News: Carlisle native witnesses Afghan progress
COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER, Afghanistan – “Post One, Post One,” said an Afghan boy about 8 years old. “Do you need anything? Some water, anything from bazaar?”
“No, I am alright right now,” said the young Marine standing watch over the bustling bazaar from his post. “He comes every couple hours and checks to see if I need anything. They are friendly here and come talk to us a lot.”
Lance Cpl. Justin Thomas, an infantryman with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, said he loves watching the progress he sees in the bazaar and town approximately 50 yards from his post. When he first arrived, the young boy was not a daily visitor.
“If we can give the Afghans a chance to have a better life in the end, and give these children the opportunity to have a better life, then it is all worth it,” said the Carlisle, Pa., native. “They come up here, the people are really friendly. They come up here and ask if I want something from the bazaar, if I am doing good today.”
Thomas, a 2010 Carlisle High School graduate, chose to come into the Marine Corps infantry knowing he would deploy to Afghanistan. He said he was excited by the prospect.
“I have three little brothers and they kind of grew up without a father, so I was always kind of what they looked up to and I wanted to give them something to look up to more, be a good example more or less," said Thomas. “My grandfather was in the Marines during Vietnam. He used to tell me stories when I was little about stuff he did and it always sounded really cool. He was a radioman with recon, his name was Jack Crawford, I enlisted knowing I would go to Afghanistan and it motivated me. I wanted to see if I could come over here and help the cause. I saw what was going on over here and knew the Taliban were harassing the Afghan people and figured I could do what I could to help. I am only one person, but figured if there were a bunch of people like me then we could get some of the Taliban off these people’s back.”
Thomas wants his younger brothers Jake, 10; Ben, 11; and Brandon, 14, to be able to look up to him and be proud. His parents divorced, his father Jeff moved to Prescott, Ariz. His mother Leanne encouraged him to follow his heart, but choose well so his brothers would have an example to follow, he said.
“My brothers are still small,” said Thomas.“They think it’s cool, like I’m a GI Joe. They think I’m an action figure. Brandon wants to join, but he wants to be a helicopter pilot. Ben wants to be a professional wrestler. Jake wants to be a scientist. Being here makes me realize they have a choice, which is good.”
The police patrol through the bazaar, which is filled with people shopping and socializing. The Afghan police are from the local area and can be seen interacting with the locals here all day, said Thomas.
“If someone here is up to no good, or isn’t from the area, the police know,” he said. “They will either handle them, or let us know. The police are doing well here. Compared to when we first got here, to how they are doing now, they have improved a lot. They’ve really moved along. They are better with tactics and patrolling. They interact a lot with their people.”
Because the police have a great relationship with the people of the village, they have a better sense of security, said Thomas.
“About 30 minutes ago, I watched a girl walk down the road without anything covering her face,” he said. "That is the first time I’ve seen that. The police patrol this place, the Afghans here feel secure.”
Thomas said he is glad he joined and seeing the transformation in Nawa District makes him feel like he made the right choice. He is based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and is looking forward to going back.
“I like Lejeune,” he said. “I’m an outdoorsy person, so there is a lot to do like hiking trails, mountain biking, fishing. It is a lot of fun and close to work. During our workups, we don’t have to travel too far to go to the field. The ranges are only about a mile from our barracks.”
Thomas said he is thinking about re-enlisting and would like to go Marine Security Guard, where he would protect U.S. embassies in foreign countries. But for now, he is focusing on finishing his seven-month deployment.
“I would like to see the Afghan people free from intimidation from the Taliban (throughout the country,)” he said. “I hope we can turn the Taliban as soon as possible so people can walk down the street and feel safe like the do here.”
Date Posted:04.25.2012 02:54
Location:COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER, AF
- Brig. Gen. Gary Thomas relinquishes command of II MAW (FWD) to Col. Scott Jensen
- One team, one objective: ANSF, Marines seeks stability in Sangin
- 3/7 Marines bond during Thanksgiving
- Last watch: Marines reflect on Thanksgiving from mountain outpost