Marines, sailors return from a 9-month Afghanistan tour
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — More than 80 Marines and sailors from units throughout the 3rd Marine Division returned Wednesday evening from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
They were the last of a detachment of about 135 troops who were attached to the Regional Corps Advisory Command in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Don Carrier, with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, who returned with the first group in March.
The advisory command is part of the Combined Security Transition Assistance Command–Afghanistan.
During their tour, the troops served as advisers to the Afghan National Army’s 201st Corps based in Kabul.
The Marines teamed with their counterparts in the Afghan army at every level — battalion, platoon and squad — and “advised them on everything,” Carrier said.
This presented some challenges, he said.
The Afghan officers were mostly very experienced, many having served in previous Afghan militias, but that was not the case with their troops, Carrier said.
“Their enlisted ranks are brand new,” Carrier said. “They just don’t have the same experience.”
He saw Afghan sergeants major with only four or five years of military experience, he said. This is due in part to the relative newness of Afghanistan’s army, he said.
The Afghan National Army was established in early 2003 with a little more than 1,700 troops. It has since grown to more than 46,000 in five corps, with the ultimate goal of an army of 70,000 by 2009, according to its Web site.
The other four corps are the 203rd, based in Gardez; the 205th, in Kandahar; the 207th, in Herat; and the 209th in Mazar-e-Sharif.
With the 201st, the Marines taught Afghan officers how to develop their own NCOs, which in turn benefited the U.S. troops, Carrier said.
“They were operating at levels far exceeding their rank,” he said.
At the lower levels, in the platoons and squads, enlisted Marines “were more involved in combat operations on a daily basis,” Carrier said.
They didn’t just teach how to operate weapons systems, they also showed Afghan soldiers the tactics used to employ weapons in a combat situation, he said.
“It was a rewarding experience — the opportunity to interact with other countries and the Afghan National Army,” said Staff Sgt. Zeb Hervy, of 12th Marine Regiment.
“The first month was hard because we did not know each other,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jaunito D. Juliano of Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, explaining that a bond was developed. “You have to earn respect with them.”
And the Afghans earned the respect of the Americans, Carrier said.
“The Afghan people and the Afghan soldiers, they are fighters,” Carrier said. “What they really needed our help with is long-term planning and sustainment.”
Instead of just going out and fighting, the Marines taught their counterparts to think about being able to sustain combat operations and the need to resupply logistics, he said.
“We are getting them closer to where they are going to be able to do it on their own,” he said.