News: California Marine builds critical infrastructure in southern Helmand
Story by Anthony Ward Jr
KHAN NESHIN DISTRICT, Afghanistan – As Afghan National Security Forces continue to take the lead in providing security across southern Helmand province, coalition forces are able to focus more attention on developing critical infrastructure.
Lance Cpl. Gelson Orantes, a member of Civil Affairs Team 4, Kilo Detachment, Regimental Combat Team 5, is just one of the U.S. Marines improving infrastructure for the people of Khan Neshin district.
“I’ve been in Afghanistan about a month and a half now,” said Orantes, a native of Lawndale, Calif. “I’m still getting used to being away from all my family, friends, the weather... since I’m a reservist, I’m now a full-time Marine so I have to get used to that too.”
Prior to joining the ranks of the Marine Corps, Orantes was a typical teenager, attending high school and juggling a few extra-curricular activities including playing running back and linebacker on the Lawndale High School football team.
“Growing up in Lawndale, it was middle class,” said Orantes. “Both of my parents were always working. I have three younger sisters so I would take care of them while they were at work.”
Orantes contemplated the idea of four years of university dormitories and freshly purchased textbooks, but in the end he chose another route.
“I thought about going to college,” said Orantes. “I just didn’t want to do school anymore.
After deciding to join the military, choosing a branch of service was his next challenge. Orantes eventually opted for the Marine Corps, his second choice at the time.
“I was going to join the Air Force,” said Orantes with a grin. “They get more perks.”
A visit from his cousin and a trip to the mall, where Orantes saw Marines in uniform, changed his mind.
“I went to the mall and they had all of the military branches there,” said Orantes. “I saw the Marines and they said there were the best… they looked better, so I decided to join.”
When he enlisted in the Marines Corps in July 2009, Orantes chose to join as a reservist. Shortly after completing his military occupational specialty school where he learned the basic skills of a field wireman, Orantes checked into his current civil affairs unit.
“My recruiter told me he was going to “hook me up”, I didn’t know what that meant,” said Orantes, laughing. “Once I got out of MOS school I got orders to go check in with civil affairs.”
Having mastered the basic of his primary job, Orantes needed to learn how to operate as a civil affairs Marine.
“I haven’t done much field wiring,” said Orantes. “The majority of my time in the Marine Corps has been spent doing civil affairs, operating outside my MOS.”
His training included a monthlong civil affairs course in Quantico, Virginia, which teaches the Marines how to be information gatherers, facilitators, techniques for working with non-government organizations and media.
The school conducts a significant amount of training with role players. The Marines learn how to operate in certain environments, using linguists and their partners in the Afghan security forces to interact with the people in their area of operations.
“When we did field operations we would have a lot of role players,” Orantes said. “Looking back it’s just like going out to our local bazaar here in Khan Neshin and talking with them.”
Since civil affairs Marines work in teams, they also receive small unit training in biometric identification, improvised explosive device detection, patrolling techniques, and qualifications with the M9 pistol, M4 rifle, M203 grenade launcher and M249 squad automatic weapon.
“I never thought I would be doing civil affairs in the Marine Corps... I think it’s important though, especially in Afghanistan,” said Orantes. “I am glad to be part of it.”
Editor’s Note: Civil Affairs Team 4 is currently assigned to 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.