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Helmand Marines loosen reigns on local soldiers

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Punching bags and jump rope help, but you don’t really learn how to fight until you set foot in the ring.

This is the philosophy that shapes Marines’ interaction with Afghan National Army soldiers here. While past units essentially told the ANA what to do, the Marines of 2nd Squad, Weapons Platoon are helping them find their own way forward.

“The ANA soldiers have so much more to contribute than being extra Marines,” said, 1st Lt. Charles Eberly, the platoon commander of Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “The more I interact with the people here, the more I realize how essential they are. We are kind of outsiders, but the soldiers are part of the human network here. They know everybody, and they can walk out on any street and communicate effectively.”

In early June, Eberly, decided to give the ANA soldiers from 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps greater responsibility. Eberly, from Albuquerque, N.M., combined soldiers from two different ANA positions to make a complete squad. For about a week, the Marines of 2nd Squad continued to walk them through daily operations. Then, they loosened the reigns, so to speak.

Before the mini transition, Sgt. Nathaniel McGinness, the squad leader of 2nd Squad, headed every patrol and wrote each watch roster for the ANA and Marines. Now, he splits these tasks with ANA Sgt. Sayed Akbar, a 2nd Kandak squad leader. And, instead of having Marines on point every time, the ANA soldiers now lead, sweeping for improved explosive devices.

“We are teaching … a mentality that will make them successful in the future,” said McGinness, a native of Omaha, Neb.

The Marines of 2nd Squad have handed the initiative to their Afghan counterparts, and along with that initiative, the ANA soldiers have developed a newfound sense of responsibility and pride.

“I like my job of providing security of this area,” said Akbar. “After the new improvements, I’m confident my children and my children’s children will be able to go to school and continue to build upon Afghanistan.”

Local citizens have taken notice of the ANA’s increased role. After the ANA squad led their first patrol in late June, local elders mentioned it during a shura the following Sunday.

“The local people are looking to the ANA to hold security,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Greene, a team leader with 2nd Squad and a native of Gainesville, Fla. “For example, if I was back home, I would want my own cops patrolling the streets, not a foreign country’s.”

More recently, 2nd Squad went on a satellite patrol with the ANA squad. The Afghan soldiers, who outnumbered the Marines 2 to1, led the patrol and planned their own route. The Marines simply observed how the soldiers operated and providing advice when necessary.

According to McGinness, the local ANA’s progress is an encouraging sign.

“The ANA soldiers have good intentions and have a patriotic drive to serve their country,” said McGinness. “We’re here to set the military example for them and steer them in the right direction, so they can be independently successful.”

Article by Cpl. Colby Brown, Regimental Combat Team 1