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3rd Battalion trains with Afghan Security Forces

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005136857
Story by Cpl. Rich Mattingly

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 2, 2005) -- The Marines and sailors 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have been training side-by-side with Afghan Security Forces near the Pakistan border since the battalion arrived in Afghanistan early last month.

In the northern province of Konar, I Company, 3/3, has taken control of a small forward operating base in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The Marines’ efforts there have focused on preparing Afghan Forces, employed by the Coalition, to take an even larger role in the protection of their country from its enemies in the form of Al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban.

“Take a stance!” yells Marine 2nd Lt. Gary Bechtold of Green Brook, N.J., to his pupils, a group of ASF soldiers quickly springing into the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program’s “basic warrior’s stance” next to the concertina wire perimeter of Camp Blessing.

Bechtold, a green-belt martial arts instructor, has been training the ASF soldiers living and working with the Marines in MCMAP for about a month. The Marines hope to have their Afghan counterparts tan-belt qualified soon, the first level of the Marines’ mixed martial arts program.

“We’ve been working with the ASF soldiers to train them in military operations in urban terrain, patrolling and MCMAP,” said Bechtold. “We’re teaching them our leadership traits and core values in addition to some of our basic fighting skills. It’s the same training Marines get,” he continued.

While the Marine martial arts instructor and platoon commander was putting his eager pupils through body-hardening drills and basic MCMAP movement skills, other Marines were sitting side-by-side with their Afghan counterparts in Camp Blessing’s fortified outposts.

“We try to always have an equal number of Marines and ASF soldiers on post and with us on patrol,” explained 1st Lt. Justin Bellman, I Co. executive officer, from Newark, Del.

Bellman says that with over 100 ASF soldiers currently stationed at Camp Blessing to augment his Marines, conditions couldn’t be better for positioning the Afghan forces to take greater responsibility for providing security for local Afghans.

“Several of these guys are former mujahadeen fighters. Many of them have lost family. They’ve had brothers killed or been injured themselves because of them having the courage to work with us in fighting the anti-Afghan forces,” said Bellman. “What we’ve learned from the ASF is that people really do want peace in this area, and they’re willing to let us help them achieve their goals.”

With the ASF squads now divided into Marine-like ranks with Marine squad leaders overseeing their training and employment, the commanders of I Co. are also pleased with how their noncommissioned officers have stepped up to the challenge of integrating with the Afghans.

“We’ve been doing a left-seat, right-seat with them since we got here,” explained Bechtold. “My job has been easy; it’s the NCOs who have really run with it. They’re ‘alone and unafraid’ here. The corporals and sergeants have taken ownership of their squads a lot more than if we were doing standard platoon operations,” he added.

The Marines say their time with the ASF has also been eye-opening on many levels. On convoys and on patrol, the Afghan forces have proven adept and skillful. Many times, the Marines have been surprised by how perceptive the Afghan Security Forces are to subtle changes in their surroundings, changes which could have been hostile threats.

“One second, they’ll be smoking and laughing, and the next they’ll be aimed in, deadly serious,” explained Lance Cpl. Tim Davis, I Co. rifleman from Enfield, Conn. “They’ve got this sixth sense about them. I’ve looked where they’re aiming in, and even with my optics I can’t see what they just know is out there.”

“They’re the most courteous people I’ve ever met,” Davis continued. “We’ve seen nothing but the good side of the Afghan people by working with them.”

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