CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Waiting outside a conference room in the Regional Command Southwest headquarters building, Cpl. Paul A. Spies passes the time by glancing at the wall adorned with wood-framed pictures of fallen brethren, many of whom were killed by improvised explosive device blasts. A few moments later, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of RC (SW), walks into the conference room already full of unit commanders. Spies waits patiently for his name to be called.
Spies is waiting to brief the commanders during a counter-IED conference, and he has 15 minutes to convey the idea he envisioned would help combat the threat that has claimed thousands of lives during counter insurgency operations. At 10:05 a.m., he is called into the room.
A few weeks before deploying to Afghanistan, he was driving past an ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ sign and got an idea he thought could potentially reduce or eliminate the deadliest threat to coalition troops in Afghanistan – IEDs. So far this month, eight Marines have been killed by IED blasts in Afghanistan. IEDs also cause severe damage to million-dollar armored vehicles that are designed to protect Marines from IEDs. But Spies’ proposal, if implemented, could help reduce the threat.
Inspired by the organization in which volunteers pick up trash along highway roads to keep them litter-free, Spies, a combat engineer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), came up with the “Afghan Adopt a Road Initiative,” which is aimed at reducing the number of deadly roadside bombs. The program, if approved, would work like this: for every 30 days Afghan villagers help keep their roads clear of IEDs, they would receive aid-based incentives in return.
In Spies’ initiative, two types of incentives would be offered: Basic Expendable Services and Enhanced Infrastructural Support, according to Spies’ proposal. BES, such as medical and dental care, would be offered monthly if no IED incidents occur. In addition, points would be awarded to villagers for every 30-day period that is incident free; the points could then be used to purchase EIS projects such as schools, wells and irrigation.
“As soon [as] an IED incident occurred in that village’s area, the BES would immediately be suspended pending an investigation of the event,” cited Spies’ proposal. “If the next 30 days were incident free, the BES aid would be employed following the 30 day period.”
‘A smarter way of doing business’
As a combat engineer, Spies, augmented from 6th Engineer Support Battalion in Springfield, Ore., said he spends most of his days working on various construction projects that involve wood framing. For six weeks, he used his down time to draft the proposal in his berthing area at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, which culminated in a 15-page document outlining the strategy he hopes commanders will employ.
“My company commander thought it was a pretty novel idea,” said Spies, who graduated in September with a degree in Planning, Public Policy and Management from the University of Oregon.
After completing his proposal, his leaders passed the idea up the chain of command, and it eventually wound up on the desk of Maj. Gen. Mills, who “loved” the idea, said Spies, 23, from Corvallis, Ore. He was then asked to brief commanders during the counter-IED conference, gathered to generate ideas that would hopefully defeat the IED threat.
His battalion commander agreed that it’s not necessarily technology that will win this counterinsurgency.
“I am always challenging Marines to come up with a smarter way of doing business,” said Lt. Col. Ted Adams, commanding officer of 9th ESB, in an e-mail interview. “I know the way we’ll be more successful in this fight is in our ingenuity. Technology isn’t always the answer, smart Marines are.”
Adams has seen first-hand that incentive projects can help curb anti-coalition violence. On a recent route-repairing mission in Marjah, dubbed “Route Marcie,” not a single small arms fire or IED incident occurred during the 3-week period Marines worked to repair a road in a local village, he said.
“That was no accident,” said Adams. “There were over 20 [small arms fire] and nine IED incidents within a two-kilometer distance of [Route] Marcie during the same time frame. In my opinion, the people were getting a reward [the road rebuilt] and they were willing to influence the bad guys to leave us alone so they’d get it.”
‘Spark some innovation in the Marine Corps’
At 10:20 a.m., Spies emerges from the conference room. His 15 minutes are up. What’s the verdict?
“Good,” said Spies, who added commanders were generally on board with the idea, but had questions regarding funding for the program.
Although funding is one of the top concerns for launching the initiative, Spies noted it may be eligible for funding under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a tool first used in Iraq to promote social and economic development in war-torn areas.
“The beauty of it is, the program won’t cost any money if it doesn’t work,” said Spies, who’s served in the Marine Corps three and a half years. “But if it does work, we save the cost of an MRAP, a few thousand dollars or even a Marine’s life.”
Even if the initiative doesn’t come to fruition, Spies hopes ideas like these will continue to be pushed forward from the ground up.
“If Marines have ideas like these, pass them up their chains of command,” Spies said. “Hopefully ideas like these will spark some innovation in the Marine Corps.”