PATROL BASE MINDEN, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
An old saying goes, ‘good things come in small packages,’ but in the isolated, rural villages of Afghanistan the saying is, ‘good things come in small projects.’
Local Afghans, with support from the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, are planning small projects that will improve the quality of life for many local Afghans in the district of Musa Qal’eh.
One of the first projects to be done will be the construction of much needed repairs to the Yatimchay Road. The paved roads will aid in the safer travels of both local Afghan residents and Marines.
“It will help limit improvised explosive devices,” said Maj. Anthony Aragon, the civil affairs team leader with 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2. “This road will also allow them to travel to Musa Qal’eh easier so they can sell their goods at the bazaar.”
Providing aid is the root cause of most civil affairs projects.
“We want to help enhance their economy and show them their government wants to as well,” said Aragon, a 38-year-old native of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Other projects called micro-grants are a big boost to the economy, Aragon said. Micro-grants are similar to small business loans given to Afghans who own a business they would like to expand.
“These businessmen are excited to look at a better future,” Aragon said. “We just give them a little money and guidance and their entrepreneurial spirit does the rest.”
While projects often make the locals favor the Marines, favor is not the goal.
“We tie everything back to the Afghan government,” Aragon said. “We want the people to know that there government and local governor care about them.”
The rural areas of Afghanistan are occasionally over-looked, but according to Aragon, the small projects in outlying areas are just as important as the larger projects in major cities.
“We are keeping things small here at first,” Aragon said. “We hope to empower them to do greater things on their own.”
Even though projects are done solely to benefit the Afghans, there are tactical benefits as well.
“Once the people realize we are here to help them, they want the projects to continue,” said Cpl. Cameron Brainard, a civil affairs team member with 1st Bn., 2nd Marines. “The best way to do that is to keep the Taliban out.”
Brainard also said the Afghans want to build relationships with the Marines through aiding them. The ultimate goal in these areas is to complete projects and teach the Afghans to protect them, Aragon added.
“We are seeing the positive change here,” Aragon said. “They see us as a positive [partner] and take ownership of what they have.”
Afghan contractors and workers finished the few projects Marines have funded ahead of schedule; a good sign for things to come, Brainard concluded.
Small and large scale projects will continue throughout Helmand province, and the Marines believe they are the key to success in Afghanistan.