National Guard November 2011 : Page 42
STATE ROUNDUP Taking it to the Taliban Oklahoma Guard infantry company goes where Afghan coalition forces haven’t ventured in eight years | 42 Na tional Guard VER FIVE GRUELING days and nights in September, an Oklahoma National Guard infantry unit went deep into Taliban territory. The soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, together with Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, swept through eight villages in south-east Afghanistan’s remote Saygal Valley as part of Operation Brass Monkey. Lo-cated in Laghman province, Saygal is a place where Taliban loyalty is as ﬁerce as the rocks are jagged. Opposition towards coalition forces runs so deep here that Afghanistan’s Inter-national Security Assistance Force hasn’t ventured into the area in eight years. Under a midnight moon, 3rd Pla-toon, commanded by 2nd Lt. James Brown, was inserted by helicopter on a ridge opposite the mission’s ﬁrst ob-jective—a lofty village surrounded by O
Taking it to the Taliban<br /> <br /> Oklahoma Guard infantry company goes where Afghan coalition forces haven’t ventured in eight years<br /> <br /> OVER FIVE GRUELING days and nights in September, an Oklahoma National Guard infantry unit went deep into Taliban territory.<br /> <br /> The soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, together with Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, swept through eight villages in southeast Afghanistan’s remote Saygal Valley as part of Operation Brass Monkey. Located in Laghman province, Saygal is a place where Taliban loyalty is as fierce as the rocks are jagged.<br /> <br /> Opposition towards coalition forces runs so deep here that Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force hasn’t ventured into the area in eight years.<br /> <br /> Under a midnight moon, 3rd Platoon, commanded by 2nd Lt. James Brown, was inserted by helicopter on a ridge opposite the mission’s first objective— a lofty village surrounded by Golden terraces of corn.<br /> <br /> The CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Brown’s platoon and the group of ANA soldiers, commanded by 1st Lt. Mohammed Agha, touched ground with both leaders knowing from Taliban radio chatter that the enemy already had eyes on the team.<br /> <br /> “The first night, looking up at the mountains tops, we knew we were in a little bit of trouble,” Brown said. “We knew we probably shouldn’t have been there.”<br /> <br /> Afghan and U.S. soldiers hastily stacked loose boulders, building fortified fighting positions, before making their beds on stony ground, using rocks as pillows.<br /> <br /> The team rose before sunrise and began to navigate a hazardous route down one peak and up another, just to reach the first of eight villages. It picked its way down a 15-story drop, lined by unforgiving boulders that made a treacherous staircase to a riverbed below.<br /> <br /> “If I die falling off the side of a cliff, tell Rick I love him,” newlywed Spc.<br /> Erica Watkins said of her husband, as her 5-foot, 2-inch frame gingerly slid down a boulder.<br /> <br /> Watkins was one of two female soldiers in the female-engagement team, which travelled with the infantrymen.These teams are responsible for interacting with, and, if need be, searching Afghan women during missions.<br /> <br /> As it neared the village outskirts, the team took a break. Heavily laden with a two-day supply of food and water, machine guns and ammo, in backbreaking loads that easily weighed up to 70 pounds, the soldiers were glad for a chance to catch their breath. As they rested, they spotted three men observing them from the ridge opposite their current location.<br /> <br /> “We’ve gotta get out of here,” someone said, suspecting an ambush. Even as the soldiers pressed their way upwards into the village’s cornfields, the First rocket-propelled grenade hit from a ridge above, followed by another. A hailstorm of small-arms fire followed.<br /> <br /> Sgt. Mycal Prince was hit and killed instantly. The 28-year-old Oklahoma Guardsman, who worked as a policeman in the K-9 unit of the Minco (Okla.) Police Department, was a husband and father of two girls.<br /> <br /> A 19-year-old Afghan soldier named Amanullah was wounded in the attack, taking a bullet through the thigh that narrowly missed his femoral artery.<br /> <br /> The ambush came as a shock to Agha. “It’s my first time to come faceto- face with the Taliban,” said the ANA commander who has been in the Afghan army for nearly four years. “It’s my first time to lose one of my men.”<br /> <br /> While Amanullah survived the gunshot wound, his condition was critical.<br /> <br /> The firestorm of bullets between the soldiers and their attackers continued until an air weapons team of helicopters arrived on scene, laying down ground-shaking munitions that killed several of the enemy.<br /> <br /> Over the next two hours, U.S. and Afghan forces set up security in cornfields as Brown requested a medical evacuation for eight casualties, including his medic.<br /> <br /> While medevac helicopters came For the casualties, there was no relief for the rest of Brown’s battle-fatigued team. Instead, the soldiers were asked to do what seemed impossible—continue the mission.<br /> <br /> Over the next 100 hours, Brown’s platoon, together with the rest of Company A and their Afghan partners, would continue the mission and comb Saygal Valley for insurgents.<br /> <br /> The soldiers navigated peak after peak as they moved through Saygal’s villages. As they entered the valley’s hamlets they held shuras, or meetings, with elders, some of whom said they had not seen any military presence since the 1979 Russian invasion. The soldiers collected biometric information from scores of military-aged men, detaining three with suspected Taliban ties.<br /> <br /> Most important, Company A killed 10 insurgents, including a mid-level Taliban commander who was on the battalion’s most wanted list. Two weapons caches were also discovered.<br /> <br /> “We took some bad guys out of the game, we took some of their equipment and ordnance out of the game,” said Capt. Jason Taylor, Company A commander. “I think it’s good to take those bad guys out of the villages and let them know [the insurgents] are not safe, even in the farthest reaches.”<br /> <br /> Looking at the soldiers of Company A, it was evident they had been to the farthest reaches. After five days of patrolling through the treacherous terrain, engaging the enemy, and searching through eight villages, the soldiers were covered in layers of sweat and dirt. Many of their uniforms were tattered and torn.<br /> <br /> But Staff Sgt. Edward Johnson said Brass Monkey’s success had come at a cost.<br /> <br /> “The worst part of this mission,” said Johnson, “the part that everybody’s going to remember, is we lost one of the best men we had.”<br /> <br /> —By Spc. Tanangachi Mfuni<br /> <br /> Utah No. 1: Guard Artilleryman isU. S. Army’s NCO of the Year<br /> <br /> For the second time in three years— and for only the second time in history— an Army National Guardsman has been named the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.<br /> <br /> Sgt. Guy Mellor, 24, chose to take a semester off school to prepare for the 2011 Best Warrior Competition, which determines the Army’s Soldier and NCO of the Year.<br /> <br /> And dedication paid off when he Was announced as the NCO of the Year at Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10.<br /> <br /> “It takes a lot to train for this,” the Utah Army Guard soldier told the U.S. Army Public Affairs Midwest office during the 2011 Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee, Va., last month.<br /> <br /> “It takes a lot of commitment, a lot of dedication, a lot of hours studying, a lot of hours working out and preparing to come and compete at this level,” he said.<br /> <br /> First nominated by his unit—1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery in Manti, Utah—Mellor competed at a series of local, state and regional levels before being named the Army Guard’s NCO of the Year in August.<br /> <br /> The Fayette, Utah, native said a period working at the Utah National Guard’s Regional Training Institute helped him prepare.<br /> <br /> “I’ve enjoyed the process of training and pushing myself and learning more and acquiring more traits, … more military knowledge, and it’s just helped me become a better, more rounded, outstanding soldier,” he said during the Best Warrior Competition.<br /> <br /> The Best Warrior Competition— where Mellor was competing with active Guard and Reserve soldiers—included a physical fitness test, written test, board interview in front of seven of the Army’s top leaders, land navigation, shooting and battle drills, Mellor said.<br /> <br /> —By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill<br /> <br /> Indiana Radio Station Adds to Realism At Muscatatuck Training Area<br /> <br /> Pvt. Vincent Lewis takes a deep breath and starts reading a news script out loud.<br /> <br /> Halfway through, he stumbles over the name “Al-Awlawki” and stops, staring at the name as if it will change in front of his eyes. After a few more tries, he gets it right and moves on to other stories.<br /> <br /> Lewis, a student at the National Guard Patriot Academy (story, National Guard, June 2011), is practicing for the upcoming debut of Radio Muscatatuck, which will broadcast news, sports, weather, music, and training from Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex (MUTC) near Butlerville, Ind.<br /> <br /> “I have been listening to the radio my whole life,” said Lewis, who graduates from the Patriot Academy on Nov. 4.“When I was given the chance to work in an actual station, I jumped at it.”<br /> <br /> Radio Muscatatuck was created to enhance the role of MUTC (story, National Guard, August 2011), according to Lt. Col. Dale Lyles, the facility commander.<br /> <br /> The purpose of the radio station is three-fold: to help in training personnel how to talk to the media, to keep the public informed of MUTC activities, and to entertain and inform the listeners.<br /> <br /> The station will operate just like any other radio station, with one exception: when a training event is in session, the station will broadcast a warning letting the public know that there is no actual event or emergency taking place.<br /> <br /> “When people train at Muscatatuck, whether they are military, civilian, emergency responders or troops going overseas, they expect realism and the radio station is one more way we give It to them,” Lyles said.<br /> <br /> The station can be found online at www.radiomutc.com.<br /> <br /> —By Staff Sgt. Brad Staggs<br /> <br /> Guam Guard Sets Community Projects With Phillippino Counterparts<br /> <br /> Key leaders of the Guam National Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Reserve Command and Retiree Affairs met in Manila recently to finalize community-based projects in the coming year under the State Partnership Program.<br /> <br /> About 40 reservists from the AFP Reserve Command branches were on hand at the conference and met with Guam Guard senior leaders.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. Benny M. Paulino, the Guam adjutant general, noted in his opening address how the close relationship developed over the years between the two organizations has fueled overall program success.<br /> <br /> “Through these conferences, we learn more of each other and how we can advance the partnership with our training needs and goals,” he said. “We also strengthen the partnership through the professional fellowship derived from close interaction and dialogue.”<br /> <br /> The partnership between Guam and the AFP Reserve Command is more than 10 years strong and has included more than 50 training events, encompassing areas as diverse as civilianmilitary training, military-to-military training and humanitarian missions, Paulino said.<br /> <br /> In September, members of the Guam Air National Guard’s 254th RED HORSE squadron worked with the AFP Reserve counterparts to renovate several classrooms at a school in Cebu, under an engineering civic-action project. Cebu is in the central islands of the Philippine archipelago.<br /> <br /> And, last month Guam Guard medics supported an AFP Reserve medical team conducting a medical and dental civic-action project at two diff erent villages, also in the vicinity of Cebu. The two forces treated close to 2,600 residents between the two villages.<br /> <br /> —Guam National Guard release<br /> <br /> New York Airlift Wing Begins 23rd Year Of South Pole Cargo Missions<br /> <br /> The 109th Airlift Wing is beginning its 23rd season of airlifting cargo to Antarctic research stations.<br /> <br /> From October to February, several hundred airmen from the New York Air National Guard unit and seven LC-130 ski-equipped cargo planes support the U. S. military’s annual Operation Deep Freeze mission. Up to 120 airmen will deploy each week for 30 to 60 days.<br /> <br /> The aircraft will support the National Science Foundation’s research in the Antarctic, running supplies to outposts across the continent and the South Pole station.<br /> <br /> Based at the U.S. Antarctic Program base at McMurdo Station, the 109th expects to fly about 400 missions across the continent, with more than half of those moving passengers, cargo and fuel to the South Pole. On average, the wing moves about 12 million pounds of cargo each season.<br /> <br /> All supplies that reach the Amundsen- Scott base at the South Pole are ferried there by the 109th.<br /> <br /> The wing accumulates roughly 4,000 hours of flying time in the 16- week season—nearly as much as most units fly in a year.<br /> <br /> —New York National Guard release<br /> <br /> Texas Addition by Subtraction: Guard Helps Fix Broken Neighborhood<br /> <br /> Call it beautification through demolition.<br /> <br /> Some Texas National Guardsmen used heavy construction equipment to tear down suspected crack houses in Harlingen, Texas, Aug. 31, at the request of city officials.<br /> <br /> The mission was part of Operation Crackdown, which uses seized drug money to rent machinery and equipment to demolish abandoned houses involved in illicit drug activities, officials said.<br /> <br /> “The National Guard is a community organization,” said Col. RandalE. Davis, the commander of the Texas Military Forces Joint Counterdrug Task Force. “We live in this community. We are here to help.”<br /> <br /> During Operation Crackdown missions, Texas Guard personnel work with local authorities and federal agencies to tear down dwellings that officials believe threaten the community.<br /> <br /> “The joint effort will especially benefit the children in the communities, as some of the decrepit houses are in near proximity to schools,” said Carlos Yerena, Harlingen city manager.<br /> <br /> Since its inception in 1993, Operation Crackdown has demolished nearly 1,200 dilapidated houses in more than 40 Texas communities, Davis said.<br /> <br /> Law enforcement agencies consistently report reduced crime rates in the communities participating in the operation, said Capt. Samantha A. Martinez, the officer in charge of Operation Crackdown.<br /> <br /> —By Sgt. Lamine Zarrad<br /> <br /> Tennessee Big Job: Brigade Helps Move Military Equipment Out of Iraq<br /> <br /> As the end of 2011 approaches, so does the push to remove thousands of pieces of remaining U.S. military equipment from Iraq by the end of the year.<br /> <br /> The 230th Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., is one of several units responsible for this massive task.<br /> <br /> “We’re hauling everything from armored vehicles to parts to shipping containers full of office supplies.Everything,” said Lt. Col. Martin J. Basham, the commander of Joint Task Force Hickory and the executive officer of the 230th.<br /> <br /> The Tennessee Army National Guard unit has established an operations base at Joint Base Balad to coordinate the removal of equipment from the northern forward operating bases to central Iraq.<br /> <br /> Instead of wearing out trucks by driving 800 miles north, the 230th is hauling equipment from the northern FOBs down to Balad. The unit then moves the equipment south to Kuwait or other destinations in theater.<br /> <br /> In addition to minimizing the wear and tear on equipment and personnel, the process allows for greater flexibility.<br /> <br /> But weather and road restrictions, both in Kuwait and Iraq, can always bring movements to a halt, delaying the mission.<br /> <br /> Convoys also have to contend with Iraqi checkpoints approximately every 20 miles, slowing the trucks to a crawl; the threat of roadside bombs and enemy fire; and equipment breakdowns due to increased use and the heat.<br /> <br /> But the clock is the biggest challenge.<br /> <br /> “Time has been our enemy this whole mission,” said Capt. Jack A. Tyler, the task force support operations officer. “What we are focusing on is not getting caught up in the overall picture but what we can control, and that is our elements and making the most effective use of them.”<br /> <br /> —By Sgt. Shannon R. Gregory
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