Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

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Story by Sgt. James Mercure

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WHITEHOUSE, Afghanistan – If a Marine gets injured in  combat, the response by those he serves with is immediate.  If a Marine has  problems handling operational stress, they are there for him just as quickly.
To help Marines identify the stages of operational stress, the  Operational Stress Control and Readiness program is taught to all infantry  battalions across the Marine Corps. Keeping with a long-standing tradition of  small unit leadership, the OSCAR program teaches leaders at all levels how to  get their Marines the help they may need.
“The OSCAR program is an  effective tool we use to help our own,” said 1st Sgt. James Robertson, OSCAR  instructor and Weapons Company 1st sergeant, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment,  and Nicholasville, Ky., native. “It teaches all Marines not to just stand by and  watch a Marine struggle. You may be a lance corporal and he may be a sergeant,  but you should still step up and talk to him if you see a change.”
The  OSCAR program has a four-tier color system that helps quickly identify Marines  who need a hand.
“If a Marine is in the green zone, he is good to go. If  he is in the yellow, something is bothering him and someone should talk to him,” Robertson said. “If the Marine is in the orange or red zone he needs assistance.  The goal is to not let that Marine have a chance to slip into the orange or red  zones. The goal is to let him know you’re there for him when a problem surfaces  and get him the help he needs.”
The ultimate goal of the OSCAR program is  to keep Marines and sailors healthy and in the fight through prevention, early  identification and intervention with stress-related problems, outlined in Marine  Administrative Messages 667/09 and 597/11.
“’No Marine left behind’ doesn’t just apply to the battlefield,” said Navy Lt. Keith Russell, Command  Chaplain for 1st Bn., 8th Marines, and Kansas City, Mo., native. “Sometimes you  have to help pull a Marine off his own battlefield and get him the medical or  spiritual help or a combination thereof. But, sometimes it’s just about noticing  a change in the Marine’s behavior and asking what’s going on.”
To  complement the OSCAR program, the Marines and sailors of 1st Bn., 8th Marines,   have refresher courses throughout their deployment and long after to keep  operational stress control identification and response as an important part of  the warrior culture.
“We have warrior transition briefs at the end of the  deployment and every 30 days after the battalion returns home to keep  reiterating to be personally aware for your family and friends you serve with  and get help for you or them if it’s needed,” Russell said.


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Story and photos by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As the tour of duty for many soldiers with  British Advisory Group 3rd Kandak 215th Corps, (Two Rifles Battle Group), comes  to an end, many of them can look back at their work and see the results of their  time advising the local security forces when they see a more independent Afghan  National Army.
British troops played a supporting role in Operation Now  Roz, March 16 through 19. During the operation, they observed Afghan National  Security Forces securing the Yakchal Valley almost twice as fast as they  expected.
“The ANSF have done really well,” said British Cpl. John D.  Elliot, a section commander with Two Rifles. “They are quite professional. The  locals are showing the ANA appreciation, which I believe is winning the  war.”
Elliot, who first deployed to Sangin district approximately three  years ago, said things have definitely changed since then, when they had to  teach the ANA the most basic military skills. “They are taking care of things  themselves,” said Elliot, 24, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. “Advising them is  much easier.”
When he arrived on Camp Gereshk as a battlefield casualty  replacement during December, British Capt. Oliver C.S. Little, a Tolay Adviser  Training Team commander with Two Rifles was expecting a less disciplined ANA  then what he found.
“My expectations were that they would be at pretty  basic skill levels,” said Little, 26, from Tisbury, Wiltshire. “Everything I’ve  seen them do, they’ve done with a lot of professionalism.” Little said his  advisers have refreshed the ANA on first-aid and map reading skills, but the  only kinds of support they’ve needed to provide is helicopter-based casualty  evacuation, fires and surveillance. He added that the Afghan soldiers have done  a good job of training themselves.
“I think from what I’ve seen at the  start state of the tour to where they are now, I’ve been massively impressed  with the progression,” said Little. “They are now at a state where I believe  they could completely plan and conduct an operation themselves.” After the  ANA’s success in Operation Now Roz, the adviser has even more confidence in  their abilities.
“I think the next step is pulling back even more,” said  Little. “With a couple of things from us, they can look after themselves.  They’re able to map read, able to bring about better results.”
Little  also noted that an ANA training team usually relies on a sergeant and an officer  to complete their tasks, but during this tour the whole platoon-sized team got  involved, which produced strong results.
“I think it’s quite interesting.  A lot of the guys don’t get a chance to get involved with the ANA as much as  possible, so we’ve quite often used them to deliver lessons to the ANA, which  gives them a good chance to get involved,” he said
During their  Afghanistan tour, Little’s team stayed involved in the ANA’s development, and  built a strong relationship with their Afghan counterparts.
“It’s all  about relationships,” said Little. “If the guys have a good relationship with  them, and the guys have a good relationship with the ANA, then things work  smoothly. Generally speaking, the better the relationship, the better their  output is going to be, because they trust you to do the right thing.”

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Story and photos by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan troops cleared a Taliban stronghold the Yakchal Valley, with the support of International Security Assistance Forces, during Operation Now Roz, March 16 – 19.

During the operation, the Afghan National Security Forces discovered more than 40 improvised explosive devices, arrested known Taliban members and discovered caches which included IED components and suicide vests.

Senior Afghan National Army leadership planned and led the operation to secure the objective.

“The ANA seemed to dominate the ground pretty effectively,” said British Sgt. Chris G. Bannon, a platoon sergeant with British Advisory Group, 3rd Kandak, 215th Corps, (Two Rifles Battle Group). “They had a positive effect on local nationals, who were pleased to see the ANA. It’s quite easy to say that their presence on the ground forced the insurgents out.”

After several years of developing the ANA, British soldiers on their second tour of duty in Afghanistan note significant improvement in the ANSF capabilities.

“I think this is definitely a step forward,” said Bannon, 29, from Leyburn, Yorkshire. “I saw the ANA company a couple years ago and they wouldn’t manage it. It’s better now. The ANA are independent. It’s good to see them taking the lead in their country.”

The ANSF forces weren’t the only ones on the ground. British and Danish troops were there too, but only in a supporting role.

“The only things they ever can need from us is helicopter-based casualty evacuation, fires, and (surveillance),” said British Capt. Oliver C.S. Little, a Tolay Advisor Training Team commander with Two Rifles. “Having said that, they’re not going to have it once we leave.”

Little, 26, from Tisbury, Wiltshire, added that the ANSF will need to find ways around that and have begun to plan accordingly.

“As we’ve seen on this operation, they can get a casualty out on the ground,” said Little. “They can do it very quickly, so they are more than capable of going it alone.”

While the roles of the ISAF and the ANSF are changing, the Afghan troops are building on their knowledge of their homeland and have begun to fight in a way which the local population can support.

“Their concepts and the way they do things is different to ours, given the fact they are not a western army,” said Bannon. “They get the job done in good order, and they are respected by the local nationals.”

The mission did more than clear a historically strong Taliban area, it showed that the ANSF are growing in professionalism.

“It sent the message out to the insurgents that the ANSF are completely capable of planning and mounting large operations such as (Operation Now Roz) successfully,” said Bannon.

Story and photo by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Just as Benjamin Franklin brought the Colonies together with his “Join or Die” snake, U.S. Navy Capt. Jeffrey Timby likened the importance of developing a trauma care system in Helmand and Nimroz provinces to fusing a head on a snake.

His initial impression of the state of the emergency healthcare system in Afghanistan came during a healthcare development meeting with the Afghan National Security Forces. At the meeting, he said he had an epiphany of sorts.

During a break, he was walking with the interpreter for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps surgeon. “Dr. Timby, I’ve been here for three years and we have never done anything like this. I am so excited to see you,” the interpreter said.

“This was the first time an effort was made toward organizing the disparate efforts of a large number of people toward a common goal of a medical program of training for the Afghan forces,” Timby, Regional Command Southwest’s surgeon, said.

Although the Basic Package of Health Services program had been implemented by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health during 2009, with trauma and trauma-related care identified as priorities; plugging emergency medical response into current infrastructure just one year ago was impossible.

“There was no ambulance system, no 911 to call,” Timby said. “It’s a blank slate. Without a police and fire dispatch system, there cannot be an emergency dispatch system. Without a communications network, there cannot be a dispatch system.”

Timby realized training medics would have to be the first step toward building a medical emergency response system.

“It’s a chicken or the egg thing,” he said. “If a guy gets injured, who is going to take care of him? Well, you need a medical system, which means you’re back at the start of the vicious circle. You can’t have any of it if you don’t have people.”

Given the low literacy rate in Afghanistan, training medics using a textbook-based curriculum was also impossible. So, the surgeon and his team looked at alternatives. The British Advisory Group had been working with the ANA’s 215th Corps putting together a skills-based, hands-on apprenticeship program – teaching by demonstration.

Timby’s team took the on-the-job-training model, amplified it with videography and photographs producing a training curriculum covering point-of-injury care: hemorrhage, airway, breathing, circulation.

“It was excellent and that’s where we started focusing our efforts,” Timby said. “In December alone, we graduated more than 90 medics. Other classes are now standing up and about every three months they will be able to graduate between 60 and 90 medics per session.”

Prior to implementing the OJT model of teaching, only 17 medics graduated between March and October last year. The team took the program further.

“The medical program that we’ve put it place, grown and matured has been handed over to the Afghans,” said Chief Petty Officer James Cartier, Combined Medical plans and operations chief, adding that Afghans now train their own people.

Cartier said a literacy course is also offered with medical training. “It promotes a very favorable outcome in which you have a literate, independently functioning Afghan medic.”

In cooperation with RC(SW) C9, the unit responsible for development, governance and reintegration, the team also developed a unified, self-supporting Afghan medical system that will include emergency response for military, police and civilians.

“It’s definitely saving lives. I am very pleased at the success our team has been able to accomplish here,” Cartier, a native of Beauford, S.C., said.

Timby foresees continuing the program once he returns to his home in Norfolk, Va. He plans on inviting Afghan surgeons for a two- to three-week familiarization itinerary of U.S. emergency response systems, and returning them to Afghanistan to implement improvements as necessary.

Calling the arrangement a “brain trust,” he said lessons learned from applying the knowledge and capabilities of remote-area care in places such as Montana, Wyoming or even Alaska could be used in Afghanistan for the benefit of both countries.

“Alaska is bigger than Afghanistan and 10 times more remote,” Timby said. “We do it there, why can’t we do it here?”

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Story and photos by Master Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mehringer

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Everybody likes payday.

Walking around with bundles of cash is a dream for many but for two Marines working in the Afghan National Security Force Development Team for Regional Command Southwest — it’s just another day on the frontlines of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for Capt. Chad Lowry and Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, the cash they are carrying today is not from their personal bank accounts but will be used to pay new members of the Afghan Local Police.

The Afghan Local Police are a part-time police force made up of civilians from local villages much like reserve law enforcement officials in the United States. They receive uniforms and on-the-job training while waiting for their formal training to begin. It takes approximately 60 days for the Afghan government to start the automated pay process under the Ministry of Interior. Lowry and Stephens travel throughout Helmand province ensuring the new policemen are paid during the transitionary period.

Near the Landing Zone at Forward Operating Base Rahim, in the Nahr-e-Saraj District, 28 local policemen anxiously await the arrival of the pay masters who have already visited and paid local policemen at several coalition bases. This is the third stop of the trip.

“We expect to be able to bring Forward Operating Base Rahim and Patrol Base Two ALP units up to one-hundred percent pay,” said Stephens, pay agent for the ALP, earlier in the day.

There are no celebrities on this visit to FOB Rahim, but clearly to the local policemen who are patiently waiting, these two Marines maintain a “rock star” status and were treated like distinguished visitors.

Lowry, from Ormond Beach, Fla. and Stephens, from Dallas, have been visiting bases in Helmand province for several months now and know the systematic process for paying the new ALP extremely well. In return, ALP members know them and are delighted every time Stephens and Lowry appear because it means they will soon have money in their pockets and the ability to provide for their families.

“Team Rahim” as the local police unit is known, is lead by a veteran of the Afghan National Army who returned to his village to be closer to his family. “Rhamatooli,” as he is referred to by Stephens and Lowry, is a dedicated leader who has experienced the horrors of front-line fighting.

While a member of the ALP Rhamatooli was blown up several months ago after stepping on a roadside bomb (improvised explosive device) and lost the lower part of his left leg, said Stephens who has developed a special relationship with the leader who is now on crutches.

The lack of mobility has not slowed Rhamatooli from training and directing his cadre of local policemen.

There were “lots of problems at one time from the Taliban” but now “locals start to believe in us and we have safety,” said Rhamatooli. “This is my job, my country, my village.”

Afghan Local Police forces continue to grow, gain maturity in Helmand province and have become an added part of security for population centers.

Previously in the day, Lowry and Stephens stopped at Patrol Base Two in the heart of Helmand province, when they were escorted to the Pan Kalay Police Station to meet and pay two additional local police teams. Coordinating this event was British Army Capt. Giles Walsh who is an infantry officer with the 1st Battalion Princess of Wale’s Royal Regiment. Walsh, part of the police mentoring advisory group who trains local police units, is on his second tour in Afghanistan and said there has been a huge difference between the tours in 2008 and 2012.

“I was in Musa ‘Qala during the winter of 2008 — entire villages were abandoned due to the fighting,” he said. “Now, the security bubble has expanded and all of the security forces support each other, they are intrinsically tied,” he said.

Travelling around and paying the ALP has been a rewarding experience for Lowry and Stephens.

“We have developed trust over time,” said Stephens. “If you want them to be your ally you have to be their ally.”

“We have a positive rapport,” added Lowry, Afghan Local Police Coordinator for Regional Command Southwest.

Pay rosters are checked, validated and rechecked to ensure the right person is getting paid but there is always room for something to go wrong. Today is no exception

Shortly after arriving at FOB Rahim, Lowry, an aviation supply officer by trade nearing the end of his eight-month tour in Afghanistan, spends nearly 45 minutes explaining the pay process to Rhamatooli and the majority of his policemen who are currently not on duty.

Lowry does his best to explain the importance of the rosters which were submitted several weeks ago. The discrepancy is the rosters do not include several new policemen who will have to wait and get paid at a later date, according to Lowry, when they will be properly identified and validated. Lowry remains calm during the process, showing a true concern while practicing his statesmanship and eventually the concern subsides and all parties understand there are additional steps to take in order to pay the new policemen which will occur in the near future.

Controlling emotions during these semi-tense situations is something Lowry has grown accustomed to.

“The secret to success here is to remain comfortable even when the situation is uncomfortable,” said Lowry.

Once the pay process starts it is seamless and takes just a few minutes to pay the entire team. Stephens is in control of distributing the money while Lowry provides an extra set of eyes to ensure each transaction is accurate and finalized with a signature or a finger print for proof of payout.

“This was smoother than normal,” said Stephens.

Smiles and laughter are evident minutes after the process finished. While some recount their money, others light a cigarette and discuss how they will spend it.

“They’re just trying to survive like everyone else,” said Lowry. “They just want to live peacefully.”

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Helmand Provincial Governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal presented graduation certificates to about 100 governmental staff and 120 young people who finished a week-long journalism workshop March 3.

Held in Lashkar Gah, the workshop was a collaborative effort between the Helmand Governor Media Office and the Gorbat Radio TV Network, based in Kabul.

Participants were trained in journalism theory and engaged with news writing and producing video on current issues in order to give them taste of real-world experience.

“Even though learning an entire profession is not possible during a six-day workshop, a new way studying the news and looking at the world was opened to the participants of the workshop,” said Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, director of the Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Liwal urged workshop attendees to continue to pursue their interests in journalistic fields and get as much experience as possible in those fields.

“The Journalism Training Workshop was first of its kind during the last ten years,” said Mangal, adding that including journalists in the workshop strengthened students’ knowledge building in the public affairs arena.

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Story and photos by Cpl. Meredith Brown

CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – Some days it is better to be lucky than good.

For Sgt. Jacob P., a Danish tank commander with Jutland Dragoon Regiment, luck was definitely on his side on two separate occasions in January.

On Jan. 5, Jacob was manning the turret in his Leopard 2 tank while providing overwatch during Operation Shamali Kamarband when he came under enemy fire. Jacob was shot in his right shoulder and fell down inside his tank. He immediately came back up after looking through his optics and located the enemy, engaged him and killed him by returning fire with his machine gun.

Following the firefight, the Holstebro, Denmark native had to be medically evacuated to Bastion Role 3 Hospital, adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, for treatment.

During his stay, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general Regional Command (Southwest), was making his routine visits through the hospital when he came across the soldier. He came back to his office and told Sgt. Maj. Michael F. Jones, sergeant major RC (SW), he needed to go visit him. During his visit, Jacob clearly recalled his story to Jones.

Then on Jan. 22 during a battle circulation tour, Toolan and Jones visited a Danish task force, operating out of Forward Operating Base Price, to say farewell, congratulate them on their many achievements and the accomplishments in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.

“At that time, the commander pointed out Jacob to the [commanding general] and we had him come up and do a photo session,” said Jones. The (commanding general) got inside the tank and Jacob showed him several technical aspects of the tank.”

It was just 10 days later that Toolan and Jones once again found themselves in the Bastion Role 3 Hospital visiting Jacob.

While talking with Toolan, Jacob recalled the events surrounding his second medical evacuation in a month.

Jacob and his crew were out on a patrol showing the incoming officer-in-charge the lay of the land.

They were South of Route 611, the main road between Sangin and Kajaki districts, when Jacob noticed something was wrong with one of the tracks on his tank. He stopped the convoy and got out to inspect the track. He noticed that a portion of the track was offset, so he got a hammer and started hitting the track to put it back into place, making the tank more mobile so they could continue their mission.

It was then Jacob had a feeling that someone was watching him. He looked back over his shoulder and saw somebody approximately 500 meters away. The man proceeded to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the tank. The RPG fell short as Jacob dived for protection as far from the tank as possible. He came up unscathed and began inspecting the tank for damage.

After inspecting the tank and deeming it okay, he made an attempt to return to the tank when he was shot in the right shoulder by a sniper. He immediately began yelling to his crew with instructions on the location of the enemy so that they could engage the insurgent.

With sniper fire hitting the ground all around him Jacob made another attempt to return to his tank. It was then he was shot in his left thigh. Once again he was forced to seek cover.

When he thought he could make it to the tank, he tried again. As he was crawling into the tank another round from the sniper shot him in his left leg.

Despite the fact that he had just been shot three times, Jacob instructed his crew from inside the tank on the location of the insurgent. They fired a 120mm round that fell short. However, the second round was a direct hit in the insurgent’s abdomen.

Jacob contributes his success and health to his crew of 12 years.

As they headed back to the nearest patrol base, the gunner and loader began to render medical care to Jacob. They cut off his clothes, assessed the wounds and began to bandage them.

The loader plugged the wound in his shoulder with his finger to stop the bleeding.

After the convoy arrived at PB Clifton, Jacob was waiting for the medical evacuation, when the Taliban released the name of the sniper they had lost.

A British commander came up to Jacob and thanked him for killing the sniper. The sniper had killed five of his men.

“I’m so happy I took the guy out, it really meant a lot to me,” said Jacob.

“It meant a lot to you last time too,” Toolan chuckled in response. “You’re not only going to go down in Danish lore, but you’re going to go down in USMC lore.”

“He was humble,” recalled Jones. “Like we read about when people have done great deeds on the battlefield. Even to the point of almost ducking his head and lowering his eyes to say ‘I did what anyone else would have done in those circumstances.’”

“I thought that was so profound for me to see this man had been injured twice, on two separate occasions on the battlefield, pretty extensively, conducted himself the way he did, it was pretty humbling,” said Jones.