NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand Province, Afghanistan --
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a four-part series chronicling a trek across Nawa district called the Nawa Victory Walk, a four-day, 30-mile patrol by U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers.
Sunlight crept silently through the windows lining the walls of the Loy Kolay precinct, an Afghan National Army security outpost, as the Marines and sailors awoke, each nudging the soundly sleeping service member next to him. Their legs sore from the previous day’s hike more than 14 kilometers, their shoulders strained from the weight of their body armor, the service members of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, prepared for another day of patrolling across the district with their Afghan counterparts.
The patrol joined Afghan Lt. Col. Gul Ahmad, commanding officer of 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, and U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski, commanding officer of 1/9, recently in a four-day expedition across the district called the Nawa Victory Walk. The patrol demonstrated the safety and security achieved in the area and allowed the leaders to speak with local residents and key leaders, assessing problems and celebrating successes along the way. The second day of the Nawa Victory Walk would be a proposed 12 kilometers.
The day began with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hayanak Health Clinic, outside the gates of the precinct. Prominent members of the Nawa community arrived to cut the ribbon and lay the ceremonial foundation bricks, including district governor Haji Abdul Manaf and Haji Hayatullah, an Afghan Local Police commander and local council member. The Marines and Afghan soldiers joined together to provide security during the ceremony.
“The building of the health clinic is one of the many reasons Nawa is ready for transition,” said Zagurski, a Mercer Island, Wash., native. “The clinic is a good example of success for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in that the governor, elders, and GIRoA officials all agreed upon the site and the director of health certified the site. It will be a great success for the area to have its own basic health clinic.”
The day’s patrol began after the ceremony concluded and officials ate an early lunch at the Loy Kolay precinct. The ANA soldiers and Marines patrolled five kilometers to their first stop at Patrol Base Wrightsman. The road along the way held many conversations with local police patrolmen and area residents.
“One of the successes of our patrol is to see the local residents of Nawa accept Afghan National Security Force leadership,” said Zagurski. “As Marines take a step back in security responsibilities, we’ve seen a strong bond between the local population and ANSF and GIRoA leadership, which is one of the key indicators that they are ready for transition.”
The patrolling party continued along a deep canal, past corn fields and distant mud compounds. Children ran to the advancing group in wonder, greeting the combined forces.
“The people have been waving all day at us,” mentioned Grand Junction, Colo., native Seaman Ian B. White, a corpsman with 1/9. “The way people react differs from place to place, but we try to make a good appearance no matter where we go.”
The troupe made its second stop at Patrol Base Sopar Dostan, nine kilometers into the day’s patrol. Afghan Local Police offered chai tea and were very welcoming to the visiting soldiers and Marines. After a quick repose from the rigorous patrolling, the Afghan and American security detachments were on their feet read to finish the day with a final three-kilometer movement.
It was a short patrol, yet it took the troops from cornfields as far as the eye could see and sparse mud compounds to a bustling marketplace. The town of Khalaj, comprised of many closely knit, single-story buildings, enveloped the patrolling group. Motorbikes and bicycles raced between stands filled with fruit and intricately-woven cloth for sale. Eyes turned toward the ANSF–led patrol as it moved through the town, and many local residents gathered to speak to the advancing party.
Patrol Base Jaker stood on the far side of the town; the patrol made its way to the entrance and filed in through the gates. ‘Doc White’ was on them within moments, checking their feet and making sure everyone was in good health to continue the patrol through the Nawa district the next few days.
A few hours of rest at Jaker gave the soldiers and Marines time to relax, and the sun began to set over the horizon.
In the evening, when little more than moonlight lit the base’s walkways, the district governor hosted a dinner for several of the visiting Marines. Chicken, rice and bread graced the plates of those in attendance and Zagurski, accompanied by the kandak commander, spoke with the governor on the day’s successes and the needs of Nawa.
“Education and the rule of law are the most important thing for the community,” said Manaf, his hands passionately gesturing in the air. “We have to be able to serve justice by having good prosecutors and legislators. Overall, the men and women of Nawa are happy.”
When the meal ended the Marines thanked their gracious host and took their leave. Two days separated them from the finish of their trek across Nawa, and they would need their rest to accomplish the mission.
Editor’s note: First Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 in 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.