KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Marines in eastern Afghanistan are literally climbing the mountains they currently make home in order to bring progress to the Afghan National Army soldiers they mentor.
Marine Sgt. Seth E. Lewis of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lance Cpl. Michael J. Subu of Jacksonville, N.C., are the sole embedded training team mentors for an ANA platoon of soldiers at a border checkpoint near Bari Kot village in eastern Kunar Province. They are posted at the checkpoint to mentor the ANA soldiers during on-going missions and to assist them as ETT liaisons. These responsibilities call for leadership, initiative and a lot of mountain climbing for the young Marines.
The checkpoint is an Afghan Border Police post with an ANA observation post about 500 meters up a mountain and just across the Kunar River from Pakistan.
Since being posted at the checkpoint, Lewis estimated he has climbed up the mountain to the OP at least 50 times. Most of the ANA soldiers they mentor work and sleep at the OP on top of the mountain, and part of Lewis and Subu’s job has been to help make it possible for the ANA to build up and secure the OP.
The two Marines, meanwhile, are housed in a billeting hut at the bottom of the hill, as are additional ANA soldiers, a platoon of U.S. soldiers and some ABP. It’s an environment which Lewis and Subu have seemingly adjusted to as Marines.
After recently going for a few days to Forward Operating Base Naray, Kunar Province, about 10 miles west, the 22-year-old Subu announced at a meeting, “I’m going home,” as he and the other ETT mentors discussed the upcoming drive to the checkpoint.
Subu and Lewis are deployed to Afghanistan as part of ETT 7-2 from 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan. Lewis was first assigned to the checkpoint in early autumn, and Subu joined him in November. The team is based out of FOB Naray, but mentors are divided throughout the area in six groups of two or three Marines – with one Navy hospital corpsman at FOB Naray and another at FOB Keating in Kamdesh.
Most of the ETT Marines arrived in country during August, and have been involved in operations throughout eastern Afghanistan with 3rd Kandak (Armored), 3rd Brigade, 201st ANA Corps – a Kandak is an Afghan battalion. A couple Marines, including Subu, joined the team in mid-November. The ETT was divided into two on arrival to Afghanistan, to mentor the 3rd and 5th Kandaks with 3rd Brigade, 201st ANA Corps – 5th Kandak and its Marine ETT mentors are based out of Jalalabad.
“Because the teams are split up ... the job here requires (noncommissioned officers) to step up,” said Marine 1stSgt. Matthew S. Seamans, 42-year-old Shorewood, Minn., native and senior enlisted mentor with the ETT. The expectation during training was that the NCOs would be mentoring NCOs, staff NCOs would mentor staff NCOs, and officers would mentor officers, but as the ANA has grown, so have the ETT mentor responsibilities.
Lewis and Subu, however, say they appreciate their responsibilities and the experience they are getting. Lewis was the sole Marine and ETT mentor at the checkpoint for weeks before Subu joined him.
“I was actually pretty happy ... because I would be able to prove my worth as a sergeant,” the 29-year-old Lewis said. Working with the ANA has helped him learn to better handle responsibility and maturity, and has afforded him the opportunity to see the results of his efforts.
“I see leaps and bound with the ANA at certain points,” Lewis said.
During a recent visit from the Kandak commander and ETT leaders, Lewis led ETT mentors up the mountain to the OP with ANA soldiers. Seamans and Marine Lt. Col. James F. Werth, ETT officer in charge, commented that the OP structures had substantially been improved since their last climb up the mountain.
The sergeant had coordinated the hiring of local labor to get supplies to the ANA soldiers for solidifying the post with sufficient living facilities at the OP.
Aside from coordinating logistical support for the ANA soldiers, Lewis said he focuses much of his efforts on trying to help ANA see leadership as the Marine Corps uses it – with NCOs and staff NCOs having leadership roles and responsibilities as well as the officers. And with consideration for the ETT goals, he encourages the ANA to accomplish tasks on their own.
“I try to push that if they want something done – something that’s simple – to do it themselves (instead of hiring labor to do the work),” Lewis said. “What are they gonna do when the (American-provided) money goes away?”
Lewis said he wants ANA soldiers to be able to deal with various challenges and projects on their own – as they will have to when they are no longer supported by ETTs. “The ultimate goal is for the ANA to function without ETTs,” he said, adding that he believes his tour will be worth his efforts when he is done.
The ANA leaders said they have benefited from the relationship with Lewis, Subu, and other ETT mentors.
“We have the best relations with the ETTs,” said ANA Lt. Col. Mohammad Naseem, 3rd Kandak (Armored) commander. The ETTs have worked close and provided much logistical and operational support for the ANA soldiers. And, Naseem said, the terrain has not slowed Marines.
“The Americans, especially the U.S. forces are powerful and (athletic) – all the time ready to climb mountains,” said Naseem. He said they have also proved to be ready for any tactical missions that have come up.
Lewis and Subu continue their roles, climbing mountains and overcoming any other obstacles to mentor the ANA.