LASHKAR GAH, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." Marines in Helmand province's British Forward Operating Base Lashkar Gah, have come to understand this ancient Chinese proverb all too well.
The Marine Provincial Police Mentor Team (P-PMT) has been tasked to work with NATO and the International Security Assistant Force, and to partner with the Afghan Police headquarters staff to enhance their policing procedures, communications, logistical and operational capabilities.
"Our job isn't to tell them how to do their job, but to actually partner with their staff, help them identify problems, and develop solutions," according to Col. John Klink, P-PMT, officer-in-charge.
The P-PMT team, partnered with the British soldiers of the 1st Battalion Mercian Regiment's Police Development Advisory Training Team, is responsible for training police forces at the Helmand Police Training Center, here, along with its 13 districts throughout Helmand province's 23,000 square miles.
"The team's main focus is mentoring members of the provincial police headquarters, and aiding in developing key programs such as crime stoppers, training and education, and community outreach, where the villagers can voice their concerns to their respective police forces," said Master Sgt. Scott Nichols, P-PMT senior enlisted advisor, and a Sanford, Maine, police officer.
The P-PMT team — comprised of 13 Marines, a Navy Corpsman, and two interpreters — brings a wide variety of military skills and specialties to the table. Like Nichols, there are two other police officers on the team, plus experts in the field of communications, intelligence, heavy equipment operations, logistics and infantry.
Beyond assisting with the mentoring of the police force located in Lashkah Gar, Helmand province's capital, the P-PMT is responsible for medically screening Afghan National Police and initially processing them into the system. They escort recruits to Camp Leatherneck's training area, JSAS (Joint Security Academy Shorabak), and upon their graduation, they are escorted to their respective police districts.
Spearheading the ground and air movement of his Marines and the ANP is Staff Sgt. Justin Rettenberger, the P-PMT operations chief.
"Our forward operating base facilitates a strong presence in the community, and allows us to move our teams from the FOB to our areas of operations to assist and train the members of the PHQ (Police Headquarters) and the HPTC," said Rettenberger, a Dubuque, Iowa, native.
With just over two months on the ground, the Marines of the P-PMT have faced some difficulties.
According to a recent Afghanistan Helmand Provincial Government report, the literacy rate in Helmand province is five percent. "Many of the procedures we are teaching, such as Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices and Explosive Ordnance Disposal, require their policemen to read and write," said Nichols. "Literacy programs are being developed, but it's not an overnight process."
The P-PMT is somewhat of a pioneer program, as they did not have the opportunity to conduct a turnover, or relief in place. "The initial set-up has been quite a challenge," added Nichols, "but our British counterparts and civilian contractors have been a huge help to getting us off the ground and running."
Defying all setbacks, the Marines of the P-PMT have been working hand-in-hand with the Afghan National Police teams, and their outlook on the future of the ANP is bright.
"We are seeing this country develop as a secure sovereign nation, and seeing its provincial police forces being able to stand up on their own feet is inspiring," Rettenberger added. "The ANP and the Afghan people have truly embraced us. They know we are here to stay, and we will see the mission through to the end."