CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- The Marine Corps’ mission in Afghanistan not only revolves around gaining ground and defeating the enemy, but also depends on gaining the trust of Afghans.
Last year an entirely new billet was created for just this purpose. The Land Acquisitions Chief compensates Afghans for the land Marines inhabit while in the country.
“This is a behind-the-scenes billet that no one has ever heard of, but it provides an important function in building patrol bases and forward operating bases,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jaren R. Wright, the Land Acquisitions Chief for Regional Command Southwest, from Valdosta, Ga. “We as the United States are doing the right thing by compensating the land owners.”
Coalition forces developed a process by which Afghans lease their land to the Marine Corps. Afghans are paid annually for the use of the land and also for damage to any legal crops lost in the process of building a patrol base.
When Marines decide upon a location to build a patrol base, the Staff Judge Advocate and Marines operating in the local area determine who owns the land selected for use.
From there, the SJA sends a package to Wright and the RC (SW) Engineers Section, confirming the identity of the land owners and information on the land. Next, the package is sent through US Forces Afghanistan to start the process of ensuring the land owners are properly compensated and the land is occupied legally by the Marine Corps.
Realty specialists from Camp Shorabak then decide the price that will be paid for the land, depending upon its size and the presence of crops or buildings.
“Christopher Borton, a realty specialist at Kandahar Airfield, reviews the price negotiation memo and lease that has been drafted,” said Wright. “He also ensures that we have the funding to pay the land owners.”
Once the lease has been fully approved and funding has been acquired, Wright coordinates with the SJA to deliver payment to the landowners. The SJA is generally present to make sure all legal documents and leases are signed and the land is properly paid for in these exchanges.
Even after paying the land owners, the job of the Land Acquisitions Chief and SJA isn’t complete. Land owners commonly dispute the amount and value of their land as well as the punctuality of paying them, after they have been paid.
“It’s important to tell people that we will pay them, and make sure they are okay with the lease agreement,” said Capt. Robert M. Christafore, company commander of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, from Oceanside, Calif. “We lose a little bit of face when the process of paying them takes time, but we regain it overtime by keeping our promises. Keeping promises is very important to the Afghans.”
Traditionally, military forces have never paid for the use of land in a foreign country. This makes the new process of paying locals and the billet of Land Acquisitions Chief very unique to the Marine Corps.
“The people here understand that we’re going to put things wherever we [have to],” Christafore said. “It’s easy to clear an area. It’s much harder to hold an area and build. That’s why these patrol bases and leases are so important. We don’t want to sour relations with the locals, [Marines] want to keep providing [Afghans] protection and they want to keep receiving protection.”