Posts Tagged ‘Helmand province’

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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.


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 Sgt. Laura Bonano

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Nineteen Afghan soldiers and police graduated from the basic generator operator and maintenance course taught at the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, Feb. 20.

The eight-day course teaches the skills necessary to run and maintain generators used to power military and security operations. Marine instructors as well as Afghan instructors lead the class in a joint effort.

Lance Cpl. Elbridge Barnard, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., is an instructor at Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest and said even though the class is short, it is jam packed with information. The students are taught how to do preliminary checks on the generators as well as how to fix problems caused from pulled wires or other defects in the systems.

Part of Barnard’s job is to purposely disable the generator and question the students on how to fix it.

“Most of these guys are mechanically inclined and they have a desire to learn,” said Barnard. “I like sharing the knowledge that I have and I’m proud of the students.”

Mohammad Ismail, with the 444 Special Forces unit of the Afghan National Army, was the first student to receive his graduation certificate. He was also the class honor graduate.

A native of Kabul, Afghanistan, Ismail said his father and brother were mechanics and he credits that to his success in the course. He said if the students study hard and learn, they can contribute their newfound abilities to Afghanistan as a country.

“The class is very important to the students and especially to the ANA,” said Ismail. “It will be extremely important not only for now, but for the future as well.”

Ismail plans to return home to teach his fellow Afghans the skills he has learned. He said the responsibility on his shoulders is large but in order for Afghans to play a bigger role in the future of Afghanistan, he must bear the load.

Ismail will return to Kabul with a graduation gift containing an extensive set of mechanic’s tools. The gift was given to Ismail during the ceremony. It will help him accomplish the goal of passing on his experiences from the class with other Afghans when he returns home.

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Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Monique LaRouche

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — A one-day financial course was recently offered to Afghan financial clerks by a joint pay assessment team, consisting of U.S. Army, Marine and civilian fiscal officers from Task Force Leatherneck.

“This is a basic-level introductory [class],” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Caruso, an officer for the pay assessment team, Regional Command Southwest, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and a New Orleans, La., native.

But, Caruso said the course is more than simple accounting. Topics covered included payroll processing, records keeping and auditing.

“We explain their pay charts and bonuses. They can begin to understand if problem exists, and the steps they can take to address it,” Caruso said.

Paying over 200,000 members in the NATO-led Afghan National Security Forces, which comprises the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Border Police can be a challenging process in Helmand. Lack of infrastructure in the province results in very few banks or roads, so consequently, managing cash over long distances can produce, at best mistakes, and at worst fraudulent practices, the pay assessment team cautions.

For Afghan soldiers and police to get paid, each must fill out a time-and-incident sheet, which is sent to the nearest Provincial Police Headquarters. After a series of approvals, funds are released and sent to either the Afghan member’s bank via electronic funds transfer, or to a “human-trusted” agent. The agent then physically travels to each of the forward operating posts in order to pay soldiers or police in cash.

Although Afghan financial clerks have been responsible for pay in the past, the system has not had adequate checks and balances, such as properly tracking funding, equipment and services. Incorporating a sound pay system is part of the long-term plan for sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghanistan as a whole.

The first step toward a sound system is properly training the clerks.

The one-day class is not mandatory, but encouraged; while enrollment in a formal, eight-week training course is offered to participants who do attend.

“The formal training gives more instruction and a continuing partnership with the financial organization to make them better,” explained Daniel Watson, a civilian financial advisor for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.

“If they come out of the one-day [class] saying ‘I want more’ then that is one of our success factors,” Watson said.

The financial classes are an effort to educate Afghan soldiers and police on what to expect with their pay and benefits as a start to establishing a reliable pay system.

“Those types of internal controls just make sure people are paid the right amount and on time,” Watson said.

“It’s best for [the financial clerks] to have training from a fiscal stand point,” said Caruso, adding that interest among the clerks is rising. He said attendance is up from four to 11 participants for this second class held in a two-month period.

“Today was a good meeting,” said Gul Rasul, a financial officer for the Afghan Border Police. “The reason I am here is [the instructors] are our American friends. They are financial officers and we learn from them.”

Rasul was encouraged to attend the one-day class by his financial mentor Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Fisher, a personnel advisor for the 6th Zone Afghan Border Police.

“My biggest responsibility is ensuring the Afghans are maintaining their accountability correctly, which directly affects the [Afghan Border Police] finance section,” said Fisher, who hails from Lillington, N.C.

Fisher explained that the finance section allocates money for salaries per the Afghan personnel rosters, in accordance with the time-and-incident sheets. The personnel section ensures their reports are accurate and submitted on time so that the soldiers and police are being paid correctly and on time.

“As a mentor I oversee this process, ensure that it is being done correctly, and provide input where needed,” Fisher said.

“The Marines have done a great job,” Watson said, adding the financial course in Lashkar Gah will help build the Afghan fiscal organization to move toward continued success. Watson also said that training and education is important to the future of Afghan police and military forces.

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From Helmand’s Provincial Media Center

Two thousand students graduated from the Lashkar Gah trainee center in Helmand province, Feb. 1. Curricula included using computers, learning the English language, sewing, electricity, carpentry, and tractor repair, among other fields.

Helmand governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal, Governor of Daikondi province Qurban Ali Rozgani, members of Afghan security authorities, Nasima Niazai, a member of the Afghan parliament, members of Helmand’s provincial council, and various other officials spoke at the ceremony.

“These youths, who were trained in a total of eight fields have the best opportunity to benefit,” Mangal remarked during his speech to students and their families in attendance. He lamented that unfortunately many other youths become addicted to the opium cultivated from poppies grown here illicitly and never have the opportunities to have better lives.

Mangal urged the graduates to continue their studies. He suggested that those who don’t care for work in the civil engineering fields should enlist with Afghan Uniformed Police or the Afghan National Army and serve their country.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Mangal distributed graduation certificates to the students.

Later in the day, Mangal and various officials cut a ribbon, inaugurating the Helmand province Lashkar Gah girls’ high school.

“Seven hundred female students will be learning to use computers, sewing, embroidery and more during two three or six month semesters,” Mangal announced.