Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marines, Afghan National Police stay vigilant in southern Afghanistan

Date written: May 12, 2009
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones

BAKWA, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Through binoculars, a Marine spotted suspicious men in the distance. Over the radio, he passed the word. The security convoy circled around and pushed up to investigate. As they moved in closer, shots rang out from the ridge ahead, May 4, 2009.

The insurgents’ rounds impacted close to the Marines’ vehicles. On the order, the Marines returned fire causing the insurgents’ retreat. The insurgents had completely fled before a quick-reaction force and air support arrived on scene. Shortly afterward, the Marines dismounted and went up the ridge. They found no traces of casualties, just fresh tracks and probable bunkers that may have been used as outposts.

This was not a typical patrol for the Marines of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan. They have successfully kept security under control in Bakwa, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and such events are rare.

“None of them hesitated,” said Cpl. Josh B. Reasbeck, the squad leader who led the patrol that day. “They were all employed the way they were supposed to be. They all did exactly what they were taught to do. I’m really proud of all them, and I have full confidence of their abilities.”

Prior to alliance forces arriving in Bakwa, insurgent intimidation destroyed the community and pushed many people away. From testimonies of locals, the Marines know insurgents are still active in the area but have little influence.

“The security has increased tremendously with us being here and with the Afghan National Police starting to step up,” said Cpl. Chris L. Parra, a 3rd Civil Affairs Group noncommissioned officer attached to Co. I. “The people actually feel more secure now that they see the local government taking time to put in effort in providing security for the locals in the area.”

The Marines of Co. I are operating from Forward Operating Base Bakwa and two combat outposts. They continually conduct mounted and dismounted security patrols, maintain quick reaction force teams and keep a 24-hour watch over the immediate areas.

“The threat out here is improvised explosive devices,” said Reasbeck. “We don’t really worry about direct fire so much.”

Occasionally, the Marines will catch a local, who was persuaded by insurgents, planting an IED in the road, said Reasbeck.
With security efforts going well, the Marines take time to focus on training an eager-to-learn ANP.

“They seem like they really want to do their job and be the protectors of Afghanistan,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hutto, a team leader with Co. I.

Marines such as Hutto train the ANP with the help of interpreters to overcome the language barrier. The ANP are trained in basic formations, patrolling and weapons handling.

The ANP have made a considerable amount of progress from the time Co. I first arrived, said Hutto.

The Marines coordinate security patrols with the ANP, showing the local civilians that the U.S. and Afghan forces are working together, said Reasbeck.

With the ANP at their sides, the Marines visit villages to speak with locals. While in the villages, they take the opportunity to do assessments of what the people need and inquire about any activity in the area.

“Generally they’re pretty happy and welcome us with open arms,” said Hutto.

Reasbeck added that the locals are pleased to find that the Marines are willing to help with problems, such as ineffective wells. In return, the villagers are willing to share information.

“When I first got here, the people were very scared and very reluctant to come up and talk to us,” Parra said. “Now they meet us and shake our hands in public. It’s completely different now.”
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Service members enjoy simple pleasures in southern Afghanistan

May 3, 2009
Story by: Lance Cpl. Ronald W. Stauffer

CAMP BARBER, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that can make a difference when deployed.
Service members carrying out their duties in support of counterinsurgency operations aboard Camp Barber, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, can now enjoy the fresh smell of coffee and a relaxing lounge to sip a “cup of Joe” at Holy Joe’s Café, April 29, 2009.

The Camp Barber café originally opened in March, providing free coffee, hot tea and breakfast snacks to service members and civilians serving at Camp Barber, but the moniker “Holy Joe’s” isn’t an entirely new name to forward-deployed service members.

The café at Camp Barber derived its name from the Holy Joe’s Café project, which was started in 2006 by the First Congregational Church in Wallingford, Conn., as a coffee drive, providing military chaplains in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait the opportunity to further support U.S. service members deployed overseas.

In an effort to support her fellow service members in what she calls “a little piece of home,” Navy Lt. Karen J. Rector, the Combat Logistics Battalion 3 chaplain, collected matted flooring, put up camouflage netting for shade, and gathered benches and tables to give coffee and tea-drinking patrons a comfortable and appealing place to take a break. CLB-3 Sgt. Maj. Danny Duvall volunteered a bit of his spare time and artistry, decorating the café’s tables and benches with an eclectic holy-Hawaiian-desert-patriotic motif to make things interesting for the patrons as they enjoy their “cup of Joe” or tea.

“Coffee in the morning helps you face the adversities that you’re going to face that day,” said 1st Lt. Jason D. Ryan, the supply officer assigned to Headquarters Company, CLB-3. “If you get a bad cup of coffee, you know it’s going to be a bad day,” joked Ryan.

Ryan said his day would be incomplete if he wasn’t able to get his cup of coffee and feels it’s an important part of his morning.

“Holy Joe’s has the best coffee on Camp Barber,” Ryan said. “There are some things in Afghanistan that are always tough, but it should never be your first cup of coffee.”

Coffee isn’t the only sustenance provided at Holy Joe’s. The café also provides juices, cereal and cold milk and various breakfast foods to start off the day.

Rector attributes much of the café’s success to the donated supplies she receives through the “Adopt-a-Chaplain Program” and the individuals who donate their time and effort to support the troops through the chaplains’ services.

Holy Joe’s recently held its official grand opening April 20, 2009, announcing its place in the camp and all that it has to offer. Those who participated in the social event were welcomed with a barbeque picnic, refreshments and a raffle of prizes to top the night.

Combat Logistics Battalion 3 is the logistics combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan whose mission is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, and train and mentor the Afghan National Police.
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ISAF top enlisted meets with Marines in Afghanistan

Date written: May 1, 2009
Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s top enlisted leader personally delivered a message to Marines on Camp Leatherneck in the Islamic republic of Afghanistan May 1, 2009 – “we couldn’t have selected a better outfit to come down here.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua T. Savusa, the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan command sergeant major, spent part of the day touring construction sites on Camp Leatherneck and observing the development of Camp Bastion’s new expeditionary airfield, in preparation for the arrival of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. However, Savusa had an additional mission in mind – he wanted to speak with the troops.

“Listening to what they really need is what every senior enlisted leader is charged by their commanders to do,” he said. “Marines do very well in (counter insurgency environments) and at gaining the trust of the people. I’m here to listen … and push out the resources needed to build up Leatherneck and the (forward operating bases) so they can accomplish that mission.”

Savusa spent the majority of his trip answering questions and speaking about the pivotal role Marines and sailors will play in supporting the Afghan people during their upcoming presidential elections.

“It’s all about being on one team,” said Sgt. Maj. Paul G. McKenna, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan sergeant major. “CSM Savusa and I are on the same page when it comes to taking care of all NATO and U.S. service members in this coalition environment. Our visit today to Camp Leatherneck is a display of that partnership and demonstrates to all hands that regardless of the style of uniform you wear, we all execute from the same playbook.”

Savusa left a few parting words for the Marines “on the ground.”

“We need the Marines here as soon as we possibly can to bring the level of security and trust way up,” Savusa said. “We have to help the Afghan people get their lives back. While you’re out there, be safe and take care of each other.”

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