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Marines, Sailors train Afghan soldiers to operate independently

By Cpl. Daniel Woodall , 1st Marine Logistics Group

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Nov. 26, 2010 — CENTCOM

Mohammad Zaman, a soldier with the Afghan National Army’s 5th Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, serves as a spotter as Cpl. Phillip Sever, 20, Headquarters & Service Company mentor, Embedded Partnering Team, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), sights in during a weapons class on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Nov. 21. (Photo by Cpl. Daniel H. Woodall)

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (Nov. 26, 2010) — For the past two months, 20 Marines and sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), have been mentoring approximately 330 soldiers with the Afghan National Army.

While deployed, the team has been tasked with training, advising and mentoring the 5th Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps – an ANA logistics battalion – on the functions of tactical logistics support while preparing them for unilateral operations, said Capt. Victor Kamantauskas, 27, commanding officer, Embedded Partnering Team, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD).

In recent speeches, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed his desire to see coalition forces play a more limited role in current operations, allowing the Afghan National Security Forces to operate autonomously throughout the country. Embedded partnering teams have been training Afghan forces to do just that.

Combat Logistics Battalion 3 is the third unit to embed a Partnering Team since 5/1/215’s formation in the summer of 2009.

“We have definitely seen a paradigm shift in the ANA where they are more willing to take on their own tasks,” said Kamantauskas, a native of Orange, Texas. “They are building their confidence and ability to conduct independent operations day by day.”

The soldiers of 5/1/215 are responsible for providing logistics support to three ANA infantry battalions throughout Afghanistan’s Helmand province. To accomplish their mission of providing 5/1/215 with the skills to become a self-sufficient logistics battalion, CLB-3’s EPT conducts daily mentoring sessions spanning a wide-range of logistics and military topics as well as frequently conducting partnered combat logistic patrols.

“We’re taking a ‘back-seat’ approach right now, letting the ANA lead but eventually we’ll wean off of that,” said Capt. Redmond B. Gautier IV, 34, executive officer, EPT, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD), a native of Miami. “That’s not to say our replacing unit won’t have a job; there’s still work to be done. The ANA are definitely taking the lead – more than we expected – and that’s a positive thing.”

The Marines and sailors who compose CLB-3’s EPT were hand-selected prior to their Afghanistan deployment because they are generally considered the most proficient individuals in their respective military occupational specialties.

For Cpl. Phillip Sever, 20, Headquarters & Service Company mentor, EPT, CLB-3, working with the ANA has been an enjoyable experience. Prior to joining the EPT and becoming a mentor, Sever served as a bulk-fuel specialist with CLB-3’s Engineer Company.

“I joined the EPT because I wanted to make a difference, and I knew this would be the best way to do it – working with Afghans in their own country,” the Effort, Pa., native said. “Basically our mission here is to work with the ANA on a daily basis to make them self-reliant so one day we can leave this country. The language and cultural barriers are the most difficult aspects of the job. Their customs are much different than ours, and having to work through interpreters slows the work down a little.”

Fortunately, Sever is not alone in thinking the EPT makes a difference in Afghanistan. Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Amanullah Kohbandi, commanding officer, 5/1/215, believes the joint efforts of Marines and Afghans will help make a better country for his people.

“I am thankful the Marines are here to help,” said Kohbandi, speaking through an interpreter. “[As a logistics battalion] we’re the heart of the brigade. If the heart stops pumping, the blood stops flowing.”

The Marines and sailors of CLB-3’s EPT will continue training and mentoring 5/1/215 until the spring of 2011 when CLB-3 is scheduled to redeploy. For the soldiers of 5/1/215, their passion for success is apparent in Kohbandi’s parting words: “As long as there is one drop of blood left in my veins … I will continue to stand and defend my country.”