HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The sky was black with the exception of a few construction lights illuminating a small compound. Rugged, heavyweight military vehicles began to stage for departure. Voices were heard shouting out of the darkness, ensuring everyone was accounted for and ready to begin the operation.
A team comprised predominantly of soldiers with the 31st Light Infantry Battalion from the Republic of Georgia, a small group of U.S. Marines assigned to Alpha Company, Georgian Liaison Team – 11, and soldiers with the Afghan National Army conducted a patrol to an Afghan village in Now Zad District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 6-7.
“The Georgians’ overall mission is to protect Camp Leatherneck and stop attacks that may come in from the immediate area,” said Sgt. Jason M. Irons, tactics chief, Alpha Co., GLT-11, and native of Jacksonville, N.C. “That area is controlled by the Georgians. They go out there constantly to keep a presence in their area of operation, and they engage with the Afghan locals in hopes to frustrate the enemy and prevent them from attacking.”
The mission of GLT-11 is to advise the Georgians as they conduct their combat operations in Afghanistan.
The dark, shadowy figures disappeared into massive tactical vehicles to begin their convoy. Traveling through the night and over the rough desert terrain in a dusty line as if playing follow the leader. The sun started to break over the horizon. As Georgian soldiers and Marines arrived at their destination where they met up with the ANA. The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles were strategically staged around the perimeter of the village to set up security. The service members dismounted the vehicles and prepared for their foot patrol.
The Georgians split up into separate groups and headed off in opposite directions around village. The Marines followed behind in support. The goal of the operation was to clear the village compounds of any possible insurgent threat, gather intelligence on the area and host a shura to talk to the Afghan people.
“For the last year, there hasn’t been a friendly presence in this neck of the woods,” said Sgt. Jose E. Moreno, Alpha Co. team chief, GLT-11, and native of Moline, Ill. “We needed to paint a picture of the daily atmospherics in that area. There is a lot of movement going on, locals traveling freely, and by being able to travel freely, you don’t know what they may be bringing into our area of operation, and it could be something that may pose a threat to the Bastion/Leatherneck complex.”
With the sun shining high, the Georgians tactically made their way through the village. They spoke with locals and kept a watchful eye for any threats, such as possible improvised explosive devices or weapons caches. After they patrolled through the entire compound, the Georgians hosted a shura for the village.
“The point of the shura was to pull in the village elders, key people from the village and anyone else who wanted to attend, and remind them we are still here, and that there is a pro-government influence out here for them, and that’s why we brought the Afghan National Army with us,” said Moreno.
During the shura, the Georgians sat down and talked with the village elders and handed out an array of items to Afghan children, from soccer balls, jackets and rain boots to blankets, drinks and books – no one left empty handed.
“The overall mission went well,” said 1st Lt. Beka Kelenjeridze, officer in charge, Alpha Co., 31st Light Infantry Bn., when referencing the working relationship the Georgians have with the Marine liaison team. “We are one team. We did have some minor difficulties communicating at times, but we don’t have any problems with the Marines.”
As the shura came to an end, the Afghan villagers walked back to their compounds and the Georgians and Marines packed up their gear, loaded up their vehicles and headed back to base.
“We continue to work and train together,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert M. Kaufmann, Alpha Co., GLT-11. “I’m proud to see that when we operate, the Georgians understand everything is a series of battle drills, and to see them execute, that is rewarding.”