FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Afghanistan -- After conducting daily security patrols through Kajaki District over the last several months, the Marines of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team-8 have learned there are sometimes signs of pending insurgent attacks or hidden improvised explosive devices.
Some of the most consistent signs of a safe road ahead here are low to the ground, barefoot and constantly asking for chocolate.
“When we first got here we’d patrol through [local villages] and kids would come up to us and ask us for candy or chocolate, and we’re more than likely to help them out,” said Cpl. Anthony J. Chavez, 24, a provisional rifleman from Albuquerque, N.M.
When Marines move through a farmer’s field in Kajaki, more often than not his children will pass down the formation, pleading for “chocolate” or “pen.” During security halts the kids approach for handshakes and to press the begging attack.
Marines with Bravo Battery say these young Afghans are more than a good way to get rid of extra goodies; they have noticed when danger is near, the children are usually absent.
“They definitely know better than we do where the IEDs are,” said Cpl. John T. Gizzi, 21, an assistant squad leader from Tuckerton, N.J. “The IED threat is so high, and when you see the kids running around it makes you feel safer.”
In addition to being an indicator of danger, the local children are a kind of microcosm of the counterinsurgency campaign in Kajaki as a whole, said Chavez.
Bravo Battery’s battlespace lies along the Helmand River north of the volatile Sangin District, and includes the strategically key Kajaki hydroelectric dam. Over the last several years insurgent presence and intimidation in the area has driven away most locals. Those farmers who stayed are heavily leaned on by the insurgency, said Chavez.
“When we started getting more aggressive with the insurgents, they started getting more aggressive with the local populace,” said Chavez. “Over the next couple of months we started seeing a difference in the kids and the local populace in general. They stayed away from us and kept their distance.”
Bravo Battery has continued to push the limits of the security bubble it has established around the dam and the forward operating base here. As that push has moved insurgents back, local attitudes toward the Marines have recovered, said Chavez.
“Over the last month it’s been good to see them trying to approach us and being friendly again,” he said. “The insurgents do play a role in their lives, but they’re warming up to us again and it’s good to see.”
“Seeing as to how they’re the future of Afghanistan, we always treat them well,” said Gizzi.
Having spent nearly seven months in the fields of the Kajaki green zone, bonds have developed between individual Marines and specific kids in the form of secret handshakes and short English lessons, said Chavez, who has eight nieces and nephews.
“It’s hard to believe but they do remember us,” said Chavez. “We have six squads that rotate through and that’s a lot of faces to notice, but they remember their individual Marines.”
Bravo Battery’s Marines still have time remaining on this deployment, and if their gains against the insurgency hold their little friends should be waiting for them in the fields to the end.