'Meet The Troops': Marine talks of duty in Afghanistan

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Marine Corps Captain Adam Sanders, right front, was guest speaker at the annual “Meet the Troops” event at Wesley Woods. With Capt. Sanders are Mel Hayden, front left, and in back, Jeff Carroll, Commander of the Newnan VFW Post 2667, Glenn Flake of the Newnan VFW Post, and Dick Stender, Past Commander of Post 2667.

By ALEX McRAE alex@newnan.com The Kiwanis Club Satellite at Wesley Woods -- meeting jointly with members of the Kiwanis Club of Coweta County and the Kiwanis Club of White Oak Golden K -- held its second annual "Meet the Troops" event Tuesday. Special guest was Marine Corps Captain Adam Sanders, who spoke of his experiences while deployed in Afghanistan. Sanders is the grandson of Wesley Woods resident Jim Kelly. Sanders returned from his last deployment in Afghanistan's Helmand Province in August 2011.
Sanders said he was humbled and honored to speak to the Coweta County group. He said it was especially nice to meet veterans of earlier wars who were in attendance. On his last deployment to Afghanistan, Sanders was the commanding officer of Rocket Battery K, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines. He commanded 150 Marines and sailors at the unit's base in southwest Afghanistan's Helmand Province, which Sanders said was roughly one-third the size of the state of Alabama. Sanders' battery operated a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. The HIMARS is a truck-mounted mobile missile system that fires precision-guided missiles capable of hitting targets at great distances with pinpoint accuracy "Our missiles are capable of taking out a single building 80 kilometers away without touching the adjacent building," Sanders said. "The accuracy that the technology provides helps save money and also helps avoid civilian casualties." Sanders said each missile fired by his battery costs "about 100 thousand dollars" and commanders are very aware of the need to deploy the weapons judiciously. "We've got to make sure we've got it right before we fire to save money and reduce civilian casualties," Sanders said. The battery had three fire platoons and a headquarters element. Sanders said he was often out in the field inspecting fire platoons and described how widely living conditions for military personnel varied from one part of Afghanistan to the next. He said while at home base at Camp Leatherneck, Marines did their job, enjoyed a good meal and had the option of working out at a nicely-equipped base health club facility. In the field, Marines existed on MREs, (Meals Ready to Eat) and often slept on the ground. Hygiene facilities were usually nonexistent. Sanders said one unit was in the field for 100 days straight and was very glad when it rotated to a more civilized duty station. "It really gets rough out there in the remote positions," Sanders said. "Those men have to be dedicated to keep doing such a good job under trying circumstances." Sanders said while traveling to other units he had the opportunity to observe a wide range of leadership styles and become more familiar with problems facing artillery officers in the field. A big question for Marine artillery commanders is determining how best to use technology to both fight and economize. During his last deployment, Sanders was instrumental in developing techniques and procedures that reduced target processing time by cutting unnecessary steps from the process. He said that, a few years ago, artillery commanders relied more heavily on technology but have learned that keeping a larger "human component" in the firing process provided better solutions and reduced costs. Because of the nature of his duties, Sanders said he did not meet with many Afghan locals but noticed that, because of the high rate of illiteracy and the tribal nature of the country, it was not unusual for one or two local leaders to have great influence over their village. Sanders also took questions from the audience. When asked about the potential impact of a recently announced troop drawdown in Afghanistan, Sanders said that because of the nature of fighting an insurgency rather than an organized military force, factors influencing the timing of any action or withdrawal are unpredictable. "It always seems like it's easier to pull out than stay," Sanders said. "But if we leave just because it's easier there will be negative consequences." Asked how the training of the Afghan Army -- which will eventually replace U.S. troops -- is going, Sanders said that while the Afghan soldiers are nowhere near as capable as the U.S. troops training them, that the U.S. is "building a functional force [of Afghan troops] that can do the job." Sanders said one of the biggest challenges facing all military commanders is dealing with the attitudes and standards developed by young men and women before they enter the military. "Many recruits come from a society where they are raised to think all standards and morals are relative," Sanders said. "But when they're in the military they must perform to exacting standards every time. They do, but it requires training and it is a big adjustment." Sanders said problems sometime surface when young Marines are off duty and reenter a society where procedures are less strict. "They get off duty and go back into a culture with no standards and that can be a problem," Sanders said. "We work on it all the time. We constantly try to get across the message that when convenience and indulgence are accepted it takes character to transition from a period of being on duty to being off duty. The biggest challenge we face is getting a level of consistency in that regard. We have learned that every facet of any society is affected by the standards that we as Marines either keep or don't keep." Sanders graduated in 1996 from Springwood High School in Lanett, Ala. In 2001, he earned a BA degree in Business Administration from Furman University, where he earned four letters in football. In December 2003, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Sanders has completed the Artillery Officer Basic Course, Marine Artillery Position Commanders Course and Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Course. He has served in Japan, Okinawa, the Republic of Korea and Afghanistan. After four years of active duty with the Marines, Sanders went back to school and earned a law degree from Samford University's Cumberland Law School. He also earned an MBA from Samford's Brock School of Business. Sanders is licensed to practice law in Alabama and Tennessee and has remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, where he has continued to be deployed overseas. He and his wife, Deanna, have two children, Maurice and Mariemma, and make their home in Birmingham.


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