MARINE CORPS BASE 29 PALMS, Calif. --
Moving across arid plains or through recently deserted city streets, today’s Marines are tasked with balancing the conflicting roles of war-fighter and goodwill ambassador. As part of the Enhanced Mojave Viper training evolution, the men of Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, are building the skill set necessary to accomplish that goal.
During a Clear, Hold, Build training exercise, designed to instill the Marines with an understanding of the inner workings of counterinsurgency operations, Company B conducted a cordon and search mission at the military operations in urban terrain facility aboard Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif., May 30, 2011.
As Marines patrolled the training area, Afghan nationals participating as role-players helped to simulate an environment akin to one they will encounter on their upcoming deployment. The simulation was accurate down to the often frustrating encounters with the language barrier and the populace’s skepticism of the Marines’ intent as well as their ISAF counterparts: the Afghan National Police.
Stepping out on patrol, the Marines of Company B immediately encountered resistance as they set out to build ties and search for the local mullah, the community’s religious figurehead.
“We went out and searched for the mullah and started doing our first interactions with the locals,” said Lance Cpl. Nata Coelho, a rifleman with Company B. “For the new [Marines], it was a pretty good learning experience, definitely something to build on. In the states we don’t have communities like that,” Coelho explained, highlighting one of the larger cultural changes the Marines must adapt to – the understanding that they are entering very tightly-knit neighborhoods and communities, where word of mouth reigns supreme and the smallest of mistakes can have disastrous results.
“Having one person who has such power in the community – talking to that guy can really make or break you,” Coelho continued. “You have to set that standard of just being a professional at all times. It brings out the character in every Marine – they have to be able to do our job and stick with it.”
Coelho highlighted a key cornerstone of counterinsurgency operations, one that is perhaps the most significant as well as the most challenging – winning over the populace while still remaining ready for combat at a moment’s notice. In effect, the Marines must be able to walk the razors edge, garnering support from the locals, while simultaneously routing the Taliban.
The days’ training was meant to re-familiarize the senior Marines and foster new skill sets within their juniors explained Cpl. Christopher Ginandt, a designated marksman with Company B.
“Overall, they did pretty well, some of the newer guys had never done it, but your first few times it’s always difficult,” Ginandt said. “I think they understand it’s now more of a hearts and minds war.”
Coelho, who was with 1/6 when they pushed into Marjah, Afghanistan during their last deployment, described the effects he witnessed firsthand of winning over the local population, who denies the Taliban the most critical aspect of today’s war – the Afghan people.
“The most frustrating thing is that the battlefield has completely changed. It’s not uniform on uniform anymore, it’s the local populace that has to be won over,” said Coelho.