FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan --
Marines and Afghan National Army leaders stand around the 10-by-10-foot box, marked off with 2-by-4-inch construction wood and rope. The designated area that was nothing more than dirt and rocks the day prior is now a detailed map of roads, formations and geographical obstacles.
Next to solid mud walls and away from the tents and buildings inside the compound, the group of military leaders discusses their next operation.
Among those in attendance are Capt. Stephen Walker, the operations advisor with the Embedded Training Team, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and ANA 1st Sgt. Mubarak, the operations first sergeant with 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps. Together they transformed an unused part of a base into a briefing area for the kandak staff. A kandak is an ANA military element equivalent to a Marine Corps battalion.
Walker, a native of Morganton, N.C. works with the ANA as a military advisor and helped build the model the leaders from both militaries will use.
The kandak staff asked Walker to help build a terrain model for preparing for future operations.
A terrain model is a 3-D map that is composed with rocks and sticks to signify major geological figures. The model uses a grid system to maintain map integrity.
“The terrain model shows the area of operations clearly,” said Mubarak. “Seeing a larger map, with (geological features) helps when we brief the leaders.”
The kandak leaders used the map to plan Operation High Noon 15, a three-day clearing operation through the northern part of the kandak’s area.
“The ANA track the movements of all their tolais, and all their patrols,” said Walker. A tolai is an ANA formation equivalent to a Marine Corps company of troops.
The terrain model helped the Afghans plan the different moving parts of the operation, and with several tolais in the kandak, and each tolai with separate squads, the Afghans know they have a lot to keep track of.
“The model helps us see how the operation is suppose to run and where we want the soldiers to go,” said Mubarak.
On a sunny afternoon the day before, Mubarak waited with a shovel and five ANA soldiers as Walker approached. The Afghans gathered several 2-by-4s, string and sandbags to build the model.
Walker explained his plan, and Mubarak ordered the soldiers accordingly. Mubarak and Walker worked up a sweat in the mid-afternoon sun when the outline for the map was completed. The 2-by-4s formed a square area, while the soldiers removed excess rocks from inside the grid.
The removal of any excess debris is necessary to maintain the integrity of the terrain model.
The sand bags helped level out the area and secured the 2-by-4s from moving.
“The goal of the model is to lay it out like you would see on a map,” explained Walker.
Mubarak and Walker used a tape measure and rope to construct the grid system.
“It is important for the model and grid to be correct so there is no confusion with the operation,” said Mubarak.
Mubarak said he asked Walker to help because the Afghan leader had little experience with a terrain model.
Walker learned how to build and brief with models from the different professional military schools he’s attended as a Marine officer.
“We’ve imparted this idea of terrain models to the ANA,” said Walker. “My hope is that the ANA will use it again for future operations.”
When the leaders leave, the terrain model is reset; the rocks and sticks used to show the area on the map are pushed to the side. The terrain model gave the staff a clearer understanding of the operation.
“The terrain model is very helpful for preparation and I will reuse it in the future,” said Mubarak with a grin.
The once detailed model now waits for the next operation.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is part of Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces 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.