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Houston's 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment has begun the long journey to Afghanistan

US Marine Corps News

2/28/2011 By Lyndsay Wise, 1st Battalion (1/23)

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Last week, more than 800 Marines and Navy corpsmen who serve in 1/23 -- also known as 'The Lone Star Battalion' -- started to depart Camp Pendleton in California, where they've been training since November, and headed overseas on the first leg of their trip. They will spend seven months in Afghanistan.

The battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Russell Todd Zink, sent me an e-mail to share his thoughts as 1/23's deployment gets underway and to describe what the Marines have done to prepare:

I wanted to take a moment to update you on what the Lone Star Battalion has accomplished since my last email and inform you that we are in Kyrgyzstan shuttling Marines into Afghanistan.

First, the Marines have done very well over the last four months at Camp Pendleton, California. Their focused training demanded most of their time in order to get it all accomplished before our departure. The training was not only time consuming, but demanding to ensure the Marines are well prepared for the complex environment of Afghanistan that will test their military and non-military skills to be successful.

The counter insurgency war that is being waged demands from the small units the ability to counter the Taliban's efforts on multiple fronts. These fronts include the ability to disrupt the Taliban's ties to the local populace to provide the people the opportunity to learn how to defend themselves from the Taliban campaign of terror and intimidation. While security is being improved, ongoing efforts are used to teach the Afghan people many of the same things that the American people desire, such as education, health care, law enforcement and public works to improve the economy.

The war over there is primarily being won on the shoulders of our young NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) that lead our squads of Marines. These young men lead 12 other Marines and are the face of the NATO coalition of troops over there when they engage the local Afghan people. They are well equipped to not only communicate with the locals to figure out how best to disrupt their ties with the Taliban, but also how to teach them to take care of themselves.

To protect themselves against the Taliban, the squads have trained to be highly proficient with the use of their weapon systems that include mortars, rockets, machine guns and M4 rifles, should the Taliban choose to engage them with small arms. This allows the squad to put the Taliban into a dilemma, since they are able to pin him down with multiple weapon systems.

The squads are very well trained on how to counter the Taliban (improvised explosive device) threat by getting licensed to drive the latest counter-IED vehicles, such as the MATV, MRAP and 7 ton Armadillo. They are also proficient with hand-held metal detectors used to find IEDs planted under the earth. Some of their Marines have been trained as counter-IED dog handlers who control dogs trained to sniff for explosives. Ultimately the best counter IED measure will be earning the trust of the local people to receive their assistance in finding the IEDs beforehand and/or taking measures to deter the Taliban from placing IEDs in their area.

The squad training does not end there. The squads have some Marines that have received specialized training as Combat Hunters used to find tracks and evidence that enable them to locate the Taliban even though they do not wear uniforms. These techniques are similar to how your local law enforcement investigators find criminals.

Furthermore, their training with combat policing instructors and tactical site exploitation experts equips the Marines with the ability to walk the streets to be able to investigate areas where the Taliban would likely need to have to engage the locals to stay relevant because without the support of the local people they become irrelevant. Again, using techniques used by police here in America, the Marines are able to collect evidence on the violent and criminal acts of the Taliban in a thorough manner to ensure they are prosecuted in the Afghan courts.

To build upon their intelligence and information on the Taliban and their Al Qaeda supporters, each company of Marines have their own intelligence cell of specially trained intelligence Marines to ensure efforts against the Taliban are done in the most effective manner to make the most impact on the enemy during the deployment. The numerous police officers and lawyers in the battalion have greatly enhanced this capability in the battalion.

To enhance this ability to collect intelligence on the Taliban, some of the Marines received specialized training on how to control small unmanned aircraft called RAVENs to fly over the battlefield and specialized video and IR surveillance equipment to maintain base security. Others became specialists in the use of intelligence database management systems and communications programs that emphasize the latest in graphic communications to accurately depict forces on the ground in relation to the enemy and other man made considerations.

In order for the squads to engage with the local Afghan people they have received countless hours of Afghanistan cultural training so not to disrespect the local people. They understand that by respecting the culture they have the opportunity to earn the trust of the local Afghan people. They have been trained on the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari. This training was taught by Afghan instructors and through interactive computer programs to test them. They all have on their person key phrases in the Afghan languages.

Their cultural training has taught them the social hierarchy to be able to identify the powerful and most influential people in an Afghan village. They will have interpreters embedded with them upon their arrival in country to assist in this translation. All of this training was put to the test multiple times when the battalion paid for Afghan role players (people from Afghanistan) to integrate into the training exercises to challenge the Marines in the most realistic way possible.

The Marines have received extensive training in first aid. Many of them have been trained as Combat Life Savers and Combat Trauma Management specialists; and have received training on how to call in a helicopter to a zone to come to the aid of an injured Marine. They have the latest in first aid equipment on their person. This training included practicing simulated medical evacuations during field exercises to test their proficiency and timeliness in their emergency response.

These comments just touch on the highlights of what the Marines have been able to accomplish over the last four months, but it goes to say they are now ready. To wrap up this training, I had the opportunity to present several medals to Marines that had demonstrated excellence throughout the period and deliver some final words to the battalion. My intent was to put this current War on Terror into context. To give the Marines a long view on why what they are doing and are about to be asked to do is important not only for our country's sake, but for all people.

Best regards,

Russell Todd Zink


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