News: Cut from the same stone: Marine, Afghan platoon sergeants lead troops on joint ops
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Two men don flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, one set coyote brown, the other forest green, each with an emblem of their nation. Stepping out of their tent and walking with their squad leaders in step, Staff Sgt. Galen P. Hafner, a Marine platoon sergeant with Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and Staff Sgt. Gulwazir Harin, an Afghan national army platoon sergeant, attached to Alpha Co., 1/6, prepare to set out on a patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 15.
Throughout the battalion and within each infantry company, Marines and Afghan national army soldiers train, live and are preparing to fight alongside one another.
Until two weeks ago none of these men had ever met.
U.S. Marines and sailors stand on Afghan soil half the world from home and several steps away from the Americans, Afghan national army soldiers stand in equally unfamiliar territory — as many of them hail from northern Afghanistan.
Afghan interpreters work with Marines and Afghan national army soldiers to translate Dari, Pashtu and English, bringing new meaning to Afghanistan's moniker as the melting pot of the Middle East, a title it earns due to the ethnic diversity of the country.
The two platoon sergeants for 3rd platoon travelled dramatically different paths to reach the road they patrol today. Staff Sgt. Galen P. Hafner, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, grew up in Bushnell, Ill. Searching for direction after high school, Hafner found it in the Marine Corps and enlisted 11 years ago, when he was 19.
"I screwed off a bit in high school and didn't have a lot going for me," said Hafner, who comes from a family of service members.His father was a sailor and his grandfather and uncle were both Marines. "I knew I was going to enlist. I just had to decide what service."
Hafner went on to explain that he spoke with recruiters from different services before deciding that the Marine Corps would take him where he wanted to go.
Hafner described his parents' reaction to his decision to enlist, saying "my mom, right off the bat, was very proud; maybe a little frightened that I wanted to go into the infantry, but very proud of my service. My dad was nervous, mainly because he knew how crazy Marines could be and would throw away the recruitment flyers and brochures that were sent to the house."
On the other side of the world, Gulwazir found himself drawn into service as well, albeit for different reasons.
Growing up as a refugee in Pakistan, Gulwazir described his time there as one of tribulation and adversity, before he made his way to Afghanistan to fill the rising need for soldiers, saying that he "had to come."
"A lot of people decided to join, many of them refugees, or poor farmers," said Gulwazir, who enlisted six years ago, when he was 16. "I want to do well for my country and for my ANA," he said, using the abbreviation for the Afghan national army.
As he works with his soldiers, instructing them in a clipped tone and the creases across his brow tightened, Gulwazir seems less like a young 20-year-old and much more like the seasoned veteran he is.
Gulwazir described the death of his platoon commander who had served as a role model when he first enlisted, as "one of the greatest tragedies of his life," adding only that the time he spent in Pakistan and the experiences he had there as a refugee marked the second greatest.
However, for all the hardship he faced, Gulwazir breaks a smile as he talks about home and about his wife and infant son that he has not yet met and is just now nearing a month old.
"I love her very much," said Gulwazir, who has been with his wife for just over a year after their arranged marriage. "I knew her before, and liked her, but am falling in love and missing her now."
Also separated from his family and children, Hafner met his wife while stationed in Naples, Italy, with Marine security forces, and has been married for six years.
Hafner, who has a 5-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter, commented on the challenges that military life can have on a family.
"Through training and work-ups and deployment you miss a lot of family stuff. On the last deployment the poor conditions and minimal communication made it difficult. We've been fortunate enough to work through it," said Hafner, whose daughter was born while he was deployed with 1/6 last year in Garmsir, Afghanistan. "Hopefully I can be home for her next birthday."
Although they come from wildly different backgrounds and can't hold a conversation without a third party, there are poignant similarities between both men. Each one is far from home. Each one has a family waiting anxiously for their return. Each one has come willingly and with a sense of purpose.
"I'm interested in seeing how [the integration] goes," said Hafner, who alongside Gulwazir, will be leading the Marines and Afghan national army soldiers in the months to come. "We're part of their group and they are part of ours."
Date Posted:01.16.2010 18:47
Location:HELMAND PROVINCE, AF
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