SOUTHERN HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The Afghan sun beat down on the patrol and gusts of wind threw sand and dirt on the faces of the men as they talked to locals and searched for any insurgent activity.
The patrol, led by an Afghan National Army fire team with Marines in a support and advisory role, walked by mud compounds, cornfields and water systems. Curious children came out to watch the patrol, with some of the more bold children venturing out to receive a lollipop or candy bar.
“We went on a census patrol, to get an idea of the surrounding area and people,” said Cpl. Anthony Middleton, team leader, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7.
During the patrol, Afghan soldiers received hands-on training with the Marines.
“We taught them (squad and fire team) formations and dispersions,” said Middleton, from Lompoc, Calif. “We showed them how far they should be from each other, the best places to set up security and how to properly wear their gear.”
The Marines and ANA soldiers with the newly formed 4th Brigade, 215th Corps, went to several compounds and talked to the men and joked with the children.
While ANA Sgt. Gulagh, team leader, 1st Tolai, 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, talked to one local, Middleton advised the Afghan soldiers where to set up security. The interpreter was with the squad leader and the ANA team leader, so Middleton used hand gestures and sound effects to relay his message. Making gunshot sounds and large gestures brought a smile to the local Afghan boys who came out to watch the patrol, but the ANA soldiers understood. Soon they posted security, covering the patrol’s front and sides, while Marines filled in the gaps.
“We let their sergeant run them, and we coach them in the right direction,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Marzell Scott, a corpsman with the company. “I think they take that better than our guys telling them what to do. It also builds their leadership and strengthens their (noncommissioned officers).”
For Marines, small unit leadership begins during recruit training and is emphasized in each infantry company. It is something the Marines passed on to the Afghans.
“Once I explained to Sgt. Gulagh what his soldiers should be doing, he got motivated to set up his men in security positions,” said Middleton.
At the next stop, it was Gulagh setting up his team in security positions, pointing out a cornfield that he wanted to be covered, while he talked to an owner of a compound. It showed how quickly the Afghans are picking up what the Marines are teaching them.
“He reminded me of how a squad leader is supposed to act,” said Scott, from High Point, N.C. “He got on his men to post security and stayed on them to make sure they did the right thing without us telling him.”
The Marines know they are under the microscope when patrolling with their Afghan counterparts. The Afghans learn just as much from observing how the Marines patrol than from the classes they receive.
“Once (Gulagh) watches us do it with our men, it seems like he mimics us with his men,” said Middleton. “They learn from watching us and it seems like they are picking it up faster and faster.”
While the patrol was a learning experience for the Afghans, they still focused on their mission. They spoke to several locals about any complaints or needs and learned more about the surrounding area.
The Marines with 3rd Bn. 9th Marines, recently took control of the area from 3rd Bn., 8th Marines, but are already putting their stamp on the region. They are proactively training and teaching the Afghan National Army soldiers to take command of patrols and eventually work independently from outside sources.