By SOF Editor on Mon, 11/23/2009 - 11:35am
Almost like clockwork, as soon as the Marines with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's Police Mentoring Team rise from their cots, shave any overnight facial stubble and brush their teeth, Lali, an 8-year-old Afghan boy from Hazar Geft, enters the Afghan national police compound and waits.
The PMT Marines eat, sleep and operate out of the ANP compound in Garmsir, Afghanistan. Lali stands by, greeting the groggy Marines with a "good morning," and waits for any tasks the Marines have for him.
"One day he just walked in, and we started talking to him," said Cpl. Frank D. McKinley, a military policeman with the PMT.
Lali, who attends the local school about a stone's throw away from the ANP compound, has become somewhat of a hybrid of errand boy, mascot and friend to the PMT Marines. He takes orders for the evening meals, bringing U.S. currency into the Balaclava bazaar to purchase Afghan bread, kabobs, chicken, corn and rice. The favors are returned.
Lance Cpl. Joshua Smith, an MP with PMT, handed Lali money to buy the usual items on the shopping list. Smith then instructed Lali to purchase himself a new "camiece," a traditional one-piece Afghan garb which the Marines referred to as "man-jams," and a pair of new sneakers.
"A lot of the kids out here are constantly asking for stuff. It's always 'give me, give me, give me.' He's never asked us for one thing, so we always give to him," said McKinley, 25, from New Orleans.
Lali likes having the Marines around, and is rarely seen not smiling around them. The current state of the Afghanistan he's known for most of his life still has him a bit unsettled.
"I don't feel safe anywhere in Garmsir," Lali admitted.
Which is why the Marines, along with the men they have been tasked to train, the Afghan national police, patrolled the village of Mohammad Alam Kalay, in Garmsir, Nov. 21.
"We take them out on a day-to-day basis, do patrols with them, answer any responding calls that they have and help guide them through what they need to do," said Lance Cpl. Phillip W. Peterson, a military policeman with the PMT.
With the sun breaking the horizon, the Marines meet with the local ANP at an ANP checkpoint. Once the ANP was formed, the patrol to check a nearby road for improvised explosive devices began.
Intertwined together, with repeated instructions from the Marines to use proper dispersion, the joint patrol searched thoroughly for roadside-bomb indicators, including using a mine detector to search for any metal components of an IED.
Once the route had been cleared, the Marines and ANP were allowed to search one compound for any bomb-making materials or weapons caches. After the search was over, to build the trust of the locals, the Marines distributed pens, pencils and coloring books to local Afghan youth.
"When we first got here, you'd be walking through the bazaar and the kids would make nasty faces at you. Some would even throw rocks," said Peterson, 22, from Denton, Texas. "We go out and we start interacting with them and being nice to them, handing them things, take them water, take them food, whatever they need. They're starting to come around to us a little more."
After giving out the supplies to the local children, it was time to return to the ANP checkpoint, and provide close-quarter combat training. This is a small piece of many different things that the Marines have been able to teach the ANP.
"We have learned many things like patrol rules, patrol principles, and we have done the rifle range," said 1st Lt. Zelmi, one of the members of the ANP that has been training with the Marines.
It is time for the Marines to relax. They grill, relax around a barrel fire, watch movies while lounging on their cots and even take hot showers.
"When we got here, there was nothing here," said Cpl. Mark L. Swindall, a military policeman with PMT, 2/2. "We made our own hot showers, we made our bathroom. We built everything ourselves."
The Marines have learned to make their piece of Garmsir a little more inhabitable over the past seven months here. They operate their hot showers by lighting a fire underneath a barrel of water, and then using hoses to feed the water into their showers. They even cook on a grill, which looks like a barrel turned horizontal, cut in half. The food they eat comes from the chicken and other products that Lali or one of the ANP members pick up that day.
"You kind of don't feel out of your element as much," said Lance Cpl. Adam H. Blackman, an MP with the PMT, 2/2. "To be able to sit down and have a home-cooked meal instead of having to heat [Meals, Ready- to-Eat], it's pretty nice."
A sign of the end of the deployment reveals itself to Marines of the military police detachment from 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, who have been in Afghanistan since April. Much to their jubilation, one of their replacements, Marines deployed with 2/2, arrived in mid-November to take over counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan.
"Personally, it's been very rewarding," said Sgt. Demarcus McGhee, a squad leader with the PMT. "The long-term goal of this deployment was seeing them operate on their own, and I think we're getting close to that point. You're going to see fewer Marines and more ANP on patrols."
The Marines hope their time spent with the ANP will make Garmsir a safer place for the kids like Lali.
"It's very important to make it safe," said Staff Sgt. Glenn D. Prather, the platoon commander for the PMT. "You grow attached to these little kids and even some of the ANP."