News: Boston native devises operation in volatile Sangin
Story by Cpl. Benjamin Crilly
FORWARD OPERATING BASE INKERMAN, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - Marines with the 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and partnered soldiers from the 1st Tolay, 2nd Kandak, of the Afghan National Army, launched Operation Kalawal Sunrise at day break, June 1.
The operation was conceived and planned by Sgt. Juan Valdez, a squad leader for the 81s Plt. Valdez, born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Boston, had patrolled through the village before and recognized the need for the operation. This was to show the people the Marines and Afghan soldiers are committed to creating a stable environment for the village and continuing to disrupt the enemy operations in Sangin.
The early morning clearing operation enabled the Marines, reinforced by Company B, 1/5, to clear the village of Faiscal in Sangin, an area roughly 300 miles southwest of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan. The Marines were able to meet the people living in the village and enroll them in the Handheld Interagency Identification Detection Equipment system. The man-portable system combines iris, fingerprint and facial scans to enroll each person and help determine an individual's identity in attempts to distinguish friend from foe. The Marines and Afghan soldiers also took the opportunity to engage the local farmers to determine what the village’s needs are as they continue tending to the ongoing wheat harvest.
“I had gone into one of the buildings before and the owner told me that he had been approached by fighters,” said Valdez, a 2003 graduate of West Roxbury High School on his fourth combat deployment. “The local was told to move out of his compound because the enemy was going to use the abandoned compounds to ambush Marines and lay improvised explosive devices.”
Through aggressive patrolling and clearing operations, the Marines of 1/5 have forced the insurgents to use alternative mediums in the trafficking of contraband. The fighters realize they will be discovered while carrying contraband weapons, and their conventional small-arms attacks on Marine bases result in failure. The enemy is left with one option. Manipulating the people of Faiscal in Sangin means intimidation of local Afghan villagers. The Marines and Afghan soldiers were able to take the village by surprise and show an overwhelming presence against the enemy.
“The people are the enemy’s source of power,” said Sgt. Michael B. Segaline, the team chief for the company-level intelligence cell at Co. B. “If you don’t go out there and show the people you care; the enemy will.”
The Marines collected information throughout the operation and explained to the people how it promotes a stable environment for the village. The information enables 1/5 to better serve the people and prevents the enemy from using the villagers. The collected data enables future patrols to identify local villagers who do not have ties to the insurgency and allows them to move more freely through the area. The operation was akin to a cop walking the streets keeping an eye out for danger, using good detective work to track down criminals and dissuading the bad guy from doing wrong in his presence.
“When we take biometrics it adds to the database and alerts us who is a bad person,” said Segaline, from Wenatchee, Wash., and distant learning student at Palomar College in California. “Every time we get a new enrollment, it helps us establish a baseline for the village.”
The operation cleared more than 40 compounds in the village of Faiscal allowing the Marines to identify the abandoned compounds and determine which compounds could be used by the enemy, said Valdez.
“We were able to build rapport with the people of the village and continue to show our presence in the area. We are in the holding phase of Sangin and want the people on our side. We also want the village to look to the Afghan soldiers for their security,” said Lance Cpl. Neal D. Grogan, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gunner with the 81mm Plt., from Cedar Hill, Texas.
By reaching out to the people of Faiscal, the Marines and ANA were able to identify future projects and security needs for the village as well as contribute to the overall security of Sangin.
“Our entire focus is to create a secure area in the hold and build stage of Sangin,” said Segaline. “Through this operation and others like it, 1/5 has effectively disrupted the enemy’s network and limited their capabilities.”