Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, recently returned to southern Afghanistan, two years after their deployment to the Marjah area.
The opportunity to return to the same area allowed some Marines to see firsthand the difference two years of teaching and mentoring with various Marine battalions and training teams can make.
"We were in the Marjah district on the edge of Trek Nawa from December 2010 to June 2011," said Lance Cpl. Limuel Richards, a team leader with the battalion.
Richards and his squad leader, Sgt. Ben Edwards, were with the battalion two years ago. Because of their previous deployment, the two Marines have a better perspective of the progress made by Afghan National Security Forces.
"I honestly thought when we came back it was going to be like before," said Edwards. "Everyone told me the war had changed, but I see it now with my own eyes."
Last deployment, the Marines worked relatively independent of their Afghan counterparts. They operated and patrolled through the district, occasionally with Afghan National Army soldiers attached to their squad.
This is a stark contrast with how Marines run missions now.
"The biggest difference is the ANA are running their own operations," said Richards, from Ninety Six, S.C. "They understand tactics and how to patrol a lot better than our last deployment."
Recently, Edwards' squad patrolled through the surrounding area with an Afghan National Army squad.
"I led the patrol down to a local police station," said Edwards, from Walhalla, S.C. "We checked on a school that recently opened and had chai tea with the (Afghan Local Police) officer and Afghan squad leader. Afterward, I talked to the ANA squad leader, and he took charge and led the patrol back."
The last time Richards was here, they used simple hand signals to show the Afghan soldiers how to patrol, where to post security, and other squad and fire team level tactics. The development of the Afghan forces is much farther along than those days.
"On today's patrol, they knew what to do," said Richards. "I was really impressed with their improvement."
When the squads arrived at the police station, ANA Staff Sgt. Samandar Khan, squad leader, Headquarters Tolai, 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 215th Corps, set his soldiers in security positions outside. The command impressed Edwards and showed him how much the ANA have progressed.
"While we had the meeting, (Sgt. Khan) mentioned going out and checking on his soldiers, which stood out to me," said Edwards. "Checking on his men and posting security really showed how he acted like a leader, doing the things leaders should."
Edwards and Richards drank tea with Khan and ALP 3rd Lt. Shah Mohammad.
The Marines, ALP and ANA representatives sat on a patch of grass inside the police station while the sounds of children playing could be heard from a nearby school, yet another sign of significant security progress made in southern Helmand province. The Marines made sure the ALP were being supported by their higher command, as well as asking about the recently opened school.
After the meeting, it was Khan who approached Edwards about leading the patrol back, another indicator of how much the Afghan forces have improved.
"I didn't realize it would be like this," said Edwards. "We are starting to see the ANSF take charge and take control of their own country."
The development of the Afghan police and ANA allows less Marines to support a larger area this deployment.
"I enjoy being in the same area because I get to see the progress firsthand," said Richards. "The Afghans are doing great. What we helped them with last deployment they've continued working on."
With a battalion full of Marines on their first deployment, Marines like Edwards and Richards are sharing their previous experiences to help the younger Marines understand the changes that have been made.
The compound to compound clearing operations are a thing of the past for the Marines who now support their Afghan counterparts. It is a welcome sight in the community and a sign of progress in the area as ANSF take control of their country.
Article by Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs