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Battle for Marjah touches home


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POSTED: Sunday, February 14, 2010

With about 1,000 "Lava Dogs" from the Kaneohe Marine Corps base participating in the battle for Marjah, Afghanistan, base officials here are providing information and comfort to the Marines' worried loved ones back home.

Edward Hanlon, the family readiness officer for Kaneohe's 3rd Marine Regiment, said he even got a call yesterday morning from a mother on the mainland wanting to know more about the massive offensive that began this weekend in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

"She had been following news reports," said Hanlon who serves as a liaison between the commander of the 3rd Marine Regiment and families of Marines assigned to the base.

Without revealing details of the operations, Hanlon said he explained to the mother what was going on in Afghanistan. "I think after our conversation she was no longer frantic or frustrated."

He noted that the definition of family for the Marine Corps no longer just covers spouses and dependents but extends to other family members.

"There are so many single Marines that one-third of my calls come from moms."

For several weeks U.S. military leaders have publicly announced their intentions to take Marjah, a Taliban stronghold and center for opium processing and distribution.

That, Hanlon acknowledged, has meant "an increase in attention from families."

"They are watching."

Since November, Kaneohe's "Lava Dogs" have been operating in Nawa in Helmand, losing three Marines in earlier combat operations.

Besides the Kaneohe infantry unit, aviators and air crews from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 have been deployed since July to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province carrying Marines, supplies and equipment to the front lines. The unit is expected home in March.

On Tuesday a Marine Corps public affairs team reported that squads from Charlie Company and Bravo Company conducted a successful helicopter-borne assault seizing an intersection east of Marjah.

The Marines were joined on the assault by Afghan National Army soldiers who fought alongside them against the Taliban.

"I felt the assault went well," said Capt. Stephan P. Karabin, commanding officer of Charlie Company. "We got in here quickly, under the cover of darkness on the helicopters, moved into position, set everything in place and were able to seize the objective. This area is important because it's the one intersection which links northern Marjah ... to (eastern Helmand province), and it blocks that supply route."

The intersection and surrounding area are also part of the main route from Marjah to Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital, said Karabin.

The New York Times reported yesterday that American, Afghan and British troops seized crucial positions across the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, encountering intense but sporadic fighting as they began house-to-house searches of Marjah. This phase of the operation, considered the most dangerous, is expected to last at least five days.

The biggest concerns are bombs and booby-traps in roads, houses and footpaths.

Six years ago Kaneohe's 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment participated in a similar massive offensive operation in Iraq during the house-to-house battle for Fallujah.

Since 2008 the Marine Corps has revamped its family readiness program and hired a civilian family readiness officer for each of its units. Hanlon, who worked at Kaneohe's community service office since 2002, was hired to be the 3rd Marine Regiment's lead family readiness officer.

"The change was to help Marines and families meet the demands of the military lifestyle and the continuing war effort," Hanlon added.

There are upwards of 15 readiness officers assigned to every unit stationed at Kaneohe.

Besides serving as the liaison between the unit commanders and their families, the officers help prepare the Marines and their families for deployments as well as provide counseling, parenting advise and financial planning.

Hanlon said there are also programs aimed at help children cope with the situation. Yesterday, a group of Marines chaperoned children from the base who were treated to an outing to the Bishop Museum.