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Marines with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and role players acting as local army and police forces listen to a mission brief during the final week of an Advisor Training Group course March 14, 2011.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn

Marine mentors complete advisor training group final exercise

18 Mar 2011 | Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn

Marines are taught to lead from the front and set the example. Now Marines are learning how to teach these important leadership concepts to Afghanistan security forces personnel during pre-deployment training at the Combined Arms Military Operations in Urban Terrain complex at Range 220, here, March 13-16.

Marines and sailors from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, took part in the final evaluation exercise provided by the Combat Center’s Advisor Training Group, whose mission is to train Marine Corps Transition Teams to advise, mentor, and train foreign military, police, and border units in operational techniques and procedures to combat terrorism and counter an insurgency, according to their mission statement.

“They are there to advise their [Afghan security forces] counterpart to do their job better, to train them in areas where they lack the skills,” said Maj. Randall Horner, training officer with ATG. “You try to work yourself out of a job, because you don’t want Marines to do logistics for Afghans. You want Afghans doing it for Afghans. We want to make it so if you take away the Marines from the Afghans’ unit, then the Afghan unit is set up for success and can survive and operate as a unit.”

The Marines learned how to teach their counterparts how to plan security and assess community needs such as medical care, food or water, said Col. William Gillespie, the director of ATG.

Throughout the week, the Marines tested their newly honed skills through a variety of scenarios they are likely to face during deployment.

On March 14, 2011, the Marines and role players acting as Afghan security forces mentally rehearsed their coordinated plan during a mission briefing, then stepped off for an important meeting with local village elders.

During the meeting with the village elders, an angry mob of role player villagers caused a small scene by yelling their concerns in an attempt to be heard by the elders. The security forces worked to keep it from getting out of hand while the Marines stood back and watched. After observing their partners’ actions, the Marines provided their observations and advice so future operations could go even smoother.

“They are not in charge of the police or the army, their job is to work themselves out of a job,” Horner said. “Instead of taking over the security, the Marines are saying ‘Hey, this is what you are supposed to be doing’, or ‘This is where the checkpoint should be.’”

Although transitioning from a “take-charge” to an advisor role is not easy, Marines played their parts well, and with the use of translators, they handled various scenarios effectively and offered good recommendations to their security forces counterparts, Horner said.

“Without exception, all the team leaders said that interacting with the role players was the most important part of their training,” Gillespie said. It is very difficult to replicate and understand the complexity of talking with, acting and teaching people who speak a different language. It is through this process with the role players, which gives the Marines insight as to how to work with them more effectively, he said.

Veterans of previous deployments expressed the importance of the training and a constant worry one has working as an advisor to local nationals while deployed.

“[We’re] obviously getting a lot out of it, and [it is] setting us up for success when we go over there,” said Lance Cpl. Travis Surls, a rifleman with 1/3. “We did it all during deployment last year, so it is normal to me. It does make it iffy, because you don’t know if the translator is telling you everything. You just have to go with it, because you can’t accuse him of something he might not have done.”

As the 1/3 Marines prepare to deploy to Afghanistan later this year, ATG trainers and future mentor/trainers know the unit has received the best training possible to accomplish their mission.

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