PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
Marines have earned the reputation of being fierce fighters who can achieve anything they set their minds to.
This is an image Marines earn everyday while defending their country both at home and abroad. It may be hard to imagine decorated warriors building relations and friendships with the local populations in the areas they serve; but that’s one of the main goals of the Marines in the Civil Affairs occupational specialty.
The Marines with Civil Affairs Group 3 here have been working for the last seven months to assist the Afghan government weaken the insurgents’ hold on the people by getting local residents involved in projects used by the Afghan government to strengthen the community.
“We’ve hired a lot of people for each of the projects so they have a way to get paid and take care of their families,” said Pomona, Calif., native Cpl. Oscar Llamas.
Llamas, who is on his first deployment, and his fellow Civil Affairs Marines are responsible for surveying potential needs and overseeing projects for local communities.
Once a project has been decided on, the Marines work directly with the local government and the community to organize plans through its completion.
“After the conclusion of each project, our part is done,” Llamas said. “It’s up to them how they’re going to use and take care of it. They’ve been doing their part and using the buildings properly and taking care of them.”
Llamas stated when his group first got to the base, the Afghan government didn’t want to take ownership of the projects. He explained the government officials would rely on the Marines to handle all the aspects of the projects, deal with the contractors, organize the work groups, and maintain the finished products. It didn’t take long for the government to realize the importance of being involved in the projects.
“You can’t just open a school and expect everything to work out. You’ve got to have paid teachers there or it won’t work,” said Capt. John Pooler, the CAG Team 3 deputy adjutant. “For us, it’s not about how many projects we can do, and it’s not some competition with other (civil affairs) teams. Our entire goal since we got here was to put the Afghan government in complete control of all the projects and help the Afghan people recognize their government as the legitimate power. Our motto is, ‘It doesn’t matter how many bridges we build, as long as we connect the people to the government.’”
The Houston native said they work diligently to incorporate local residents in the process as well.
“When we came here we asked, ‘How can we affect that local Afghan?’ We don’t do it by setting up our own projects. We do it by going to the people and finding out what they want and need and then help the Afghan government fulfill those needs,” Pooler explained.
The government has started to take charge of the projects and is working more closely with its citizens. Llamas said they could see some of the effects of the changes when the Marines went on patrols and the people, with a better understanding of their mission, were more friendly and accepting of the Marines and Afghan National Security Forces.
“We have (civil affairs) Marines spread out all around the province with the different companies and units,” said Llamas. “We’re doing a lot of assessments on things like their schools and clinics, looking for the things they might be lacking that they need or would really help them. In our first few months here there was a lot more fighting, but as we involved the Afghan government and people in more projects, there have been a lot fewer conflicts. The Afghans have stopped coming to us looking for a job and are, instead, going to their leaders. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot while we were out here.”
Early this week, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s CAG turned the responsibilities of their mission and area of operations over to 11th Marine Regiment’s Civil Affairs Team. Pooler said there is still a need for a Marine presence in the area, despite the accomplishments and advancements they’ve made with the local government.
“There is still a mission here. The Afghan government and the Marines are both involved in several joint projects, so we’re still here to help facilitate them,” Pooler said. “We want the people to view the Afghan government as the legitimate power, not the Marine Corps and not the insurgents.”
Editor’s Note: This CAT team is currently supporting Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.