News: Marines, Afghan soldiers conduct Operation Gator Crawl
Story by Cpl. Daniel Flynn
The Marines of Regimental Combat Team 3's Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Company, parts of the regiment's headquarters and Afghan national army soldiers conducted Operation Gator Crawl - a rolling convoy patrol in areas near Camp Dwyer, Sept. 23-25.
Operation Gator Crawl allowed Marines and ANA soldiers to tour villages in Nawa District where NATO and Afghan government forces had not visited in years. The operation was a chance to gain understanding of an area about which little was known and to interact positively with the people living there, Marine leaders said.
MRAP Co. often conducts patrols on its own, but for this mission, it had additional support from civil affairs, intelligence, a female engagement team and an ANA detachment. The patrol was broken into smaller sections, allowing the force to operate over a greater distance and interact in different villages simultaneously.
"Our mission during this operation was to provide security," said Staff Sgt. Justin Andrew Park, section leader with MRAP Co.
Marines talked with the locals and assured them, they and the ANA were there to provide security and assistance, Parks said.
As Marines patrolled through villages, they spoke with local men and women to determine the local populace's concerns. They learned that clean water and education head the list of concerns.
"We were there to do several different things," said Lt.Col. Leonard J. DeFrancisci, 4th Civil Affairs Group detachment commander. CAG Marines worked to establish relationships with locals, identify key village leaders and research which issues, such as education, security or clean water, most concerned locals.
The operation was also intended to bolster the image and confidence of the ANA, according to DeFrancisci. To reinforce this, Afghan soldiers distributed supplies to locals, he said.
To further bolster confidence in the ANA, when Marines, ANA and attached personnel planned to spend the night in an abandoned compound, nearby village elders spoke with the ANA about moving the camp site to a location further from the village. DeFrancisci said, "We could have stepped in, but we wanted it to be an Afghan answer to an Afghan problem."
The convoy did face one challenge as it departed the area to return to Camp Dwyer. Insurgents opened fire with AK-47s on what they thought was only a small group of Marines on one side of the last village the convoy visited.
"I heard a couple of pops, and at first I thought it was just some of the local kids playing," said Cpl. Justin Lee Lail, an MRAP Co. vehicle commander.
"Then I heard the pops again, and that is when I realized it was small arms fire," he said.
Within seconds, two other MRAPs and more Marines rounded a corner to add their firepower to the fight. Two of the insurgents were observed running away and one was killed. No friendly forces or civilians were hurt.
"The reason the movement to fire went so well is because of small unit leadership," Lail said. "I couldn't be more proud of them."