News: Marines in Khan Neshin near end of successful deployment
Story by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez
KHAN NESHIN DISTRICT, Afghanistan – First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion’s Echo Company arrived in southern Helmand on October 2011.
Since their arrival, they have been charged with conducting counterinsurgency operations throughout Khan Neshin district, patrolling various routes along the Helmand River.
By conducting vehicle checkpoints, dismounted patrols and targeted interdiction operations, Echo’s Marines and sailors have successfully mitigated threats to the local population with the help of Afghan National Security Forces.
“We started out partnering with the Afghan Border Police,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Klawier, Echo’s Red Platoon commander. “Now we’re unpartnered, and we’re here to provide security for the locals and support any missions that the ABP are conducting.”
The company’s main position lies at Combat Outpost South Station, but due to the high operational tempo dictated by their mission, most of the Echo Marines live out of their mine resistant ambush protected vehicles.
Most platoons only return to COP South Station once every five days to resupply, refuel, and do laundry.
“Living out of a vehicle is normal, because that’s what we do in 1st LAR,” said Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Aguilera, the platoon sergeant for Echo’s Blue Platoon. “All of the deployments I’ve done have been like this, so it feels normal now.”
The various weapon and drug caches, and improvised explosive devices that Echo’s Marines have found is a testament to the tenacity of their hardworking warriors.
“Our Marines are like blood hounds,” said Klawier, a 26-year-old native of Louisville, Ky. “Once they find a trail or evidence for something, they won’t stop sniffing it out.”
Corporal Kleber Villalva, a section chief with Blue Plt., recalls one particular example of the persistence of the Echo Marines in accomplishing their mission.
While conducting an overnight post, Blue Plt. received a radio transmission regarding a camel wandering near their post. When the Marines saw that the camel appeared to be carrying some suspicious cargo, they immediately jumped into action and began the chase.
After about four hours of camel wrangling, the Marines apprehended the camel, and found hundreds of pounds of suspected narcotics, potentially worth millions of dollars, inside the bags on it’s back, said Villalva, a 22-year-old native of Houston, Texas.
Blue Plt. saw a recent change in the attitude of the people of Poplazai, one of the villages they frequently patrol, after capturing a man known for his ties to the insurgency.
“It was kind of fishy when he was here,” said Aguilera, a 31-year-old native of Los Angeles. “By talking to him and building a relationship and watching him, we finally got enough evidence to detain him.”
“We watch the [people] now, we can see that they wanted him gone but no one could do anything about it,” explained Aguilera. “Seeing that the people can function normally, it feels good and it feels like we’ve done our job as Marines.”
The end of their deployment is within sight, but the Echo Marines will continue their search for insurgent threats with the same diligence and determination with which they began.
“We’re not done here until we’re gone,” said Aguilera. “That’s what’s expected of us as Marines.”
Editor’s note: First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion is part of Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces 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.