By Kathleen T. Rhem
U.S. military operations and missions have changed since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom and will continue to change as the Afghan National Army becomes a more capable and respected force. "Every operation we do, we do with the ANA," Army Sgt. Maj. Bryan Gran, operations sergeant major for Task Force Iron Graze here, said in a Thanksgiving Day interview. "If a squad of our guys goes out, a platoon of their guys goes out; if a platoon of our guys goes out, a company of their guys goes out."
Task Force Iron Graze comprises the 102nd Infantry Battalion, of the Connecticut Army National Guard. The unit falls under the 10th Mountain Division here and works in concert with Afghan army units throughout the 28,000-square-kilometer Ghazni province.
"We will not go into a compound by ourselves," Gran said. "We do not kick down doors any more; those days are over."
Instead, Afghan soldiers search homes and compounds while U.S. forces provide an outer security perimeter. "They kick the door down or knock on the door," Gran said. "We're providing the additional security -- the big guns so nobody messes with them."
Coalition forces in Ghanzni are spending thousands of dollars to improve schools, roads and other infrastructure, Gran said, all in the cause of expanding the influence and standing of the democratically elected Afghan national government.
"I think there is a genuine concern now among the government to see running water and electricity (in the provinces)," Gran said.
Afghan citizens need to see that "being able to follow their own beliefs and their own system is the way to go, and they're only going to be able to do that if they do it for themselves," he said. "The Taliban's not going to do it for them. The U.S. forces are not going to do it for them."
The key is getting people to understand that their lives will be better under the Afghan government, then they will stop tolerating the Taliban and insurgents, officials said.
"Once that attitude gets down to the lowest individual -- that patriotism matters -- I think then we'll be out of here," Gran said.
"It's a slow road. If anybody thinks you can come in here and change a nation overnight, you can't" he said. "Can you come in here and destroy the enemy? We did. But that's not going to change them; it's not going to change the way (Afghans) think. It takes time to believe in it."
Gran said he believes the biggest challenge U.S. forces in Ghazni province face now is "to make enough difference that when follow-on units come we don't loose any ground."
"Historically what I think you see as units change over year after year is there's a little gap because it takes time for somebody to get in country, ... and then figure out what you're doing here and carry that on," he said. "I think that's a challenge -- that we're able to create an environment and then take that environment and effectively pass it on to the 82nd Airborne (Division, from Fort Bragg, N.C.,) when they come in (in February)."
Article sponsored by Navy Gifts and Police Officer turned law enforcement writer.