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Marines, Afghan soldiers conduct Operation Gator Crawl

US Marine Corps News

10/5/2009 By Cpl. Daniel Flynn , Regimental Combat Team 3

When many people think about the U.S. Marine Corps, generations of fierce warriors come to mind.

When measured against the Marines’ activities here today, it is a stereotype that still holds true in many circumstances. Modern Marines here are more than warriors though. More often than not, they are also diplomats.

The Marines of Regimental Combat Team 3’s Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle Company, parts of the regiment’s headquarters, and Afghan National Army soldiers conducted Operation Gator Crawl – a rolling patrol near here Sept. 23 through 25.

Operation Gator Crawl allowed the Marines and ANA soldiers to visit villages in Nawa District where NATO or Afghan government forces had not been in years. This operation was a chance to gauge atmospherics, gain a little understanding about an area in which very little was known and positively interact with the people living there.

MRAP Co. often conducts patrols on their own, but for this mission they had the additional support of civil affairs, intelligence, a female engagement team and an ANA detachment. The patrol was broken up into smaller sections allowing the force to spread out over a greater distance and interact in different villages simultaneously.

“Our mission during this operation was to provide security,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Andrew Park, section leader with MRAP Co. But they also got the chance to interact with the local populace alongside the ANA during the mission.

According to Park, they talked with the locals and assured them they and the ANA were there to provide security and assistance.

During the two days the Marines patrolled through the villages, they spoke to the men and women they encountered in an attempt to determine their concerns. What topped the list were clean water and education.

“We were there to do several different things,” said Lt.Col. Leonard J. DeFrancisci, 4th Civil Affairs Group detachment commander. The CAG Marines were focused on establishing relationships with the locals, identifying key leaders in the villages and researching what problems the people are facing – like whether education, clean water or security is the highest priority.

One of the other objectives was to bolster the image and confidence of the ANA, according to DeFrancisci. To help reinforce this, the Afghan soldiers distributed supplies to the locals.

Also, the evening of the first full day of the operation, the Marines, ANA and other attachments found an abandoned, rundown compound where they planned to spend the night. The locals did not like this idea because it positioned the Marines too close to the village. When the elders came to confront them about this issue, it was the ANA who spoke with the elders and made the call to move to a different location.

DeFrancisci said, “We could have stepped in, but we wanted it to be an Afghan answer to an Afghan problem.”

As the convoy was preparing to depart the area and return here, all thoughts of making it back before dinner were forgotten as insurgents opened fire with AK-47s on what they thought was only a small group of Marines they saw on one side of the last village.

“I heard a couple of pops, and at first I thought it was just some of the local kids playing,” said Cpl. Justin Lee Lail, MRAP Co. vehicle commander. “Then I heard the pops again, and that is when I realized it was small arms fire.”

Within seconds two other MRAPs and more Marines rounded a corner to add their firepower to the fight. Two of the insurgents were observed running away. One was killed. None of the friendly forces or civilians were hurt.

“The reason the movement to fire went so well is because of small unit leadership, good corporals,” added the 28-year-old Chillicothe, Ohio, native. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Pride in their performance under fire is one obvious way to recognize these Marines’ and Afghan soldiers’ accomplishment. This operation can’t be labeled a complete success, however, until the next group of ANA and Marines visit. How cooperative and receptive the villagers are next time will be the measure of achievement for these few days on the road.

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