I was in the nations capitol to see my good friend Eric Mellinger retire after a distinguished 30 year career as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. I wasn’t the only one making a long trip for a short ceremony; men who had served with Eric came from all over the country to pay their respects to a Marine we admire and love like a brother. Which not like a man loves a woman; we might be modern day Spartans but we’re not lifestyle Spartans. People from all over the world read this blog and I don’t want to cause any confusion on that point.
Eric is not your average Marine Corps Colonel; as a field grade officer he has bounced between commanding (multiple times) at the battalion and regimental level and running the operations for senior Fleet Marine Force commands. He’s been a player for his entire career and like many senior officers in the Corps today he got on the fast track when he was selected to serve as an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Virginia. I knew a healthy percentage of the Marine Corps fighting generals would make it point to attend his retirement and I wanted to get their take on the upcoming deployment of the 300-man Task Force Southwest to the Helmand province in Afghanistan.
I was not disappointed; there were a couple dozen general officers and senior colonels at Eric’s retirement ceremony which was held at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington DC. My friends Dave Furness, Paul Kennedy, Mike Killian, Brad Schumaker (who I hadn’t seen in 25 years) and Larry Nicholson were all there. Long time FRI readers will be familiar with these Marines (except Brad) and for those of you who aren’t hit the hyperlinks on their names to read posts about them during their tours in Afghanistan. The reaction I got about the upcoming deployment of the Marine task force was unanimously less than enthusiastic.
There was a time when the Marines, after many months of hard fighting, had the province locked down. In 2011 I could travel from Lashkar Gah to Khanishin without drama. North of Gereshk was too risky for our crew but local commerce flowed without too many problems and the big towns of Naw Zad, Musa Quala and Sangin (not shown in the map below) were solidly under ISAF /Afghan Security Forces (ASF) control.
The Marines gave the Afghans the security space they needed by beating the Taliban like a drum and driving them out of the province. Those who remained ditched their weapons and went along with the program. There were always pockets of resistance but they were small and the level of violence manageable. The commanders I spoke with felt they had done what was asked of them. They gave the Afghans the security space they needed to sort themselves out. The Afghans blew it because they were selfish, greedy, stubborn and refused to cooperate among themselves. The Marines I talked to feel no obligation to go back and try again; the Afghans had their chance already and can now enjoy the bitter harvest of their failure to do what they said would do.
When I asked my friends their thoughts about my planned embed with Task Force Southwest (the Marine unit heading back to the Helmand province) their reactions were mixed. Most supported the idea but my closest friends were strongly opposed. They felt the risk was too great, for a story nobody cares about and it was time for me to move on to other things.
My experiences in Afghanistan were different than my Marine Corps buddies. I was there a long time, made some really good friends but more importantly my team and I saw the results of our efforts at formal dedication ceremonies of the district irrigation systems, municipal stadiums as well as the roads, school and bazaars we built. We had a hell of run. We knew we helped and received the gratification of having Afghans tell us how much they appreciated what we had done.
I guess I’m a bit stubborn myself because I think there is a story in the Marines return to Afghanistan and I invested too much into the place to simply walk away. But I will not be able to embed to cover this story without the generous support of people who, like me, feel it a travesty to abandon the Afghans to fate. If you have the means and interest please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page to make a donation.