CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
Where there was once only sand, gravel and a film of dust in the desert air, the Regimental Combat Team 7 commanding officer spoke about a brighter future for Afghanistan. Speaking here, outside the Command Operations Center that didn’t exist a year ago, Col. Randall Newman recounted his team’s success in central Helmand province. He praised his Marines, seldom referred to himself and often seemed apologetic when doing so. Clearly, the heavy burden of responsibility is a ghost that lingers even as the mantle of responsibility is being passed.
Col. David Furness and RCT-1 took up that mantle here, during a Relief-In-Place, Transfer-of-Authority ceremony, Sept. 28. During the next year, RCT-1 will attempt to build upon the success of its predecessor by laying the foundation for peace, hope and prosperity for the Afghan people.
Regimental Combat Team 1 is taking on the insurgency with more than conventional weapons. In Afghanistan, which suffers from poor education and a weak infrastructure, a hammer may be just as effective as a rifle. This month, Marines in central Helmand province have built schools, refurbished bazaars, cleared canals, fixed mosques, and distributed wheat seeds to supplant the poppy crop. For the Taliban, standing in the way of RCT-1 operations often means blocking improvements to the Afghan people’s quality of life.
On the battlefield, most of RCT-1’s fight is taking place in Marjah. Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment occupies the District Center, and 2/9 conducts operations to the north. The objective of the battalions’ presence in Marjah is to expand the Afghan National security forces’ security bubble around the population centers there. The Marine Corps has been operating out of Marjah since taking control of the city during Operation Moshtarak, in February.
The cities of Nawa and Garmsir, occupied by 3/3 and 3/1 respectively, are relatively peaceful. There, RCT-1 is farther along toward it ultimate goal of transferring responsibility for security and governance to Afghanistan.
“We know that we’re not going to be here forever, nor do we intend to be here forever, so it’s all about giving people confidence that Afghans can secure themselves,” said Newman.
Furness and RCT-1 look to carry RCT-7’s theme now through the fall of 2011.
“I’ve told all our Marines and sailors,” said Furness, “the number one thing we can do is work ourselves out of a job.”