COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Cornfields, dirt paths, tree lines and canals dominate the backcountry of Nawa district, Helmand province. This rugged, fertile community is quite the sight to see, a place where residents wear traditional attire and live an agrarian lifestyle that may seem like a scene from the past.
The Afghan Uniformed Police conduct routine partnered patrols in the area with Marines from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, to maintain a security presence and to train the AUP in patrolling as they learn to operate more independently in the district.
The Marines arrived to the area in early June to assist their Afghan partners, and some noted the area is not what they expected.
“There are not really improved roads,” said Flowery Branch, Ga., native Lance Cpl. Kevin Brakhage, an assaultman with Charlie Company. “A lot of them are gravel, half of them are hardly there. A lot of times, they just slap some sticks down (to make bridges) with some branches and stuff over it. Sometimes it’s really thin, like just a stick that’s not even as wide as your foot, and we have to cross that.”
The landscape of Nawa has also surprised Brakhage. He was not expecting the area to be so lush and green, expecting it instead to be arid and mountainous, he said. Others compare Nawa’s landscape to places back in the United States.
“Rural Pennsylvania, that’s kind of what it looks like, but it’s different because you’re not going to see houses made of brick and mortar, you see them made of mud and straw,” said Reno, Nev., native Lance Cpl. Daniel Wilson, a fireteam leader with Charlie Company. “Pennsylvania’s what I thought (of) when I first got here, just 120 degrees.”
The heat, agricultural focus and lack of technology in Nawa promote a slow-paced lifestyle, as does the area’s increased stability. The area has seen a tremendous decline in insurgent activity since the Afghan government took control of the area in 2009, but the Marines must remain in a constant state of alert for potential dangers.
“You’ve got to make sure everybody’s where they need to be, doing what they’re (supposed to be) doing, watching their sectors of fire,” said Wilson, 24. “I’m checking myself constantly, making sure I’m looking up, also looking down, and making sure I’m not stepping on a pressure plate.”
The Marines maintain a security presence in the area and focus on watching diligently for potential dangers to set a good example as mentors for the Afghan Uniformed Police, so the AUP can learn proper patrolling techniques and the importance of discipline.
“(We do a lot of) presence and security patrols,” said Brakhage, a graduate of Flowery Branch High School. “(We’ll) go out there and take the AUP with us and show them how things are supposed to be going on, let them interact with the people. (We) teach those guys and they do a really good job – they’re learning.”
The AUP have taught the Marines as well, pointing out things on patrols the Marines otherwise wouldn’t think twice about.
“As far as searching, they notice a lot of stuff Marines don’t,” said Brakhage. “They know their culture better, so if something’s going on over here and that guy’s not wearing the right clothes or because he’s not from this area or something, they will notice and we’ll investigate. They’re really helpful. The people respond to them really well.”
The people seem happy with the presence of the troops. Children approach the Marines, asking them for candy, while Afghan men come outside to relax at night. Marines and AUP offer food to the kids and greetings to the adults.
“At night, usually (the older men relax) on a huge rug and they’ll just chat about everything,” said Whitman, Mass., native Lance Cpl. Matt Callahan, a machine gunner with Charlie Company. “It’s like their leisure time, but that’s usually it.”
The slow pace serves as a testament to the hard work of coalition forces in the area. The people no longer have to be afraid of insurgents and can live their lives for themselves and their families.
Editor’s note: First Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force 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.
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This work, Marines, Afghans enjoy pace of Nawa district’s unique countryside, by Cpl Tommy Bellegarde, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.