PATROL BASE DETROIT, Afghanistan – On the edge of Trek Nawa, an area between the Nawa and Marjah districts, stands a small patrol base where Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers come together and work side by side.
United by a common enemy, the Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, and Afghan National Army soldiers with 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, strengthened an already solid friendship.
“Our principle role is to guide the Afghan National Army through the transition period,” said Capt. Glen Taylor, company commander with Weapons Company. “We’ll get them fully prepared logistically and tactically to conduct combat operations against the enemy.”
Trek Nawa is a known insurgent stronghold, and from the first patrols, the Marines took enemy small arms fire.
“We were in the lead during Ramadan while it was difficult for (the ANA) to conduct operations,” Taylor added.
During Ramadan, the Afghan soldiers fasted from sunrise to sunset, making it dangerous when on patrol in temperatures reaching more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The ANA soldiers are tough,” said 1st Lt. Stephen Huff, a platoon commander with the company. “They weren’t eating or drinking through the day, but every morning they step out (on patrol) with us with no water or food. Some days we’d fight until the afternoon.”
Marines took the lead in the partnered patrols during the Islamic holy month, helping to take some pressure off their Afghan counterparts. They engaged the enemy in numerous firefights while patrolling, and on one occasion, spent three consecutive days in Trek Nawa fighting the insurgency. When Ramadan ended, the Marines returned to a more supportive role with the ANA.
“The main ways we have an impact is through training the Afghan Army and advising them on their patrols and operations,” Taylor said.
Every couple days, the Marines teach a variety of classes to the ANA, including mortar systems, marksmanship, night movements and land navigation.
The classes are designed to help the Afghans contain and disrupt the insurgents’ operations and to develop more independence from coalition forces.
“The classes have really helped us against the enemy,” said ANA Capt. Aziz Mohammad, company commander, 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps.
Mohammad’s soldiers work closely with the Marines, and he said he would like to work with them in the future.
The Afghan soldiers plan and conduct their own patrols and operations, with the Marines in a supportive role.
“Our mission is disruption operations to keep some of the (pressure) off the Nawa and Marjah districts,” said Huff.
The ANA soldiers with 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, welcomed the Marines, and the two units built strong friendships during the past months.
“These are the best Marines we’ve had here,” said ANA 1st Lt. Asrar Hussain, an officer with the kandak. “I like these Marines. They work hard with us and give us lots of training.
The Marines stood side by side the Afghans in combat, which created an instant bond.
“We were in firefights from day one,” Huff said. “The cultural barrier quickly melted away, and we found each other sitting down and talking soldier to Marine.”
Now the Marines regularly play sports on their downtime with the Afghans. The ANA have a volleyball court set up and some evenings the shouts and cheers from both sides can be heard throughout the patrol base.
Recently, when the Marines returned to base, the Afghans invited them over for dinner. They prepared enough rice, fresh fruit, beef and naan, a common bread served in Afghanistan, for all the Marines. To the Afghans, it was a kind gesture and showed a level of respect for their Marine counterparts. The Marines welcomed the gesture, more than happy to enjoy a fresh meal with their brothers in arms.
The Marines and ANA soldiers realize they have the same goal, and it united them on this small patrol base.
“We have the same target, and we have the same enemy,” said Hussain. “Living on one base made us like one family.”