FORWARD OPERATING BASE SANGIN, Afghanistan --
Marines and village leaders met at a patrol base near the Sangin district center in Helmand province Sept. 3 for a shura, or what is best described as a town-hall style meeting, to address local needs.
The task force Marines listened and tried to identify the best ways to bring peace and prosperity to the Afghans.
"Their biggest concerns are improvements to irrigation and the renovation of several mosques," said Maj. Mark DeVito, team leader, 3rd Civil Affairs Group, and San Diego native.
The Marines of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, have strengthened relations by organizing and working with local Afghans on various projects aimed at educating the people, teaching and equipping doctors, and building roads to provide jobs and aid commerce.
"The people think highly of the Afghan National Army. They want to support the government, and they want the Taliban out," said DeVito. "As a community, they need to determine what affects the most people. They sometimes have a hard time working on the prioritization for the projects they want completed."
In other shuras, civil affairs Marines are also engaging young adult men, the demographic most susceptible to Taliban influence.
"We had around 20 young adults show up for the first teenage shura. One of the biggest things they all wanted was jobs. They were all willing to work," said Cpl. Eric E. Cuevas, a civil affairs NCO and Corona, Calif., native. Cuevas said the younger Afghans have expressed a need for more mosques, improved water supply, energy, and new schools, most of which the Taliban has destroyed. Of the 20 who attended the first young-adult shura, only one was in school, according to Cuevas.
Helping Afghanistan rebuild its schools is a top task-force initiative because Afghan parents want education for their children, and the younger population wants to return to school.
"The biggest thing is that we hit the ground constantly," said Sgt. Brian A. Blumenthal, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer and Corona, Calif., native. "We’re seeing a lot of success. It’s slow, but we can definitely see it. These people are trying to survive because there is a heavy Taliban influence in the area. But because we’re constantly going out, we’re getting the fence sitters to turn to our side."
Moreover, civil affairs trainers teach their practices to the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and Afghan National Civil Order Police, all of whom are invited on patrols with civil affairs teams. This concept has proven effective in Iraq.
"We need to teach and mentor civil affairs operations to Afghan national security forces," said Staff Sgt. Kelly R. Hughes, team chief and Carlsbad, Calif., native. "If we can teach them how we conduct business, they can monitor the projects, gather information from the villagers, and handle humanitarian aid.
"It’s working out here. We got our (national police) officers with us. They’re going through the same motions as we are. Everything we do, they’re doing along with us: patrol briefs, debriefs and humanitarian aid. We just hope that it catches on. They’re starting to pick it up pretty well."