By Sgt. Lucas Hopkins, II Marine Expeditionary Force
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Approximately 300 Marines assigned to Task Force Southwest are preparing for an upcoming deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The return of Marines to the country is the largest since 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines concluded the Marine Corps’ combat role in Afghanistan in late 2014. This new rotation of troops will replace the Army unit Task Force Forge, and will continue the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
In preparation for this deployment, the Marines of Task Force Southwest are honing their small arms and crew served weapons skills on both US and foreign weapons. On Jan. 17, Marines who will directly advise the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF), practiced firing the same PK general-purpose machine gun and AK-47 used by the Afghans.
“We want these Marines to familiarize themselves with weapons they might find down range,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Scott, the foreign weapons chief instructor with Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group. “They need to be able to talk intelligently about them to their foreign security force, and that’ll help them build rapport and hopefully help them become successful in the long run.”
The Soviet era foreign weapons are not in the Marine Corps’ inventory, but they are used by both allies and enemies in the region, making it vital that Task Force Marines understand their proper handling, employment and firing techniques.
Marines assigned to the Task Force’s security element also conducted a live-fire range with machine gunners and riflemen firing the Mk-19 and mortarmen shooting the 60 mm mortar. Unlike with the advisor’s training, these weapons are used by the Marine Corps and expert knowledge of their use and employment will be essential to the security element.
“Familiarizing [the Marines] with this weapon system is mission priority, so they can engage the enemy if need be,” said Cpl. David Seeley, a squad leader with Task Force Southwest.
The majority of Marines with the security element have yet to deploy to a combat zone, but their instructors are working to instill in them an “always-ready” mindset.
“I find it… inspirational that I get to help and be a part of the step that gets Marines back into Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Hayden Chrestmen, a machine gun instructor with the Division Combat Skills Center. “As an Afghanistan veteran, it’s extremely important they know how to operate these weapon systems because they’re protecting their brothers to the left and right of them.”
The Marines will continue to train prior to deploying on additional live fire ranges, classroom instruction and interacting with contracted Afghan role players. Throughout the Task Force, the priority is maximum preparedness and maintaining a quiet enthusiasm as they lead the way for the Marine Corps’ first foray back into Helmand in over two years.
“This is what Marines signed up to do. We’ve been given a task to support the Afghans and help them ensure they are prepared for anything that comes their way when it comes to their enemies,” said Maj. Talisha Johnson, a comptroller with Task Force Southwest. “We’re ready to do that, and I’m excited about being a part of this.”
Task Force Southwest is scheduled to deploy in the spring, and will train, advise and assist the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police.