CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The cold desert was an unforgiving venue for Embedded Partnering Team, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), as they convoyed across the Afghan plains in late October to escort the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps Logistics Battalion from Kabul to Camp Shorabak, a satellite installation of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province.
Operating “outside the wire” is crucial to the EPT’s mission of partnered engagement, in which they teach the ANA soldiers everything from weapons handling to supply management to vehicle maintenance.
“Shoulder to Shoulder,” as the unit’s motto suggests, was the key element in moving the basically trained ANA soldiers more than 440 miles toward Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Throughout the movement, the fundamentals that have been taught and will continue to be developed among the soldiers were exhibited.
“It’s extremely important that these guys learn to understand their own equipment,” said Sgt. Matthew Wightman, a Sacramento, Calif., native and one of the EPT’s communications advisors. “With a trip like this one, the mission relied on communications with the ANA vehicles, so that we could coordinate as the route progressed.”
Additional factors led to the safe arrival of the Marines and ANA soldiers, such as preventative maintenance to weapon systems and vehicles. Each measure taken is a precautionary step that could ultimately save the life of a Marine or Afghan soldier.
“The big things we focus on are pre-combat inspections and making sure that (the ANA) look over their vehicles,” said Cpl. Joshua Stark, a Westbrook, Conn., native and a motor transportation mentor with the EPT. “As Marines, it’s something that we are accustomed to doing all the time and they aren’t used to doing it as often. If we can get these guys to start doing the same, we will run into a lot fewer issues when we go outside the wire.”
Each morning, after windows were cleaned, weapons maintained and vehicles inspected, the two militaries resumed the journey, maneuvering past craters in the road from past improvised explosive devices and spats of small arms fire.
For Marines and ANA soldiers alike, the convoy provided an eye-opening look into the ruthlessness of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, highlighted by a diminished infrastructure caused by IEDs and combat.
“When you go outside the wire you become more aware of what’s really going on here,” said Stark. “To see a huge crater where road used to be makes you stop and think ‘man, that could have been me’.”
On this trip, the convoy encountered no conflict, though, and the soldiers arrived safely at Camp Shorabak. Over the course of the next few months, the Afghan soldiers will work with the EPT Marines to enhance their military skills as the country begins to further transition toward independence, all the while working “shoulder to shoulder.”