Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good News from Helmand Province.....

Over the past four years, I have had many occasions to work with Marine units. Right now, I have the privilege of working with a large Marine unit in Afghanistan. All the services have their own unique approach and the Marines I have worked with have been marked by an exceptional esprit de corps.

At the moment, Marines are confronting an implacable foe in Helmand Province. This is a very tough fight, filled with considerable hardship for Marines on the ground. The news from this fight is good, even though you might not have heard much about it (I sense that there aren't too many reporters who actually want to take to the field with a Marine rifle company). I have been privileged to get a report from a Marine infantry company commander who is in the middle of the fight there. You can judge morale and how the fight is going from his words:

I finally have a minute to sit down and write a letter concerning the past few weeks here in Now Zad. I first want to say how incredibly proud of my boys I am. These Marines have been amazing and continue to be amazing. Between them and the amazing support staff that we have in the battalion that allows us to do quite literally whatever we want to the Taliban, this has almost been an easy operation. Here are the up sides:

1) Not a single Marine was killed or seriously wounded during this operation.

2) We have taken more ground, run off more Taliban, liberated more villages, and seized more weapons and Home Made Explosives than has ever happened in NowZad. One of the caches of HME that we blew up was over 1100 lbs of HME (for a reference, that's over 16 "Mine-Proof" vehicles completely destroyed) and it was the largest find in Helmand Province. Ever.

3) We air inserted two companies, behind enemy lines, while my company went straight up the gut of the enemy's defense on the ground. The enemy was so terrified that he abandoned his stockpiles and ran away to where he thought he was safe. Some of them ran right into the arms of the British Battalion to our East, some of them we have hunted down since they ran. More importantly, we have begun to HOLD the ground by immediately building coalition positions in strategic locations all over the valley and partnering with the local Police and Army units. Let's not forget, the infantry is a TERRAIN based organization. We don't have to kill people in order to do our job, only if those people don't want us on that specific piece of dirt and wants to come get a taste.

4) We aggressively sought out and crushed a Murder and Intimidation racket that was going on in our AO. (M&I campaigns are used when the enemy has no other tactic but overwhelming fear to instill on the local population. The 'night letters' that were being delivered said things like: "If you accept help from Coalition Forces we will kill your children one by one..." Except that Marines got to the letter writers first. Whammy.

5) We have re-opened a once deserted town to the people and have begun to pay them to clean it up. Quick cash infusion + Heavy labor for young men + promise of more work = no young guys re-enlisting in the Taliban. One of the key components of this plan was to instantly follow up with a Civil Affairs Group that would handle local national problems that weren't related to the Taliban (food, shelter, work, etc...)

6) We have begun Medical Programs for the locals with what supplies we have. Those supplies are limited, but they are able to cover things like burns, and kids stepping on mines (yes, weMedEvac them just like we would a Marine), and skin rashes, and even an infant with pneumonia who is just fine, now.

7) Our engineers breached a mine-field that had completely frozen other forces. Our Danish friends brought some tanks to help us out and they were able to break up one or two ambushes for us. Nothing is cooler than getting ambushed and having tanks with you to respond. Nothing.

8) Your Marines stayed on point, in the freezing cold weather, with the rain soaking them to the bone, to hunt down the Taliban who had been abusing, killing, and stealing from the people of the NowZad Valley.

9) We are bringing back government into Now Zad, so people have an alternative than the Taliban to settle their legal disputes, and have someone to hold accountable for a lack of medical coverage, and to go to with their grievances about farming and commerce and security. They won't NEED us to hold them up any longer.

If all of this sounds like hubris, maybe it is. But I'm so proud of my Company and my Battalion for the planning and the execution and the follow through that they have done. Be proud of your Marines, they did good work in December. Merry Christmas to everyone. Much Love to all, let your friends know, we're winning and it feels good.

My thanks to Seamus for help in getting the word out. URRAH!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

You have a role, if you want it.......

There was a time in the United States over 50 years ago when most men between the ages of 20 and 40 were likely to have served the nation in uniform, or assisted in the nation's defense in some other capacity. Now, we have a professional military which is the envy of nations everywhere. Our volunteer force is exceptional in many, many ways.

In the midst of an ongoing war in Afghanistan, some regular citizens who are not in uniform (or who, like me, are past the age at which we would quality) but might feel some call to help. There are substantial ways to do this, and a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal by Jim Hake points the way here. My friend MaryAnn Phillips, one of the simply outstanding living examples of how civilians can make a massive difference, also links to this article here.

I can tell you that we have shipped many, many packages of shoes, winter clothing, winter hats, vitamins, school supplies, and other gear meant for children in Afghanistan over the past three years. It has made a tremendous difference for the children there, and this has translated into a safer environment for the soldiers and Marines who distributed this aid. (You might find some of this kind of gear on clearance at Walmart and other stores now and in the next month or so...) This kind of effort really is effective. Part of the reason it is effective is because of the story that goes with the items that you might send: American families sent this for you. It is America at its best......

There are other, related ways, too. Among many superb organizations, Soldiers Angels and provide opportunities and information about how to take this on yourself. Both organizations are run by completely upstanding people with a genuine concern for those who serve the nation in harm's way. (There are other good organizations, too, but I know them both from years of interactions, and I am completely confident in their dedication and skill.) Neither organization assumes you know everything that there is to know about how to make it work. Both will provide direction for you. I knew absolutely nothing about how to do this four years ago when I started. If I can figure it out, believe me you can, too!