CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Military unit organization has been standardized over hundreds of years—divisions, regiments, battalions and companies.
Yet in 2013, the mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, has forced a change from conventional warfare units to smaller units who advise Afghan National Security Forces.
These advisors are formed into Security Forces Assistance Advisor Teams that are much smaller than a Marine company. Without the standard setup of a battalion, these Marine teams require a different type of support.
Marines with the ANSF Liaison Cell with Regimental Combat Team 7, provide this support to the more than 20 teams within the RCT’s area of operations. The Marines in the cell are responsible for the initial training each SFAAT receives when arriving in Afghanistan, as well as follow-on training throughout the team’s deployment, said Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Lockwood, the cell chief.
The training includes live-fire exercises involving movement to contact drills and shooting under stress. The advising mission creates a need for more advanced training because the 20-30 man teams often operate independently.
After an assessment of the training package, Marines with the cell added an insider threat training program to help prevent “green on blue” attacks against U.S. service members, said Lockwood, a 34-year-old native of La Marque, Texas and graduate of Texas A&M University. The insider threat training teaches the team members how to better recognize potential threats and dangerous scenarios.
To establish relationships and build rapport, the Marines also visit the SFAATs to ensure they are well equipped and to gain a better understanding of the individual Afghan force being advised.
“Unless you’re on the ground, you don’t really know much about what is actually going on,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Prout, a liaison officer with the ANSF Cell. “We get out there and see what’s working and what’s not.”
The Marines operate as administrative and logistic liaisons between the teams and the RCT, providing team-specific gear, equipment and even food. At one point, the cell sent more than 50 care packages to the Marines to provide them with snacks and other amenities not available at the smaller bases.
Along with being liaisons, the Marines in the cell are also the ANSF subject matter experts for the RCT, said Prout, a 33-year-old native of Philadelphia and graduate of Syracuse University. This includes briefing the RCT commanding officer on the effectiveness of Afghan forces in each district.
While the idea of advising Afghan forces is not new, the liaison cell is. Regimental Combat Team 6, who was replaced by RCT-7, operated a one-man liaison cell, while RCT-7 operates a six-man cell.
“The one Marine did a great job, but we have been able to provide more support [through the work of more Marines],” Prout said.
As the advising mission continues, the ANSF Liaison Cell Marines will continue to assist the teams.
“We’ve been able to create a great connection with the teams,” Lockwood said. “Whenever we have visited them, they are always very thankful for what we’ve been able to do together.”