MUSA QALA DISTRICT, Afghanistan – The sun beat down as a squad of Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, conducted a security patrol through the streets of Musa Qala.
The district’s local bazaar, or marketplace, was bursting with the sounds of music and laughter. Children raced around as shop keepers talked with customers trying to convince them to purchase goods ranging from food to vehicles.
As the Marines patrolled through the bazaar, the spirit of the market never waned. Business owners and customers alike welcomed the Marines and greeted them as friends. Such a warm welcome would not have occurred just a few years ago.
“On my previous deployment here [in Oct. 2011] it wasn’t like this,” said Lance Cpl. Cavin Huckabay, a rifleman with India Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “The locals were friendly, but it didn’t seem genuine. The kids would love to come and talk to us, but the elders of the city stayed at distance just watching as we would pass by.”
Huckabay, a 21-year-old native of Roseville, Calif., has noticed a change in the locals. Now the elders in the city say a few kind words in passing and even stand to shake a Marine’s hand.
Huckabay said in the past, the district served as a safe haven for insurgents who threatened many of the locals. He said this ultimately caused them to fear helping the coalition forces.
“I think the tide of this war has turned,” said Sgt. Brandon Hurd, a squad leader serving with India Co. “The local populace has progressively gotten more and more willing to help us. I think they don’t fear the insurgents as much because they can see that we are here to help.”
Coalition forces aren’t the only ones changing local opinion. The Afghan National Security Forces have proven they are able to provide security and protect the citizens of the district.
Hurd said the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Uniformed Police have improved tremendously since he was deployed here last year.
“When I first deployed here, the ANA didn’t know how to operate radios and they couldn’t employ their weapons systems properly,” said Hurd, a 25-year-old native of Chicago. “I just think they weren’t use to the gear, but I believe the desire to fight for their country was always there.”
Hurd said he is astonished by how proficient the ANA and AUP are now.
“These guys are now calling for indirect mortar fire and even radioing in for medical evacuations by themselves,” said Hurd.
“They are taking the fight to the enemy. We are here to advise them, but this is their fight now. I have faith that the ANA will continue do very well.”
“The Afghan forces are taking over this war and fighting for their country, and they are doing a good job at it,” said Huckabay.