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Attention Bob Novak - Read This Letter

    "War on paper and war in the field are as different as darkness from light, fire from water, or heaven from earth" - William Faukner, The Little Brick Church

The following is an email (via Seamus) from a Gunnery Sergeant (Gy or GySgt) in Afghanistan who is training the Afghan National Army. He is the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCOIC) of his Detachment, and his Staff Sergeants (SSgts) help him train the Afghan soldiers. In light of the recent Robert Novak article about how bad things were in Afghanistan, I thought this would be an interesting read:

There are probably many people who have a significantly greater level of education, and there may be people who have "studied" Afghanistan far more than I; and these may be just the thoughts of a Grunt out in the sand...but I thought I would share some insight into the current Afghanistan – and the current status of the Afghan National Army. These thoughts are not endorsed by anyone, and I am not writing them on anyone's behest, save mine -- certainly not with anyone's permission. (Better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission).

I'll start with the Afghan National Army (ANA). As part of the Marine Detachment assigned to the ANA as combat advisors; I have spent time on a daily basis with the ANA since 30 April. It does not take long to
determine if the people you are going to train and fight with are worth your time.

These ANA soldiers of the 1st Kandak (Commando Bn) / 3rd Brigade are like having a Bn of PFC's and LCpl's. They want to learn, they want to train, they are human - just like all of us. They work their hearts out to get the mission accomplished and they do it is the harshest of conditions. It has been a pleasure to see them in garrison and in combat (we have done both already) and to see their eagerness to live up to the well earned reputation they have gained thus far.

I can take a birds eye view and see a fledgling Marine Corps 220+ Years ago -- the land in turmoil, a determination to have a free country, and the heart to make the country free.

While they have all the heart they need and the experience at combat (they have been fighting for decades), they do not have the experience at being a conventional Army. The soldiers do fabulous at squad level tactics and below. We are continuing the mission of MarDet 1 and MarDet 2 in teaching them to operate at the Company level and above. The difference lies in the changes in the mission we find at our feet.

MarDet 1 through MarDet 2 began to work garrison issues and then work into the combat missions.

MarDet 3 stepped off the plane into mission preparation. It was only a matter of weeks since landing that our advance party was flying to Kandahar Air Field (KAF) to coordinate our main body arrival. That being our mission, our status: we have had a great quantity of time spent working on small unit tactics, in combat. Based on that I feel safe saying that the ANA can conduct squad level and below with or without US intervention.

If the intent was for the ANA to operate as a guerilla force, they would be well on their way to mission accomplishment. The problem is that the mission we, as a Nation, have undertaken is to help stand up the ANA as a conventional Army. A conventional Army will need to have personnel able to operate at Company, Battalion, Brigade, Division and Corps level - and have an established support structure to facilitate support for those personnel. That just simply is not the case. A defined caste system and personal servitude (all based on culture) even in the military ranks; and rampant corruption at the senior levels of office are just a couple of the hindrances to making this awesome group of soldiers the beginning of a good Army.

There is a definite need to decide on the level of determination to accomplish the task we have given ourselves. If the ANA is to learn staff operations/staff planning; then actual PersO's, IntelO's, OpsO's and LogO's [Blackfive edit: Personnel (S-1), Intelligence (S-2), Operations/Training (S-3) and Logisitics (S-4) Operations] will need to be dedicated to come here and work those issues. I have Marine Corps Staff Sergeants advising Platoon Commanders and Platoon Sergeants, in garrison and in combat. Being the SNCOIC of this Detachment, my specific job is as the Combat Advisor to the Bn SgtMaj. I feel comfortable saying combat advisor because the SgtMaj and I have seen combat together (and will again, very soon after I write this mail).

That is the easy part - we are just a couple of grunts once the bullets start flying. The hard part is in garrison. I am an 0369 GySgt, advising a Bn SgtMaj as to what his specific duties are in garrison. At times like these I thank God for Marines like SgtMaj Rob Soto (currently at WTBn Quantico) for giving me an example to call upon when attempting to do this part of my job. My SSgts are filling in as Bn S-1/S-2/S-3 and S-4 advisors in garrison while they balance time in the field every day training the soldiers -- then, when we get to the firebases and start combat operations, all that goes out the window and they are all expected to be 0369 SSgts (by the way, of 7 SSgts, only 3 are 0369's). And like every Marine who has gone before them, they are stepping up and doing superb at the tasks assigned to them. The problem that we encounter is that while they are doing all that is asked of them with the Bn billets, it takes away from the time that could be spent perfecting small unit tactics with their soldiers. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on when it comes to which is more important - training them to be a conventional army or preparing them for combat operations - the simple fact from the Gunny's eyes is that if they fail in combat, there will be no soldiers to create the conventional army. I would like to see the size of the Marine Detachment double and add personnel who are capable, based on experience, on teaching conventional army staff planning - leaving my Marines to prepare the soldiers for combat.

The country is attempting to have a National Election this summer/fall. There are newspaper reports that critisizing the current leader of offering cabinet posts to the most significant warlords in exchange for their support. I would like to give you a few words about what this country is like.

It is a mafia. Drugs are the biggest export and by far the largest money maker. It gives food money to more people in this country than any other job. There are warlords - they are the bullies with the biggest gangs. And no matter what you may think about right or wrong - this country will succeed or fail based on the way they push their influence. They have armed and uniformed their thugs and made them a personal militia. If these militia fight against the election - it will be the bloodiest election in history.

The poverty in this country is not describable, most Americans would not understand even if I could put it in words for this mail. There are a few controlling interest's, a few warlords that control so much of the business in this country that there is nothing shy of a complete takeover of the govermnent (by a foreign force) that will change it.

And the drug trade will not stop without a massive sweep on the national level to wipe it out. The smartest thing the current leader could do is offer these warlords a position as Governor of the provinces they control. And then put their militia in the ANA military and put trade restrictions in place that prevent the corruption for getting out of hand. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Most every political figure or military leader who wants freedom has been killed by an assassin. It is a fact of life, not a fairytale. Some basic principles apply. Know yourself and seek self improvement - that is what the current leader is doing. He is not "corrupt" because of his situation; he is taking his situation and doing what is best for his country. A massive and bloody civil war to gain control of the government has been happenning for years - it is time to make decisions that give stability to the people of this country.

I think I have been a little too long winded but I appreciate your being there for me to send this to. You can decide what is fit for print to put out...I will end with these words concerning my Marines (I'll let the officers take care of themselves).

If you sent one of these Marines from your command to support this mission - I want to personally thank you. They have been the icing on the top of my 20+ years of service and I am truly privledged for having served with them. My SSgt's are: SSgt Locke (arty), SSgt Stephens (grunt), SSgt Stahl (recon), SSgt Gerena (grunt), SSgt Elteto (tracker), SSgt Baker (grunt), and SSgt (frocked) Patry (tanker).

These SSgt's are some of the most stellar Marines we have to offer. By the way, four of them are on the Gy board this year. In case anyone wonders, I would be pleased to have them join my ranks...

Semper Fi,
Gunny K.
MarDet 3, 3 ETT (E)
Camp Phoenix