News: Lima Company comes full circle in Now Zad: Marines reflect on progress, sacrifices
Story by Sgt. Lia Adkins
NOW ZAD, Afghanistan - When Marines first arrived to set up a combat outpost in Now Zad district in 2007, the area was desolate and riddled with rubble. Homes were empty, streets were barren and anyone who wandered into the city were believed to be Taliban.
It wasn’t until 2009 after 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, launched and completed Operation Cobra’s Anger, sweeping through Now Zad and clearing out insurgents, that locals started moving back.
Now, the unit has come full circle. They are back for their second tour of duty but this time to draw down operations and hand over security of the district to Afghan National Security Forces.
Today, Now Zad and its bazaar are flourishing in comparison. Hundreds of Afghans have moved back into the area, more than three dozen stores have opened in the bazaar and children can be seen playing throughout the area. Although the threat of insurgent attacks remains, Marines partnered with ANSF have helped the area recover and have fostered good relationships with locals.
A few of the Marines returning with 3rd Bn., 4th Marines were in Now Zad during some of the most intense fighting and have been overwhelmed by the change.
“When I first got back, it felt good to come back and see people, lights, the market bazaar open, and kids everywhere,” said Sgt. Jorge Vera , a squad leader for 4th Platoon, Company L, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines.
Now Zad was deserted when Vera arrived in 2008 as a team leader with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. The city remained peaceful for nearly two months—then war erupted. Taliban fighters relentlessly attacked Vera’s unit with small arms fire, heavy machine gun fire, mortars and improvised explosive devices.
“Up until the very day we left it was firefight after firefight, IED after IED,” said Vera, a Bronx, NY., native.
Vera said he has vivid memories of Now Zad, mostly because of the caustic toll the city had on his unit. Vera’s squad leader, Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette, was wounded by an IED and later succumbed to his injuries. Oullette, who received the Navy Cross posthumously, is one of nineteen Marines killed in Now Zad since the war in Afghanistan began.
“There was a lot of sacrificing here, a lot of good guys didn’t get to come home,” said Vera. “(Those Marines) did all they had to, to turn this place to where it is now.”
Cpl. Larry Jackson deployed with Company L, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines in 2009, which replaced Vera’s unit. He participated in Operation Cobra’s Anger and said locals started moving into the city and interacting with Marines just days after the operation.
“At first they were slightly timid, but once they realized what we could do for them and what we were offering, they came around very rapidly,” said Jackson, a Paducah, Ky., native. “They actually got to the point where they were telling us things when we would go out, (such as), ‘Hey, there’s two IED’s over here that you need to blow up,’ or ‘I have mortar rounds in my house that the Taliban put there, can you come take them out?’.”
Jackson said it was amazing to get to redeploy to Now Zad and see how much it had changed. Jackson admits being able to return to the city and see the growth in the community made everything worth it to him in the end.
The Marines are now preparing to withdraw from the area. Now Zad will be the first district in Northern Helmand where security is handed over to ANSF.
The departure marks a moment of closure yet is poignant for some of the Marines.
Jackson said he feels ANSF can “hold their own” in the area after 3rd Bn., 4th Marines leaves and said he feels like the unit played a large part in getting Now Zad to its current state.
“I feel like something was accomplished with my time in Afghanistan,” said Jackson. “It was something that was bigger than me and maybe bigger than the unit because we impacted people’s lives forever.”
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