Posts Tagged ‘USMC’

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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 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.