COMBAT OUTPOST NOW ZAD, Afghanistan -- A Marine climbs to the top of an Afghan National Police tower to provide security, more than three years since the last time he was in Afghanistan.
As he surveys the area, he recognizes a voice he hasn’t heard in years speaking a language he doesn’t understand. He climbs back down the tower and recognizes an old friend.
After exchanging brief pleasantries, Cpl. Larry Jackson, a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, realizes he is face to face with the man with whom he stood long hours on post during his last deployment: Han Mamad Lala, an Afghan National Police officer who is also now a squad leader.
“We were as excited as old friends who hadn’t seen each other in three years could be,” Jackson said.
They started swapping stories. One of Lala’s fellow comrades and a friend of Jackson had been killed since the two last saw each other. Jackson told Lala about how his platoon sergeant had also been killed in Afghanistan. It was a somber moment, but that wouldn’t last.
“He remembered that I had a girlfriend,” Jackson said excitedly. “I told him that she is now my wife, and that we have kids.”
The two continued to talk about friends they had in common and about how much Now Zad has changed.
From late 2009 to early 2010, Jackson was deployed to Now Zad District. During that time, Marines were just beginning to partner with Afghan National Security Forces and one of the early stages of the partnership involved Marines and Afghans standing post together. That’s when Jackson met Lala on post and began eating dinner with him and playing cards at night.
The two became such good friends they easily recognized each other three years later, a fact Sgt. Derrick Organo, a squad leader with 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, said has helped the U.S. and Afghan partnership.
“We’ve been building relationships with them for years,” said Organo. “Now they trust us because they’ve worked with us.”
That trust has led to improvements in the Now Zad district and among the Afghan forces.
“Last deployment, we would never have trusted them to hold a position,” said Jackson, a 24-year-old native of Paducah, Ky. “Now, they’ve taken ownership and can hold it on their own.”
Jackson also said the district center has exploded with people and shops since his unit left in 2010.
Unfortunately, Jackson and Lala aren’t likely to see each other again since Lala’s base is not near Jackson’s, but that doesn’t stop Jackson from wanting to see his friend.
“I have pictures of him from both deployments now, which is neat,” he said. “I’d like to get a chance to go back out there and check on him.”
But Jackson most likely doesn’t need to check on Lala.
“The best part of (seeing Lala) is the progress,” Jackson said. “It makes everything seem worthwhile. It seems like they’re going to be able to make it.”