LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- Over the years, Arkansas has produced Marines who have had a lasting effect on the Corps.
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, perhaps the most famous sniper in Marine Corps history, was born in Little Rock, Ark. Lt. Col. Sidney S. McMath, a native of Magnolia and a decorated Marine attorney, became the 34th governor of the state. These men and others exemplified the Marine Corps standard and the ethics that come from being raised in the state.
Two present day Arkansas Marines, Maj. John D. Cowart and Cpl. Matthew R. Pope, are carrying on this tradition while deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, as part of 2nd Marine Division’s Police Advisory Team.
“Obviously, when people from Arkansas meet each other in Afghanistan there is an immediate friendship and bond that can be formed,” said Cowart, a native of Texarkana, Ark., and the executive officer for Provincial Police Advisor Team, 2nd Marine Division.
The common values and beliefs held by many Arkansans that spur these bonds are also useful in accomplishing the team’s mission of mentoring the Afghan Uniformed Police.
“Afghanistan is a society that is rural and agricultural, and has strong religious beliefs that are prevalent, and you could use similar language when talking about Arkansas,” Cowart said.
“Even though there are huge differences between [Afghan] agriculture and ours, and their religion and ours, it’s still a common ground that [Marines] from Arkansas, and states like Arkansas, can use when they start building relationships with Afghans.”
As part of the advisory team, Cowart and Pope regularly visit Helmand province’s police headquarters to mentor the Afghan Uniformed Police there in logistics, operations, communications and administration.
“Basically our mission is to mentor so the Afghans can get a better grasp on how to run a more efficient police team,” said Pope, the team’s operations noncommissioned officer.
“In regards to work and life here it’s neat to have someone from home to talk to,” said the Jonesboro native. “Obviously we’re both Razorbacks fans and that’s a big deal to me.”
The Arkansas Marines are in fact such big fans of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks that the official call sign of the team is “Razorback”, a tradition that Cowart brought to Afghanistan from his last deployment to Iraq as the company commander for I Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, a reserve unit based out of Little Rock.
While the Marines take pride in representing their state on deployment, it has been a while since they have seen it. Cowart left Arkansas to begin pre-deployment training in October of 2010 and Pope has not been home since December 2010.
“I miss my friends and my family,” Pope said. “The last time I was home was around Christmas, I spent three weeks there with my new-born daughter who was three months old at the time.”
The Marines will spend the rest of their deployment training and mentoring Afghans and building relationships between U.S. and Afghan forces. Although they are still in the early part of their deployment, both Cowart and Pope are looking forward to returning home to Arkansas as another example of the state’s contributions to Marine Corps history.