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    Afghan soldiers stand with Marine counterparts



    Story by Cpl. James Clark 

    Regimental Combat Team-7

    CAMP DWYER, Helmand province Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — It's mid-afternoon on New Year's Day, and a sea of men in green, brown and black camouflage uniforms shuffle awkwardly inside the crowded beige tent. Men with thick black beards and hard faces sit next to clean shaven youths with full smiles. Each one wears the uniform of their nation's military, and each one carries a weapon. They comprise the full company of Afghan national army soldiers, fresh out of boot camp, that has arrived at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, and is being integrated directly into Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

    Olive colored cots are lined up and used as benches for the Afghan soldiers during their welcoming brief, and Alpha Company, Marines, form a ring around the edge of the tent. Pairing the soldiers of a host nation with coalition forces is not a new practice; this time however, the soldiers will be integrated with Marines at the smallest operating level. Each infantry company will nearly double in size, which means that Afghan soldiers and Marines will be working side by side.

    "We've never worked this extensively with the [Afghan national army] before," said Sgt. Neil Terranova, a squad leader with Alpha Company, 1/6.

    Integrating the forces is designed to build up the strength of the Afghan national army through mentoring and joint operations. It will start at the company level and move down, all the way through the platoons and on to the fire teams, explained Terranova, who is on his third deployment to Afghanistan and was one of the Marines who flew to the Kabul, Afghanistan, to pick up the first group of soldiers.

    Saying he was, at first, reluctant to take part in the training, Terranova explained that he came around when he thought farther down the road and about the outcome of the war and the toll it could take on future generations. "I have a son and I don't want him coming back here in 20 years. If we do this right and they do it right, we might not have to come back."

    The development of the Afghan national army's non-commissioned officers is the primary focus of the training and mentoring. To this end, Marine NCOs will be working closely with their Afghan counterparts in the hope of developing their small unit leadership, said Sgt. Ryan White the assault section leader with Alpha Company, 1/6.

    "We'll be mentoring them on the fly, giving a crash course in basic Marine infantry training," White explained. "The goal is to see them grow and develop, see them stand on their own and defend their country for themselves."

    "Integrating the companies directly allows for information to be passed quickly since the two companies will be set up like mirror images of one another; with each platoon down to the squads and fire teams being paired with their Marine or Afghan counterpart," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Vallejo Jr., a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1/6, and one of the Marines that is in charge of training the Afghan army soldiers attached to the company.

    "The NCOs are our main focus. All the [Afghan national army soldiers] graduated in the same class and the most mature became their sergeants," said Vallejo, who is on his second deployment to Afghanistan and has worked with the Afghan national security forces before. "We'll be starting with basic individual tasks, like weapons handling and cleaning, before moving on to team level training where we'll be giving the NCOs more leadership and responsibility."

    Vallejo explained that to make the effort successful, they'll have to overcome their largest obstacle, which is neither language nor culture, but time.

    "What we put into it is what we'll get out of it," Vallejo said. "This puts an Afghan face on everything that we're doing here. If they can grasp just a piece of what we're teaching we'll be successful. Personally, I feel we should give full respect and trust from the get-go. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's all about respect and getting to know them, their families, and who they are."

    As the Afghan soldiers listened to Lt. Col. Calvert Worth Jr., the battalion commander for 1/6, speak through an interpreter and welcome them in, soldiers who had slumped on cots or leaned against the buttstocks of their weapons sat a little straighter, and their platoon commanders and sergeants stood at parade rest among their counterparts in Alpha Company.

    "The main goal is getting these guys to take responsibility for their country," Vallejo said. "They want to do this. They want to be a part of this and want to get out of it the same things that we want — to have it be Afghan driven."



    Date Taken: 01.06.2010
    Date Posted: 01.06.2010 04:19
    Story ID: 43475
    Location: CAMP DWYER, AF 

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