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Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and district government officials enjoy Iftar or ‘breaking of fast,’ which is the nightly meal during the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan, Aug. 8. Marines from 1/3 are regularly invited to Iftar with their Afghan National Army and Police counterparts during Ramadan.

Photo by Cpl. Colby Brown

Faith sustains Afghan soldiers during Ramadan

20 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Colby Brown

Without food, water or relief from 120-plus degree temperatures, an Afghan National Army soldier patrols with his Marine counterparts. He is observing Ramadan, a month-long Islamic holiday in which Muslims fast during daylight hours.

The soldier has been fasting for two weeks, but a parched tongue and hunger pain aren’t things the human body gets used to. The Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment were briefed on how the holiday could affect ANA soldiers, but witnessing the effects up close brings to life the commitment of their Afghan counterparts.

Some Marines with 1/3, such as Capt. Daniel Petronzio, are experiencing the fast firsthand.

“With the food, it’s not so bad,” said Petronzio, a native of Beverly, Mass., and the officer-in-charge of the 1/3 Embedded Training Team. “But the afternoon is definitely the most difficult time because of the dehydration. It’s much easier to [become aggravated]. But it has shown to me what the [ANA] soldiers are going through, and that going out during the day could be dangerous. And, it’s an honor to go through the same thing they are and have a more intimate understanding of Ramadan.”

Despite the privations associated with Ramadan, the ANA’s mission and workload remain the same. Operations have shifted slightly to account for the effects of the fast, with more patrols taking place in the evening when food and water are available. However, the local kandak still logs more than 60 patrols a day, and much of the work still takes place during daylight hours.

The battalion adjusts its battle rhythm to coordinate with the Ramadan-induced shift, and provides food for the nightly meal Iftar, or ‘breaking of the fast.’ Many Marines join their counterparts for the meal, which is traditionally a family function.

“When the Marines got here they respected our people,” said ANA Maj. Zahir Shah, the operations officer for 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, and a native of Laghman province. “It is good that the Marines understand our culture and our religion; otherwise, they would not be successful with having good relationships with the people. We respect your culture and you respect ours … Culture is important for every society."

In Islamic culture, Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, when Muslims focus on the five pillars of faith: prayer, charitable giving, fasting and pilgrimage, self-evaluation through prayer, and ‘Shahada,’ or testimony of faith.

“I have done this fast all of my life and so have all of the soldiers,” said Zahir. “It’s hard. What would you think if you didn’t drink water from three in the morning to seven at night? But our people have faith. Not only is 2nd Kandak fasting, but all of Afghanistan is fasting, and not only that, but Muslims all over the world are fasting. The only thing we have is our religion.”

After Ramadan, the three-day celebration of Eid il-fitr, or ‘to break the fast,’ is held. It marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time for Muslims to come together to celebrate with feasts and gift-giving.

The battalion plans to support the celebration by giving gifts to the local community. Families and friends of Marines with 1/3 have started sending small gifts as well.

“Being included in Ramadan is definitely a good way to gain a deeper appreciation for their culture and traditions,” said Capt. Jasen Hoffman, the commander of 1/3’s Police Advisory Team and a native of Johnson City, Tenn. “We already have a good relationship which continues to strengthen everyday, and sharing Ramadan is a great opportunity to strengthen them even more.”

Editor’s Note: First Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and 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.