Posts Tagged ‘marines’

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Story by 2nd Lt. Scott Murdock

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “When I was here last, we had a 12-year-old boy  turn his father in for making [improvised explosive devices],” said Capt. Aaron  Fisher, Support Company commander, 9th Engineer Support Battalion. “We asked him  why he’d do that. He said he learned in school that IEDs are bad and that bad  people make them.”
Route Tiffany runs east-to-west through the low  rolling hills of southwest Afghanistan. Constant wind makes the air thick with  sun-bleached dust and the sweet smell of blooming poppy. The landscape is as  beautiful as it is deadly.
Marines from 9th ESB left Camp Leatherneck in  northern Helmand province the morning of March 27 to begin construction on the  new road. They reached the dry riverbed, called a wadi by locals, where they  would begin construction and established security by early afternoon.
The  construction team “rolled out a click and a half of road the next day,” said  Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Lovely, Heavy Equipment Platoon commander, Support  Company. One or two kilometers of road per day is exactly the pace the Marines  were accustomed to. The next week would not see similar results.
The  night of March 28, one of the team’s armored vehicles was struck by an IED that  killed one Marine and wounded two others. At that point, it became clear that  creating Route Tiffany would not be a typical mission. Telling signs of the  insurgency warned that by leaving the established security area Marines risked  driving into what was likened to a minefield.
Marines bore the effects of  this attack in their hearts and on their bodies. Cpl. Nickolas Gaversoni,  security team leader for the first convoy to begin work on Route Tiffany, pulled  his Marines from the stricken vehicle. His uniform was torn from his body in  places and he was covered in motor oil. Like all Marines there, he continued  working in a way that honored his brothers’ sacrifice.
A second team,  composed of Marines from Support Company, 9th ESB, Army explosive ordnance  disposal, and an Army route clearance platoon, was dispatched from Camp  Leatherneck on April 1 to relieve the Marines in the wadi. From the time the  convoy departed friendly lines it was confronted with small-arms fire and  IEDs.
One of the most frustrating challenges was identifying which  individuals posed a threat.
“A kid carrying yellow jugs in a wheelbarrow  could be getting water for his mom or he could be getting ammonium nitrate to  blow us up,” Fisher said. “One is a hostile act, one is just a good deed for his  mom.”
Fisher explained several reasons for the opposition the teams  faced. Insurgents often use IEDs to protect the poppy fields that provide the  revenue with which they fund the insurgency. They also see any sort of  improvement to the infrastructure of Afghanistan as a threat because it  decreases the degree to which the local population relies on insurgent support.
An established road running directly through poppy fields poses a  serious threat to insurgents.
“Basically wherever you put pavement,  terrorists go away,” said 1st Lt. Andrez Posada, Motor Transport Platoon  commander with Support Company, 9th ESB.
The combined teams received the  full support of their command and quickly sent a strong message to the local  population.
“We’re here to build roads,” said Brig. Gen. John  Broadmeadow, commanding general of 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “The  roads will help you. You can let the insurgents take that away or you can help  us build roads.”
The Marines of Support Company were backed by the full  force of Marine fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing  (Forward), unmanned aerial vehicles from 1st MLG(Fwd), coordination from 1st  Marine Division (Forward) and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Army route  clearance platoons and explosive ordnance disposal units, British rotary-wing  aircraft, and Georgian ground patrols and mortar illumination.
“It feels  good to know I’m being backed up,” Posada said. “Now that we’ve got the support  we need, we’ll do it.”
The teams identified threats in the route ahead  using ground and air assets, and cleared the way using various methods of  controlled detonations. The road quickly became crowded with armored trucks and  heavy machinery. Marines labored under heavy body armor stained with rings of  sweat.
As the sun set each night, a second shift of Marines, soldiers  and Navy corpsmen took to the road to continue nonstop construction under the  watchful eyes of Marines picketed along the entire route.
Georgian  mortars cast an eerie glow over the desert, steadily hanging illumination rounds  over the road and adjacent compounds. Under the flares’ flickering light, white  poppy blooms turned bright orange in the black fields.
Days were marked  by explosions from a combination of insurgents’ homemade explosives and military  countermeasures. Line charges ripped through the sky and fell ahead of the  convoy. The charges, and any IEDs in their path, detonated with shock waves that  rippled across the fine Helmand sand.
Every indicator of a potential  IED was treated with the utmost caution.
“There’s a 99 percent chance  that command wire is from a previous blast,” 1st Lt. Tony Cox, the convoy  commander said. “But there’s still a one percent chance that I don’t want to  risk.”
Fisher frequently spoke to local farmers to gain information and  communicate his mission. Sitting in the sand between the road and poppy fields  with village elders, Fisher explained that the road would bring them access to  schools, hospitals and commerce.  Before using explosives to clear IEDs he  assured them he was not there to threaten their lives or livelihoods.
“I  am a peaceful man,” Fisher said. “I have a family. I believe in God.”
Broadmeadow visited his Marines to share words of encouragement and to ensure  they were being taken care of. He asked several Marines what they needed, and  how he could help them. He comforted those whose friends had been wounded or  killed. His face showed genuine concern as he told even the most junior of  Marines to look after one another. As he addressed a large group just before  nightfall, the general demonstrated the kind of resolve and determination that  makes Marines successful.
“This is not easy,” Broadmeadow said. “But it’s  who we are, and it’s what we do.”
The general’s visit marked the  completion of the road that linked the established road to the west to the wadi  that provided the gravel for Route Tiffany. He gave his closing remarks as the  sun sank below the wadi’s protective berm. New aircraft arrived overhead to keep  watch over the construction crews below. Thick black clouds of diesel exhaust  coughed from dump trucks and graders. Headlights flashed to life and  night-vision goggles sprouted from helmets. The Marines turned east and began a  new stretch of road.
“We’re the engineers,” Fisher said. “If we can’t  find a way, we’ll make a way. That’s what we’re going to do right now.”

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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.

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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 Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

GARMSIR, Afghanistan – During the late afternoon hours of Jan. 30, Marines with Bridge Platoon, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), were working hard to take apart a medium girder bridge in the rural district of Garmsir, Helmand province. During the disassembly, part of the bridge inadvertently gave way and landed on a Marine’s leg, sending him to the ground, writhing in pain.

“Doc! Doc! Doc! Doc, get up here now!”

Sprinting on to the scene with his medical bag on his back was the corpsman for Bridge Platoon, Petty Officer Third Class Michael Soto. Though he didn’t know exactly what was going on, he ran to where Marines were gathering around a body lying on the ground. Soto knelt down next to the injured Marine and began to determine the extent to which his leg was damaged. His hands trembled slightly as he used his scissors to cut the Marine’s pants so the injury could be exposed.

“I told myself just to relax a little bit,” said Soto. “I was shaking a little. Not because I was scared. I was just kind of hyped up like, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Like this is my time. I get to finally do something. It was exciting in a way.”

Once he determined the Marine had suffered a closed fracture, Soto grabbed some splints out of his medical bag. After setting the Marine’s leg, giving him some medicine to dull the pain and taking his vitals, Soto began joking with his patient.

“Oh man, now you’re going to be on light duty for the rest of the deployment,” chuckled Soto. “You’re going to be our new clerk.”

During this time, the commander of Bridge Platoon had coordinated a medical evacuation. Less than 30 minutes later, a Black Hawk helicopter landed in a field next to the bridge site. The injured Marine was placed on a litter and carried by his fellow Marines toward the air ambulance with Soto out in front leading the way.

“That was almost a textbook medevac,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Glory, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of Bridge Platoon and a veteran of two deployments to Iraq. “The way Doc Soto took care of everything and really controlled the site. He handled his business. He did his job extremely well.”

The 21-year-old Soto has come a long way in his three years since joining the Navy. Growing up in Lake Villa, Ill., (a mere 17 miles away from Naval Station Great Lakes) the self-admitted partier never took anything too seriously. Now he is entrusted with rendering emergency medical treatment to Marines on the frontlines of Afghanistan.

After graduating from Grayslake North High School in 2008, where he played defensive back for the football team, Soto was looking to get out of Lake Villa. He had received acceptance letters from several different colleges including Northern Illinois University, but he had no desire to go back to school. Soto wanted to get a job and get out of the house as soon as possible.

Soto decided to join the military. Much of Soto’s family has served in the armed forces. His father, Antonio, had spent 22 years in the Navy as a sonar technician. For much of Soto’s childhood, his father was aboard a ship at some remote location around the world.

“I saw what the Navy did for my dad,” said Soto. “The stories he’d tell me and the pictures he’d show me … I definitely wanted to do something like that too.”

At first, Soto wanted to join the Marine Corps, but his father, being a career sailor, was not going to allow that. Antonio suggested to his son that he become a Navy Corpsman, who functions as the primary medical caregiver to Marines on the battlefield.

“You’re kind of like a Marine in a way,” Soto was told by his father. “You’ll be treated differently because you’re a sailor, but you’re going to learn a bunch of medical stuff.”

Soto was sold on the idea. After graduating from boot camp and going through hospital corpsman school, he got his first taste of what life is like in a Marine unit when he went through Field Medical Training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“A lot of guys are like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad,’ but it was pretty hard for me,” said Soto. “The [hikes] and stuff…I did it all. I never want to go back again.

“I learned a lot though. It definitely opened up another side of the corpsman rating. I was thinking it was all in the hospital and then I was exposed to actual tactical care in the field on the ground. You go on field [operations] for like 5 to 7 days. You eat [Meals Ready to Eat], you sleep outside and they teach you how to take care of your feet.”

Once that pillar of training was completed, Soto received orders to Camp Hansen in Okinawa, Japan. After working in a clinic at a different command, he was transferred to 9th Engineer Support Battalion.

In the months leading up to their current deployment to Afghanistan, Soto was busy training alongside the Marines and getting them medically ready. During this time, he found out that the Marines like to poke fun at each other and especially any sailors that are within their ranks.

“He’s too soft so I try to harden him up,” jokes Lance Cpl. Jesus Penagraves, a combat engineer in 9th ESB and a native of Houston. “I try to make him feel like a Marine. Thick skin – he needs it.”

In order to fit in, Soto, who is naturally cheerful and outgoing, had to embrace the unique culture he was placed in.

“Everyone talks trash to each other,” said Soto. “You just kind of take it. I just got used to it. It’s kind of a bond. I started talking trash back. I became one of them.”

Now, three months into the deployment, “Doc” Soto is just one of the guys. He has made many friends throughout the platoon, who he says help him get through every day. In addition to prescribing aspirin, patching up small cuts and pulling splinters from the fingers of Marines, Soto frequently tries to help out with the labor-intensive work his friends are engaged in when they are building bridges.

Glory often chases Soto off of the building site out of fear of him possibly getting injured.

“There are a lot of times he tries to get involved and help the Marines out because he’s created that camaraderie,” said Glory, a native of Tulsa, Okla. “That’s just Doc Soto. But I hold him back because if he gets hurt we’re kind of done.”

At the time of the accident, Soto had taken a break from walking around checking on his Marines and decided to sit down to read a few pages of “Starship Troopers.” Not long after sitting down, he heard the call for help. Without hesitation, the 5-foot-7inch, 140-pound sailor sprinted to the bridge site in only a few seconds.

First Lt. Matt Paluta, the commander of Bridge Platoon, 9th ESB, believes that Soto’s actions have given the Marines peace of mind for the rest of the deployment.

“It wasn’t a major injury, but [Soto] definitely proved his worth,” said Paluta, a native of Cincinnati. “It’s one of those things when Marines see that, they see their doc performing that well under pressure, it breeds confidence. Hey, doc’s got our back – he knows his stuff. Their minds won’t be distracted as much now. Every bridge build, every convoy, hey Doc Soto’s around. We know he can do it.”

Not only do the Marines now have confidence in Soto, but he also has more confidence in himself and his fellow Marines.

“I’m happy it happened while we weren’t being shot at,” said Soto. “It helped me out a lot today because I actually got to see the picture. I got to see how everything worked. The [radio operator] already knew what to do, Lieutenant [Paluta] was already talking to the command. It was just awesome how everything worked. It was so smooth. Now I know all I really have to do is just focus on my job.”