Photo Information

Marines with civil affairs teams from 4th Civil Affairs Group and 11th Marines Civil Affairs, Regimental Combat Team 8, inspect the progress of work being done by local residents of Now Zad, Afghanistan, Feb. 22. Civil affairs teams fund and supervise projects to offer jobs to local citizens and help improve the overall city.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Clayton Vonderahe

Building Better Tomorrow in Afghanistan

11 Mar 2011 | Lance Cpl. James Frazer

The U.S. Marine Corps’ Civil-Military Operations, or CMO, plays a leading role in supporting Afghanistan’s efforts to provide a better quality of life for its people.

For the last year, the 1st Marine Division (Forward) CMO team has been working with local leaders, the Afghan government and other coalition forces. The 2nd MarDiv (Fwd) is now preparing to take over responsibility of Task Force Leatherneck, the ground element of Regional Command (Southwest), in Afghanistan and is dedicated to continued CMO operations in support of the Afghan people.

CMO’s mission is to build relationships with the people of Afghanistan and to coordinate with community leaders. Task Force Leatherneck does this by working through civil affairs teams throughout Helmand province building unique relationships and completing projects to aid communities.

“All of the battalions and civil affairs teams have been doing numerous development projects over the last year,” said Anaheim, Calif., native Lt. Col. Thomas West, deputy director for 1st MarDiv (Fwd) CMO. “They’ve been working on everything from schools and government buildings to canals and agricultural projects to address problems that can cause instability in the community.”

Selecting the right projects is key to the CMO team’s success.

“A project can be chosen by a civil affairs team on the ground seeing an obvious need, or it could be through engagement with tribal elders,” West explained. “The elders will bring up the things they see that are needed to improve their areas, or if there is formal government, we’ll work with the district governor and district leaders to improve their local community.”

Projects selected must fulfill an immediate or long-term need of the local population and must be able to be sustained by the Afghan people without outside support for a continued and long-lasting effect.

“We know we can build roads,” said Wadsworth, Ohio, native Maj. Andrew Foreman, the 2nd MarDiv (Fwd) CMO operations officer. “We have engineers who can go out and build the most beautiful road in the world, but in five years it would have more craters than the moon because the Afghan people don’t have a way to maintain a road right now. Sustainability is the big thing when choosing which projects to do.”

Foreman further explained that a large focus of CMO is to do everything they can to help the local populace in order to prevent the war from deteriorating to conventional operations. He related and compared CMO’s goals to one of the lines from Sun Tzu’s book, “The Art of War.”

Sun Tzu theorized that a man was perfected at the art of war when he could win without having to fight. CMO embraces this ideology by trying to make progress on a personal level with the Afghan people, rather than a tactical level with an enemy on a battlefield.

1st MarDiv (Fwd) now has more than 100 CMO projects underway or planned and a year’s worth of work building relationships with communities. Some might worry about setbacks as 2nd MarDiv (Fwd) takes the reigns. However, the 1st MarDiv (Fwd) CMO Marines said they believe progress is going to continue unhindered.

“The change from how it used to be has been tremendous,” said West. “The Marines on the ground who were in Garmser in 2008 who have returned in 2010 have seen a night and day change for the better. It’s the same way in other parts of Afghanistan. Continuing progress is definitely evident.”