MARJAH, Afghanistan -- The last time Col. Randall P. Newman was in Marjah, the Loy Chareh Bazaar was dark at night and local residents were less interactive with patrolling Marines.
Solar-powered streetlights now light the bazaar. The local shop owners engage patrolling Marines and Marjah residents flood the streets to engage the patrols.
Newman, the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 7, along with his personal security detachment observed the visible progress in the area during a patrol through Marjah’s Loy Chareh bazaar, Sept. 6.
"This patrol allowed us to go out and engage the locals to see how they are doing," said Cpl. Jeremy Collins, with RCT-7 PSD. "It also allowed us to talk to a few of the key leaders in the area and get an update on what has been going on in this area."
Newman, the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 7, remembers what Marjah was like back in February, when the Marines and Afghan national security forces first breached enemy lines and began Operation Moshtarak, the combat operation designed to remove Taliban presence and intimidation from Marjah.
After the Marines established their presence in the central Helmand town, there was no shortage of infrastructure work needed.
In the following six months, along with providing security for Marjah residents and training and mentoring for Afghan forces, Marines have worked to improve the Marjah infrastructure and basic human services, including streetlights, mosque refurbishment and canal improvement projects.
"When you look at what has been done here, where the people live, work and shop there has been great progress made. I think that is the importance of what we saw today."
Newman understands that the counterinsurgency strategy necessary to win the support of local Afghans often involves just as many handshakes and smiles as security.
"That’s what winning this is all about; to just being able to get out and be with the people and to talk to them about their challenges," said Newman. "It is going out every day and being willing to do that and fix what you can and talk to them about why you can’t fix everything."
Just days removed from the first day of school in Marjah and looking forward to the Afghan parliamentary elections, Newman senses a shift in attitude among Marjah residents as they strive toward a brighter future.
"I think what we learned today is that there is stability coming to Marjah and that the people are taking advantage of that," Newman said. "They are out to say hello to us. They are interested in who we are and what we are about as Americans and Marines."