By SGT. KANDI HUGGINS
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Dvision
The Dukes and the Fort Knox Community welcomed home 121 Soldiers from a nine-month deployment during a redeployment ceremony held at Natcher Physical Fitness Center Saturday.
Since April 2013 readers have followed the Duke Soldiers of 3rd IBCT through their deployment to Afghanistan and their journeys home beginning in November 2013.
The brigade had an interesting mission set as they deployed forces throughout the whole of Afghanistan. The units conducted battle space owner/integrator duties, security advise and assist duties and village stability operations in conjunction with Special Forces.
“I measure our success through three different lenses: our partners, our Soldiers and our Families,” said Lt. Col. Eric Lopez, commander, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“While dispersed across the whole of Afghanistan the BCT relied on small unit leaders to maintain the standards, discipline and proficiency of the force,” said Col. Bill Ostlund, commander, 3rd IBCT. “They did this exceptionally well ensuring the safety and proficiency of their respective units.”
In Regional Command-South, Lopez said the Afghan partners demonstrated historic levels of growth within Zabul Province. He said their ability to support the government and their relentless efforts to protect the population was phenomenal and resulted in several large scale operations with tremendous results.
Lopez said the Ramrods also witnessed incredible strides by the Afghan National Army where Second brigade led the 205th Corps in maintaining a sustainable and combat effective training cycle and the establishment of the first Regional Artillery Training Center in Afghanistan. Also, the efforts with the Afghan police pillars of the Afghan National Security Forces have shown extreme success as several are being sent for continued training and the Operations Coordination Center-Provincial has now become a main hub for intelligence gathering.
While the Ramrods were focused on supporting their ANSF counterparts, the Thors of 201st Brigade Support Battalion and the Valiants of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion provided sustainment and support to the units on Forward Operating Base Apache.
The BSB’s main mission for the Afghanistan deployment was taking care of the equipment that was left behind, said Lt. Col. Scott Shore, commander, BSB. They also provided direct assistance in advising and assisting the ANA logisticians.
The BSTB conducted counter improvised explosive device missions, communications and intelligence operations in order to allow Combined Task Force Duke the freedom of action to advise and assist Afghan Security Forces towards independence, set conditions for the 2014 Afghan national elections, and facilitate coalition retrograde operations.
“TF Valiant’s Route Clearance Platoons maintained a near-constant presence on Zabul Province’s primary routes to include its main artery- Highway One,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Billie Joe Boersma, BSTB. “These clearance missions were instrumental in maintaining freedom of maneuver for CTF Duke and its ANSF partner forces; keeping pressure on the insurgent network, safeguarding the local populace and setting the conditions for drawdown movements.”
In the beginning of the deployment, Boersma also acted as the brigade’s senior noncommissioned officer, an opportunity she said is rarely, if ever seen for a female command sergeant major.
“I was honored and humbled to be chosen to deploy the brigade into combat as the IBCT command sergeant major,” said Boersma. “From the time we put foot on ground in Afghanistan I knew I was responsible for the health and welfare of so many amazing Soldiers in the Duke Brigade.”
Also in RC-S, Lt. Col. Henry McNeilly and the Centaurs of the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, who resided at FOB Spin Boldak, assisted Afghan units who were once dependent on International Security Assistance Forces for everything.
“Our measures (of success) were the Afghan units who were once dependant on International Security Alliance Forces for absolutely everything: Afghan Border Police, Customs Police, Uniform Police, NDS, and local District Government leaders,” said McNeilly, commander,
1st Bn., 6th FA Regt. “Now they lead the local forces and government officials, come up with their own plans and execute them without any help from this combined task force, the only support they ask for is medical.”
While these units maintained a presence in RC-S, other Soldiers of the Duke Brigade accomplished their missions in Regional Command-North.
“The squadron completed every mission assigned while operating in RC-N, Afghanistan, always ahead of schedule and with great effects,” said Lt. Col. Michael Zernickow, commander, 6th Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment. “The squadron leaves a legacy of a more-professionally trained ANSF, capable of protecting their national interests.”
Aided by the squadron’s focus on ANSF cross-pillar training, Zernickow said the Afghans not only assumed the lead in security operations in RC-N but demonstrated the ability to maintain enduring security advantages by consistently placing well coordinated pressure on the insurgency.
Ultimately, he said the level of cooperation between the ANSF units has grown significantly with the squadron’s involvement through training, advising and assessing.
Throughout RC-N and RC-S, Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, conducted village stability operations, providing additional combat power and force protection support to Special Forces detachments partnering with the ANSF.
Lead by Lt. Col. William Jacobs, the Soldiers worked with nine Special Operations Kandak to build and develop the Afghan National Army Special Operations Forces, through partnered operations, to increase the legitimacy of the ANSF and the Government Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
While the Soldiers in Afghanistan advised, assisted and trained with their Afghan counterparts, the Soldiers who comprised the rear operations continued supporting the mission from Fort Knox.
“Rear Operations is exactly that—operations,” said Ostlund. “They were invaluable at generating combat power for our forward deployed units. They received new Soldiers and lead-ers, took care of the new families, trained the new Soldiers, and then deployed the Soldiers while caring for the Families.”
In addition to managing in-coming and outgoing personnel, the unit also managed the brigade’s property for retrograde downrange and for the inactivation.
Shore said the BSB was uniquely poised to support the brigade’s turn in efforts, since they had two company commanders go through property turn ins and “Clean Sweeps” of FOB Apache to retrograde downrange. In the meantime, the Soldiers who remained behind maintained the brigade’s equipment in the unit-maintained equipment program.
After redeploying, the Soldiers returned to their Families and the Fort Knox community for a period of reintegration.
During that period, Soldiers returned to a relatively slow pace of military duties for an initial period, while being educated on the challenges of returning from combat. Furthermore, reintegration helped the brigade recognize Soldiers and Families that would benefit from greater assistance.
“Our reintegration has been seamless, regardless of where a Soldier was in the redeployment phase,” said Lt. Col. Michael Zernickow, commander, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. “Their assigned troop command teams were still the ones providing guidance and direction to them. The immediate reintegration into their troops ensured leaders had oversight of their Soldiers and could provide counsel as well as identify potential issues long before they turned into crises. This has been a contributing factor to our limited acts of indiscipline to this point.”
As the brigade began redeploying forces, Ostlund said it seamlessly ensured the smaller force maintained a brigade’s worth of effects in the Afghan theater, which contributed to the success of each regional command and the legacy of the Duke Brigade.
“The investment in Afghanistan was seen through the government and security partners as well as through the population,” said Ostlund. “Although thankful to be redeployed, those who invested in Afghanistan will anxiously await the outcome of the Afghan national elections, scheduled for April 5, which are sure to be a historic event and further the progress made by the brigade.”
Looking back on this deployment, Lopez said Soldiers can know they have left a lasting legacy in ensuring the continued success of the Afghan National Security Forces. With the upcoming in activation, he also said the brigade’s legacy will not be tied solely to their success in Afghanistan.
“Our legacy will be deeply rooted in our successes developing Soldiers into leaders, strong and resilient Families, and bonds with America,” said Lopez. “Although our deployment was difficult, we endured to the end and never failed at our mission. Each Soldier demonstrated the fortitude that has characterized our Army since General George Washington led it and each Family displayed the patriotism that has allowed our Army to excel during the longest period of persistent conflict in our nation’s history. America also rallied in support of our cause and generously gave the support and encourage of a grateful nation.”
Throughout the course of the deployment, the brigade awarded 20 Purple Heart Medals to Soldiers who were killed or wounded in combat, 300 Bronze Star Medals were awarded for service, 36 valor awards and each unit received a Meritorious Unit Citation.
“I’d like to think we will, as a brigade, leave a legacy of “never quit” extremely disciplined war fighters capable of transforming an organization into one of honor, pride, dignity and self respect,” said Boersma. “We have become a family who have] shed blood, sweat and tears. We gave everything we had and the end result is a unit that all are proud of. Families of the Duke Brigade have been strong and patient and we are grateful to and owe our reputation partly to them. This is an IBCT that, given more years, would be untouchable.”
With the completion of their mission overseas, the Dukes have returned with the mission of reintegrating and preparing for the unit’s inactivation this summer.
For more photos, visit this link: http://www.flickr.com/ photos/31dutyfirst/sets/72157642033839493/.