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Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 07.06.2009
"Everyone always looks forward to going outside the wire on missions," said Army Staff Sgt. John Smith, an infantryman who provides security for Provincial Reconstruction Team-Farah in Afghanistan's Farah province. "They enjoy meeting the local population and watching the children play. That's our motivation, to see how happy the children are and that they now have a future ahead of them."
Smith, from West Frankfort, Ill., continued to express satisfaction with the accomplishments made by his team and the PRT they've supported throughout their deployment as his humvee led a convoy down Highway 517 near the Farah District.
"We've made a lot of improvements for the local population here in the province," he said, pointing out that the highway they were driving along was built by the PRT. "The local population has become very supportive of us being here. I think it's because they see how we're helping them and realize we're here to help make their lives better."
Smith said the PRT has built new roadways, medical facilities and schools for the Afghan populace, as well as facilities to support Afghan national security forces. What used to be a two-hour drive along a goat trail has turned into a 30-minute drive along paved roads.
"I'd like to see how this place looks in five years," said Smith as the vehicle he was in came to a halt inside the local Afghan national army compound. "With the number of improvements we've made in such a short time, I'd like to see how it looks by then."
The soldier then made his way toward Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, and the Marines who accompanied him from Camp Leatherneck.
Nicholson, who traveled with fellow key leaders to gauge the progress made by the PRT, looked at the ANA compound in admiration. "This is very impressive," he said.
Navy Cmdr. Benjamin Nicholson, commander, PRT-Farah, then escorted the general and his party through the billeting and dining areas of the compound, which featured crisp, white walls with clean, sparkling white floors
As the leaders left the group of buildings in the compound in the direction of their vehicles, Smith said, "I think they were pretty impressed with how nice they were."
After the general and his party safely got into their humvees, Smith returned to his. He said they were heading into the city limits of the Farah District.
"No worries," said Smith's driver, Sgt. Allan Talley, also an infantryman from Illinois. "It's a pretty quite place. Not a whole lot of bad stuff goes on here.
"The Afghan national army patrols the area often to ensure there's no insurgent activity going on," Talley continued. "They've developed a lot of respect and support from the people here because of it."
The convoy arrived at the city outskirts within minutes. Life seemed normal among the district as the group of up-armored humvees rolled down the streets. They were full of children and adults alike, who waved at the vehicles in a friendly manner as they passed by, with the exception of a few who silently glared in the group's direction.
Smith said he's come to believe those few individuals who give them negative looks only do so because they may feel intimidated by the large vehicles and crew-served weapons mounted on them.
"Most change their attitudes when we get out of the vehicles," Smith said. "They see us face to face and see that we're people just like them. They realize we're there to help."
The vehicles stopped beside a large, gold gate. The general and PRT-Farah commander approached two Afghans, carried on a conversation with them for a moment, then continued toward the Farah Agricultural and Veterinary Educational Institute, which was funded by the Afghan government and the United States, with the cooperation of the people of Farah.
The group returned to the vehicles, around which a group of children had gathered. They then proceeded through the remainder of the city and returned to Forward Operating Base Farah, the base of operations for the PRT, where Brig. Gen. Nicholson met with Farah Gov. Roohul Amin.
"People are out, people are smiling," Brig. Gen. Nicholson said, after shaking hands with the governor. "I think it's very positive."
Amin told the general there were a lot of positive things in the province, stating that he felt they were headed in the right direction. But he said he still felt there were still areas to build upon, primarily economic projects like Highway 515.
The highway, which is still currently under construction, will eventually provide a path of travel from the Iranian border all the way through Farah to the Delaram District at the eastern edge, near where Marines operate in the vicinities of Bakwa, Golestan and Par Chaman, said Maj. Wayne Bodine, MEB-Afghanistan's liaison officer to PRT-Farah.
Bodine said Marines in those locations will continue to provide security and develop relationships as PRT-Farah continues efforts to complete Highway 515, which he said will open routes for economic growth for the Afghan populace.
"With the Afghans feeling their security is stable, road networks and other projects will spread prosperity into the districts and allow the Afghans to be able to stand on their own," Bodine said.
Cmdr. Nicholson said the PRT also plans to create a tougher pavement that will prevent insurgents from emplacing improvised explosive devices, a measure that will greatly increase protection for both locals and International Security Assistance Forces.
At the end of their meeting, Amin informed the brigade commanding general that construction of roadways remained the top priority for the province. As he prepared to depart, Brig. Gen. Nicholson told the governor that he looked forward to working with him more in the near future, and reassured him that he would keep a close oversight of roadway construction progress.