FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division have made immediate progress with Afghans here despite arriving in Afghanistan just weeks ago.
The Marines met with the village elders in the Golestan District, arranged for key-leader engagements, and laid groundwork for future civil military projects.
While the Marines traveled here to make liaison with provincial and district leaders of the Afghanistan National Police, they also met with the governor of Farah and village elders to open the lines of communication with the Afghan people. The visit culminated with the battalion commander leading his Marines on 2/7’s first combat patrol.
“This is who we are, so we wasted no time! I wanted the Afghans to know that we’re here to help improve their quality of life. Their mission is our mission; their success is our success,” said Lt. Col. Rick Hall, battalion commander, 2/7.
A Mankato, Minn., native, Hall commands a reinforced light infantry battalion of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors based out of southern California at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Among the battalion’s reinforcements is a combat engineers platoon, a shock trauma platoon, a radio battalion unit, and personnel who specialize in civil military operations.
Sent to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom, 2/7 is tasked with the mission of providing security for the ANP, while also mentoring and assisting in its training within assigned boundaries in order to extend the authority and influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan during security, stability and regional development.
Although the unit hasn’t yet received all the equipment and personnel it needs to be fully operational capable, the battalion commander said his Marines and sailors have embraced their mission and are committed to achieving success.
Keeping true to its motto, “Ready for all; Yielding to none,” 2/7 has significantly improved relations with the Afghans. The battalion has demonstrated its readiness to help bolster the ANP and shown that it will not allow minor setbacks to interfere with mission accomplishment.
The battalion is currently operating in the initial phase of a 210-day deployment.
“We’ve started our mission and have reaped positive results. The people were thankful for us coming to address their needs, and very surprised in knowing that we have come from so far away to help improve their quality of life,” Hall said. “We will continue to increase our influence throughout this region in the coming days.”
A huge benefit for the Marines was gaining support from the ANP’s regional and corps commanders to enable operations in the nine districts, two provinces and two regions in which the Marines will operate. Although Hall said his Marines are “starting from scratch,” he is confident that they will draw from the lessons they learned during 2/7’s support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The battalion returned to 29 Palms in September 2007 after serving seven months in Fallujah, Iraq, and surrounding areas.
After forging a bond with the ANP, Hall hosted a ‘shura,’ or meeting, with the village elders of the Golestan District — a remote and austere mountainous location in western Afghanistan.
“I think the meeting served as a good introduction for both of us. They seemed pretty positive and receptive, and labeled out in order what their concerns were,” said Capt. Victor A. Lomuscio, commander, Company G, 2/7.
Once the battalion is fully operational, Hall will send a platoon of Marines from “Golf” Company to the Golestan area. These Marines, along with the ANP, are responsible for providing added security to the Golestan area, while 2/7 engages in various civil affairs projects to enhance quality of life for local residents. Lomuscio, a Shelter Island, N.Y., native, will lead this effort.
Following the “shura,” the battalion commander realized that most of the focus was on the availability of medical care, school property and equipment, village infrastructure and security. Hall said he was surprised at how frugal the requests were, but was pleased to know his unit will be able to assist the Afghans in a number of ways.
In addition to working with the ANP and addressing the needs of the Afghan people, 2/7 will also coordinate their efforts with other supporting agencies. In addition to the ANP, the Marines were also accompanied by Spanish and Italian troops, other U.S service members, members of the International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan Regional Security Integration Command West, Regional Command West and Police Mentoring Team.
“No sooner did we finish the ‘shura,’ we started patrolling,” Hall said. “It was truly a combined joint patrol, and it proved to our alliance partners how committed we are to this mission.”
The patrol also helped instill confidence in the ANP. Hall and his team of staff officers were impressed by the tactics displayed by the ANP during the combat patrol. The ANP has gotten stronger, and Lomuscio said it will get even better when his Marines start training with them.
“I’m confident that we’ve made a positive effect in the area that needs it,” Lomuscio said. “The potential to do a lot of things is amazing. I think we’ll really leave a positive impact on the Golestan Valley.”
Before departing the area, the Marines also met with the Physical Reconstruction Team which specializes in civil military operations. The PRT also provides humanitarian assistance, medical support, digs wells, and provides other services that are geared toward improving quality of life for the Afghan people.
The primary concern, however, is laying blacktop roads. The Marines think it’s a good idea, and the battalion commander is focused on making it happen.
“Blacktopping the roads will have a direct impact on the people,” Hall said. “It will also work to create more credibility for the government and provide legal employment opportunities by adding to the local economy. It also directly correlates to the Afghan government meeting the needs of its people.”
The battalion is working the road plans and other civil affairs projects through the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which is designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population. With CERP assistance, commanders are authorized to pay for services in such areas as water sanitation, food production and distribution, agriculture, electricity, healthcare, education, and transportation.
“We’re working through all the friction so any follow-on forces will have something to build upon,” Hall said. “We’re making things happen.”
The task at hand is not easy, and the commander is fully aware of this. The Marines know there’s a six-month road ahead of them, but they’re anxious and willing to go the distance. Surely, there’s only so much 2/7 can accomplish in 210 days, but the Marines and sailors are “Ready for All; Yielding to None.”