CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Like most East Coast-based Marines in 2011, Col. Yori R. Escalante was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
However, Escalante, the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, was pulled from his command to fill a different billet – a billet that required him to travel long distances by convoy and air, spend countless hours organizing and planning events, but most of all, forced him to think outside of the box.
He was selected to lead the C-9 as the assistant chief of staff for Regional Command Southwest. The C-9 is a non-traditional staff section that helps mentor the Afghan government and develop socioeconomics by working hand-in-hand with the provincial governments to ensure they’re established properly and have the ability to survive.
Escalante had one year to leave his fingerprint on the people of Afghanistan. This is his story.
Reporter: The II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) commanding general, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, selected you for this position. How did that make you feel?
Escalante: “I was extremely honored to be selected by Gen. Toolan and for him to say ‘I need you on the team.’ I served on a joint tour for three years with the state department, and because of the amount of work that had to be done with civilian diplomats, Gen. Toolan felt it was best to have someone who had that experience. It was conflicting because I didn’t want to leave CLR-2, but then again, I was honored by Gen. Toolan thinking I could do the job. It was a challenge.”
Reporter: What was your mission in Afghanistan?
Escalante: “Support the expansion of governance and socioeconomic development. That was my mission.”
Reporter: How did you prepare yourself for this deployment?
Escalante: “A lot of reading. I read The Helmand Plan, United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan, the myriad of higher headquarters operation orders, The Afghan National Development Strategy, and even with that, you’ve just scratched the surface. I found myself, while I was in Afghanistan, reading six to seven hours every day when you include everything I needed to keep up on.”
Reporter: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Escalante: “The different types of people we had to work with. We had the military … we had the infantry battalions on the ground. You had the headquarters you had to work with. You had the different ways different battalion commanders worked within their battle space and the sort of things they felt they needed in order to succeed. You had civilians. We did a lot of work with U.S. diplomats, U.S. government civilians, and foreign diplomats, primarily the British – because the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team was run by the United Kingdom. Civilians have different and specific ways of doing things than the Marines do, and just from the standpoint of ‘who’s in charge of what line of operation?’ – that became a challenge. We saw ourselves supporting and being supported. We felt like we were in charge, but we also felt like we needed their support and vice versa.”
Reporter: You had to work a lot with the Afghans. What challenges did that present?
Escalante: “It was more than language and culture; it was a way of doing business. It was a way how they conduct business and the things they expect. To some extent, we created a sense of expectation in how we went about initially doing counterinsurgency with a tremendous influx of money and resources. Now we have to say ‘Whoa. We have to start weaning you off, and you have to start doing it yourself.’ That became a challenge.”
Reporter: Through all of the challenges, there had to be something that fueled your fire to keep pushing. What was it?
Escalante: “Seeing the success that was taking place and being able to build on that success. As soon as one thing worked, it’d build on the next. As soon as we could ensure that we could distribute wheat seed properly, then we went to ensuring the farmers had the resources and equipment they needed to grow the wheat. Once we knew that succeeded, then we took it to the next step to ensure the road networks were established properly to ensure they could bring their produce to market. Then obviously the next step is to ensure the processes are in place that you could process that produce and actually sell it like a business. And that’s just one example.”
Reporter: Do you feel like there were any breakthroughs with the local population during your time?
Escalante: “At one point during the summer, we saw that the people of Helmand and Nimroz provinces did not want to be under the control of the Taliban anymore, and they actually started pushing back. They started resisting the Taliban’s intimidation and murder, resisting their efforts to be that intimidator and it made you more motivated to do your work, because if the people are resisting the insurgency, that meant that they were supporting the government more. If they supported the government more, then the government could do more. If the government could do more, then they could provide more for the people. It was a continuous cycle, but as you saw that start it just grew and grew and grew. You couldn’t help but think that ‘Wow, something is really working here and I want to be part of it.’”
Reporter: What is one thing your 50-man team excelled at?
Escalante: “The way we were able to work as a team, and that’s not just one moment – that’s a moment that took place across an entire year. I came in with the specific intention of forming a team around everybody who was involved in the expansion of government and socioeconomics. It didn’t matter if you were a Marine on my staff, a Marine on any other subordinate unit’s staff, a member of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand Province, a member of the regional platform of U.S. government that were there at Camp Leatherneck, or if you were a member of the Afghan government – we had to form a team and work as a team and cooperate and understand that our collective talents were going to be the only thing that makes us succeed before we could ever go forward and try to make something succeed. Every time we worked as a team it worked.”
Reporter: What is one of the times you can reflect on that this team work paid off?
Escalante: “The myriad of working groups and planning teams we had that ensured we were able to prioritize different governance issues and different development projects. We had a list of roads that went from one to 130. We prioritized 130 roads. Now, are you going to be able to do 130 roads in a year? No, but we got about 35 of them done. What we passed on to I Marine Expeditionary Force is a plan that they can just pick up and keep working on.”