By Sgt. Lucas Hopkins, II Marine Expeditionary Force
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina --
Task Force Southwest completed a full mission rehearsal in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 27 to March 3.
Approximately 300 Marines and Sailors with the unit used the week-long exercise to further refine and sharpen their advisory and combat skills. In theater, the Marines will train, advise and assist the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and 505th Zone National Police.
“The full mission rehearsal is the first chance for us to get together as a Task Force in the field to collectively work on the skills we’re going to need downrange,” said Col. Matthew Reid, the deputy commander of Task Force Southwest. “This is a chance for us to put it all together, to coalesce as a team and get ready to go downrange to do what we need to do in order to be successful.”
The Marines held advisory meetings with Afghan role players, conducted medical drills and a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel training mission, and executed a live-fire mortar range integrated with both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.
“We’ve gotten to practice those scenarios, build team unity and standard operating procedures, and we’ve definitely seen improvement over the last couple of days,” said Lt. Col. Scott Welch, the deputy commander for the Afghan National Police training team.
Task Force Southwest composited in December of 2016, and has since trained on all facets of their upcoming deployment, but mostly within their separate sections. The full mission rehearsal, however, brought together the unit’s command element, security force company and advisory teams, which provided a realistic training environment comparable to the circumstances surrounding the current situation in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been able to replicate the conditions we’re going to see in theater to the maximum extent possible,” said Brig. Gen. Roger Turner, the commanding general of Task Force Southwest. “We’ve been able to go through and exercise all the separate missions we’re going to do, but put it together as a team.”
The unit’s largest section by far is its security element, which consists of short and medium-range arms capabilities. While they will not be directly advising the Afghan forces, their role is vital to the unit’s success.
“The security force is responsible for not only the security of [our camps], but also providing security for the advisors, aiding in our mission to train advise and assist our Afghan counterparts,” said Sgt. Daniel Chalmers, a squad leader with Task Force Southwest.
Through the use of role players, the unit has also worked vigorously to adapt an understanding of the Afghan culture. Welch, who deployed as an advisor during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, believes this understanding will lead to increased rapport and productive relationships.
“Respecting their customs and courtesies, though different from ours, is paramount to us. We want to become part of their team,” said Welch.
“Afghanistan has a different culture. There are cultural nuances. So we train the advisors to understand that because the Afghans have different perspectives and different ways of thinking,” said Turner. “It’s important the advisors understand that [because] it makes them more effective at working with their counterparts.”
Task Force Southwest is scheduled to deploy in the Spring, and will be the largest group of Marines in Afghanistan since combat operations ended in 2014. This time, the Marine Corps’ role is not one specifically of combat, but of positively influencing their Afghan partners to help thwart the presence of terrorist groups in the province.
“We have strong ties there as Marines and we’re going to capitalize on those relationships,” said Reid. “Helmand Province is where we succeeded in the past. I think we can capitalize again on the fact that we’ve been there before and that we can provide them with some type of sustainable, secure environment... We’re going to be successful by making the Afghans successful.”