News: From start to finish, Marine battalion leaves mark on Sangin
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan – Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, came to Helmand province six months ago, cracking down on insurgents and extending a helping hand to locals.
Whether wading through creeks while on patrol, setting check points in the dusty heat or drinking chai tea in a classroom of Afghan soldiers, they worked to train the Afghan forces and provide a safer place for their people.
“Our mission when we came to Sangin in 2011 was to deepen the hold that 1st Battalion, 5th Marines had accomplished during their deployment,” said Lt. Col. Seth Folsom, commanding officer, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “We recognized up front that this was going to be the pivotal year, the pivotal point in time that we would be able to push the (Afghan National Security Forces) in the lead.”
The battalion arrived in October, and as temperatures cooled, fighting began to wane. This break gave the Marines the opportunity to train their Afghan counterparts for the next fighting season.
Advisor team Marines with the battalion trained ANSF through various courses including an ANSF medic course, a squad leader course, and an officer training course.
The advisor team also trained ANSF to conduct local shuras as a way to interact with local Afghans. These meetings have allowed ANSF to maintain trust and open communication with the local leaders.
Afghan National Army Staff Sgt. Sherhassans, senior medic, 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, said he learned a lot from the ANSF medic course and was thankful for the Marine instructors.
“We love working with the Marines,” said Sherhassans. “They helped us become more independent and we always welcome them here.”
As the deployment progressed, the Marines began transitioning responsibility to Afghan forces. Folsom said 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, is leaving Helmand province with Afghans patrolling on their own, and planning and conducting their own counter-insurgency operations.
“Our primary mission was ANSF development, and I believe we accomplished that mission,” said Sgt. Maj. Rafael Rodriguez, 3rd Bn.’s sergeant major.
As part of their mission, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, oversaw the construction of seven new schools, three clinics, several training sites, and hundreds of miles of road throughout Helmand province.
“The Marines have helped the people (of Afghanistan),” said Sherhassans. “Their help with schools and medical independence will last for a long time.”
Folsom said the Marines worked closely with their Afghan counterparts to develop a district security plan, which ANSF executed.
“The plan involved mutually deciding between our forces and ANSF which positions we would tear down and which positions we would transfer over,” said Folsom. “We also were able to mutually decide how to divide the battle space between the four major forces that were here in Sangin: the Marines, the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Uniformed Police, and the Afghan National Civil Order Police.”
Third Bn., 7th Marines, followed the district security plan, downsizing from 25 positions, to five independent Marine positions. The remaining 20 position were transferred to ANSF or torn down.
Fewer positions did not mean Marines stopped working in the area. Operations varied from daily presence patrols, to larger company- and battalion-level missions.
“I think the security in Sangin is in a great state,” said Rodriguez. “Evidence of this is the elections that were held in Sangin (March 28).”
More than 2,000 people voted in the elections, an indication that Afghans feel they can vote without the threat of insurgents, said Rodriguez.
“I am glad the elections went (well),” said Sherhassans. “It shows the people are happy and (feel) safe.”
In 2010, the last time 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, was here, insurgents used violence during the elections to discourage people from voting.
“Instead, on March 28, there was absolutely no incident of violence, or intimidation among the locals,” Folsom said.
The battalion’s hard work to maintain security has developed strong bonds of trust with the Afghan locals.
“In certain areas, the local population embraces the Marines, and they continuously praise Marines for their efforts and the security we provide them,” said Rodriguez. “In some areas, they let the squad leaders know where possible (improvised explosive devices) are placed, or they extract them from the ground and bring them to the local patrol bases.”
At the end of the deployment, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, packed their bags and waited for their flight. When it arrived, their replacements, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, came off first. As they passed, Marines from each battalion exchanged “good lucks” and “good jobs” with each other.
Third Battalion left knowing they handed over a more secure and independent Sangin.
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 7th Marines is a part of Regimental Combat Team 6. RCT-6 falls under 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.