is to get caught in crossfire caused by insurgents.”

What made the fighting position such a threat were small holes large enough to stick a rifle barrel through known as “murder holes.”

“They positioned the murder holes toward an open field and toward a compound,” said Cpl. Josh Czerepka, combat engineer, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Co., 1st Bn., 8th Marines. “It had been hidden there for awhile, and they were most likely waiting till the summer to use them, so we destroyed it before they had the chance.

“We used blocks of C4 explosive to level it, and it did the job without damaging anyone’s home nearby,” the Orlando, Fla., native added.

The Marines and ANSF will continue to find these fighting positions and those who built them in an effort to provide safety and maintain security for the Afghan people.

Story and photo by Spc. Chelsea Russell

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Brown, the Regional Command Southwest, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) force chaplain, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., has been in the military for 32 years. His dedication to country and God helped him realize the perfect way for him to serve both: as a chaplain in the military.

Navy chaplains are unique because they serve with the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Coast Guard. During the course of his military career, Brown has served with all three. But even though he is in the Navy, his heart remains with the Marine Corps.

“I was an enlisted Marine for five and one-half years when I felt the Lord’s calling into full-time ministry, and then later to be a chaplain. I wanted to be a chaplain that would serve with Marines,” Brown said. “But Marine chaplains are Navy chaplains. So, I joined the Navy and I’m actually in the Navy, but then I get tours periodically to serve with the Marines. And it just so happens I’ve spent a good number of my years with Marines.”

The John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award is a peer-nominated award that acknowledges the significant service of a Navy chaplain who has earned the rank of Captain or Captain-select. Since the award process allows any Navy chaplain to nominate a peer for consideration, Brown actually recommended a fellow chaplain for the award and expected him to win. When Brown found out he had won the Craven Award instead, he was shocked.

“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “I found out from my wife. She e-mailed me. Several chaplains had called her and told her.”
U.S. Navy Capt. Lawrence Greenslit, the II MEF chaplain stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., submitted the recommendation for Brown to receive the Craven Award. He said no matter where Brown is stationed and who he is serving with, his main concern is always about taking care of the people in his charge.

“I recommended him for the award because of all the chaplains I know and I know many. Steve Brown, to me, epitomizes what it means to be a servant and to take care of people,” said Greenslit. “The first question out of Steve’s mouth is always, not how will this impact chaplains, it’s how can we best take care of people. That’s always his focus.”

The fact that he has been able to do that for a year in a deployed environment says a lot about his character and his commitment to Marines, sailors and their families, said Greenslit.

Greenslit admitted that he expected Brown to win.

“I was very happy to hear [he won],” said Greenslit. “I just don’t think there’s another chaplain right now who is a better example of what it means to be a servant leader than Steve Brown.”

Brown is quite modest when it comes to his accomplishments and achievements, but he has had a significant impact on strengthening military forces through his spiritual guidance, engaging leadership and his efforts to build community, all while inspiring subordinates to professional excellence. He said the Craven Award means a lot to him because the award honors a Marine chaplain.

Brown and Craven are alike in many ways.

“I am a Navy chaplain, but I’m really a Marine chaplain,” Brown said, his powerful voice filled with emotion. “John Craven spent the majority of his time with the United States Marines and he deployed with them to two different wars. I have deployed with Marines to two different wars. Now the wars I’ve been in haven’t been anything like the wars he’s been in. There’s really no comparison.

“I was an enlisted Marine, he was an enlisted Marine. As I read his biography there are a lot of similarities between the two of us. So I would just say, the one thing that most honors me about receiving the award is it clearly identifies me as a Marine chaplain.”

Even though this will be Brown’s last deployment, he is grateful he was offered the opportunity to be deployed as a Marine chaplain to take care of the religious and spiritual needs of Marines. He said spiritually-ready Marines are better Marines.

“I’m overwhelmed by the honor bestowed on me,” said Brown. “I’m just thankful that I can just continue to serve Marines and those who serve with them.”

Story by Regional Command Southwest Team

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Roadside bombs pose a serious threat to the Afghan people as well as to the Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces. Every disposed IED means saved lives.

The eleventh rotation of Estonian troops, serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, made an all-time best per rotation when they cleared 106 improvised explosive devices last year. However, the current, twelfth rotation, is half-way through their tour of duty and has already disposed of 68 IEDs.

Success with clearing a total of nearly 200 IEDs in nine months requires cooperation between the Estonian Improvised Explosive Device Disposal Team and the Estonian combat engineers.

When a combat engineer’s ground radar picks up a signal, he carefully inspects the site and determines the presence of the IED. If an IED is present, the standard operating procedure requires that the disposal experts are called and either remove the IED or dispose of it on site.

Circumstances do occur where the combat engineer must dispose of the explosive device. For example, if it is impossible to cordon off the site for the necessary period of time, the combat engineer, who is also trained to clear IEDs, will do it.

Estonian combat engineers say they have to be bold enough to be on point and have the knowledge to find an IED.

“[A] cool temper, good knowledge, being a team player and a natural interest in different technical solutions and different explosive devices,” said the senior non-commissioned officer of the Estonian IEDDT, Master Sgt. Eero Naudi, describing the qualities each of his team members is required to have.

Naudi said that serving as an IED disposal expert requires constant training. “You have to be interested in the job you are doing and you have to keep yourself up-to-date, otherwise it will be really difficult to be a successful disposal expert,” he said.

The coalition partners are also important to Estonian bomb disposal experts when it comes to training. The Estonian IEDDT specialists are trained in Estonia and in the United Kingdom, so their instruction and understanding is on par with their British brothers in arms.

The current Improvised Explosive Device Disposal Team started its service in Helmand in November 2011. The combat engineers have served with the infantry company since 2007. Estonian soldiers have served in Afghanistan since 2003 and in the Helmand province since 2006.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Story by Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter

ZARANJ, Afghanistan — Barely a mile from the Afghanistan/Iranian border a group of Afghan National Security Forces are experiencing a level of success coalition forces hope spreads throughout the country.

The compound they operate out of, a provincial-level Operation Coordination Center, is a hub for all ANSF activity in the area. It’s near Zaranj, the Nimruz province capital, and insurgent activity in the area is low. They enjoy the support of the provincial governor, and their capabilities continue to expand. This is all happening with little more than monthly visits from coalition forces.

“They’re self-sufficient. They have no mentor team,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, the Regional Command Southwest logistics chief for ANSF development. “The discipline they have out there, the military professionalism that they have, it’s all self-taught and self-sustained.”

Instead of coalition forces being embedded with the ANSF there, a common practice in other parts of the country, Marines from RC(SW) visit about once a month to provide needed mentorship, equipment and supplies.

The RC(SW) operations director for ANSF development, Col. Michael Gann, has been working with the ANSF in Zaranj for the past seven months.

“Business was getting done, but information was very stove-piped,” he said of his first visit during August 2011.

At the time, the lack of sharing information between the different parts of the ANSF stunted the capabilities of the Operations Coordination Center. Inside the OCC, the Afghan National Army, uniformed police, border police and the National Directorate of Security all worked separately.

Through mentorship like classes on reporting techniques, the Marines were able to change some of those practices. The Afghans are now reporting to the regional OCC in Lashkar Gah daily and are passing information between each element of the ANSF.

“These guys are committed, they are operational and functioning,” said Gann. “Albeit not optimal, the fact that they’ve been able to cross-cut across the ANSF pillars is crucial to the continuing success they’re experiencing.”

The area around Zaranj is, for the most part, quiet and stable, said Gann.

Before this progress was made, the Marines had to first earn the trust of the ANSF on the compound. The Marines achieved that by living and eating with the Afghans while they were there.

Trust was also built through helping fix little problems that would arise, said Stephens. Marines worked on projects every visit, from bringing reliable generators for power to testing their well to make sure they had potable water to helping set up a basic aid station.

“They’ve come a long way in trust and friendship,” said Gunnery Sgt. Philip Collins, the RC(SW) operations chief for ANSF development. He’s made the trip to Zaranj about a dozen times. “We showed up at first, and they were very standoffish. Now at the end, they were more than hospitable. They’d give you the shirt off their back. You see the genuine care … we’re viewed as an equal with them.”

As II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Marines prepare to leave the RC(SW) area of operations, I MEF (Fwd) is beginning the process of taking over responsibility for the region. One of those responsibilities is to check in with the Afghans at the Zaranj OCC.

“I hope I MEF does a better job than we did,” said Collins, after a recent trip to Zaranj to show I MEF Marines the area. By building trust and helping the locals, the Marines and Afghans formed lasting bonds and friendships, said the Sugar Land, Texas, Clements High School graduate.

Stephens, a Plano, Texas, native, agreed. “We’ve developed a good relationship with these people. I know some of them by name and some of them by face, and they know me. We feel pretty comfortable working side by side with them, and they do a good job maintaining their border.”

Possibly the biggest sign of improvement in the region is that the Marines were able to legitimize the ANSF at the OCC, said Gann. The governor, Abdul Karim Barahawi, started looking to them for help in the area, and regular meetings are held at their compound.

“I see it as a model for others to look to,” said Philips, referring to other developing regions throughout Afghanistan. “They were able to transition without much coalition help.” He, too, credits the governor and other senior leaders in the region for the help.