HANJAR YAK, Helmand Province, Afghanistan --
When Sgt. Zachary T. Harding and his squad of Marines arrived at the patrol base several weeks ago, they thought they would be training a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers.
However, the Marines discovered a highly proficient and hospitable group of ANA soldiers who were able to function independently, explained Harding, a squad leader with 2nd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
In the following weeks, the Marines built a close relationship with the ANA soldiers here, added Harding.
On Feb. 8, the Marines transferred authority of Hanjar Yak to the ANA’s 3rd Tolai, 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps.
Since then, the ANA soldiers formally took responsibility for every daily task, including guarding the facility, running independent patrols, resupplying and cooking, said 2nd Lt. Brian Darcy, 1st Platoon commander, India Co.
When Darcy, a 25-year-old native of Petaluma, Calif., arrived here, the ANA soldiers were already equipped with all of the skills necessary for security operations, including patrolling, navigating and communicating.
The Afghan soldiers asked the Marines to teach them more skills, but the Marines didn’t have much more for them than a first aid class given by the Navy corpsmen, he added.
The ANA maintained tidy posts. Each post was lined with straight sandbags and free of clutter. The ANA soldiers were equipped with light machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, and there was very little dust on any of the weapons. “They had some of the cleanest weapons I’d ever seen,” said Darcy.
The ANA soldiers also relied on each other for food and water. Afghan National Army Lance Cpl. Abdul Kabir, a cook with 3rd Tolai, 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, fired up the wood stove and cooked food his comrades purchased from local merchants, he said. The 30-year-old Badakhshan Province native prepared his rice by thoroughly washing it and soaking it in boiling water for one hour. He then boiled the rice over pan-fried onions and tomatoes and served it steaming hot, topped with beans and chunks of beef.
Every night, the ANA soldiers invited the Marines to dinner and tea to relax after a day of patrolling, said Lance Cpl. William M. Baldridge, radio operator, 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, India Co.
They laughed together and spoke phrases in English and also Pashto and Dari, the two most common languages in Afghanistan, added Baldridge, a 22-year-old native of Palmdale, Calif.
The Afghan soldiers’ ability to speak Pashto allowed the ANA to build rapport with the local villagers and gather information quickly, explained Harding, a 25-year-old native of Hallettsville, Texas, and 2004 graduate of Hallettsville High School.
Violence dropped significantly in Sangin since a year and a half ago as the people in the province united and worked with the ANA to keep the area safe, said ANA Staff Sgt. Mahfazullah, the Hanjar Yak commander, 3rd Tolai, 2nd Kandak.
“Most of the finds of improvised explosive devices that we’ve had are through local national tips, so it’s them talking to us,” said Darcy. “I think the ANA soldiers will be able to handle whatever comes at them.”
Editor’s Note: The 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines are currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6, which is a part of Task Force Leatherneck. Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.