BOGUE, N.C. -- “Stop the vehicle,” yelled Capt. James Slocum to the driver behind the wheel of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Slocum grimaces as he grabs the handheld radio. “There is something in the road ahead. It doesn’t look right.”
Standing in the turret of the vehicle, Slocum’s eyes darted back and forth scanning the dirt road ahead. As an AH-1Z Cobra pilot, Slocum usually would be assessing threats from the sky. However, as a member of a Security Force Assistance Advisor Team (SFAAT), he has adapted his skill set and tailored it for his new role as a turret gunner.
The convoy comes to a complete halt. Through the scope on his M4 carbine, Slocum discovers there are wires sticking out from the disturbed piece of road. He yells down through the turret to the vehicle commander.
“Call it in. I think we have an IED,” said Slocum.
Slocum and his team have radioed in numerous makeshift explosives along this stretch of road as part of a weeklong exercise held at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, N.C., Oct. 15-19. The training was designed to prepare the Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The SFAAT Marines conducted mounted convoy operations and dismounted foot patrols during day and night training evolutions that tested their ability to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in an interactive environment.
IEDs remain the greatest threat to troops in Afghanistan. According to statistics compiled by the Pentagon, there were 16,000 incidents involving IEDs in 2011, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
Although the IEDs were simulated, Slocum said they depicted potential circumstances that he and his team could encounter while deployed.
“With the various scenarios they throw a us, it gives us an opportunity to rehearse how we would react to real-world situations,” said Slocum. “This is why we do the training—it is not only to shape the mindset of what we will be doing in country, but to build the skillset necessary to complete our mission.”
Transition is the Mission
The exercise was a conduit meant to prepare the Marines for their future role in Afghanistan. In preparation for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014, the military is transitioning its strategic efforts from combat operations to building the Afghan National Security Forces capacity and capability through small adviser teams.
According to Maj. Gen. Walter L. Miller, the commanding general of II MEF (Forward), the primary focus of Marine forces in Afghanistan will shift from leading operations to working closely with the ANSF in an advise-and-assist role.
In Helmand Province, the Marine Corps’ catalyst for helping Afghanistan will be through the employment of the SFAAT teams. The teams will work closely with Afghan Security Forces at every level to prepare them for the eventual transition to self-sustaining security.
Slocum said he and his team understand the importance of their job and are looking forward to working with the ANSF in Helmand.
“It’s a hard task at hand, but it is a key role,” said Slocum. “By training them and letting them do their job, we are gaining their trust. That trust will make our advisory role more successful.”