14 May 2010

The Long War and Long Good-byes

With the possible exception of unit homecomings, there are few Army traditions that seem to drag on as long as send-off ceremonies. There are always plenty of prayers, and speeches by military and political leaders of every stripe. Everybody wants to say good-bye, good luck, and godspeed.

Note to speech-makers: I can remember the words of exactly one person during my unit's formal homecoming. It was an area mayor, probably the third or fourth person to stand behind the podium. We soldiers were trying to stay focused and in formation, while distractedly searching out our loved ones in the stadium crowd. The mayor got up and said, "You don't want to hear me. You want to be with your families. Welcome home!"

Given the cheers, I'm certain he won re-election that year.

Like I was saying, send-off ceremonies can also drag along like a southbound river barge. If you want to get a feel for the high points, however, I'd recommend listening to this May 13, 2010 National Public Radio story that captured the Maj. Gen. John Campbell's sending remarks to members of his 101st Airborne Division--the "Screaming Eagles." The radio report offers everything an outgoing soldier needs to hear, packaged into less than 3 minutes:
"Twenty years from now, you're going to be sitting in a rocking chair someplace thinking about what you did in 2010 and 2011. You can puff up your chests and say, 'I was in Afghanistan. I was there when Afghanistan turned. I was there when it made a difference.' This is our nation's main effort now," [Campbell] said.

"You guys are part of a minority. One-half of 1 percent of our nation is doing what you're doing. You've got to feel pretty good about that," he said.
Additionally, a recent Army News Report indicated that 20,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division will soon be on the ground in Afghanistan, the first time that the division's four Brigade Combat Teams will have deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom within a given 12-month period. Given that there will be so many of the 101st downrange, I'm pretty sure that the Red Bull and the Screaming Eagles will cross paths somehow.
"We're working on campaign continuity ... we've built relationships with our Afghan counterparts, and we've trained for Afghanistan, we know the culture ... for training purposes, I think it's the right thing to do," Campbell said on why the entire [101st] division will be deploying.

The 101st will be largely responsible for training and assisting Afghan army forces, but instead of living separately from their counterparts, the division will be exercising a new training method called "combined action."

Combined action, a concept begun by the 82nd Airborne Division, is an integrated-troops approach, where battalions of U.S. Soldiers train, live and eat with their Afghan equivalents around the clock.

"That's going to make a huge difference in their credibility with the [Afghan] people ... it's the way of the future," Campbell said of combined action.
Speaking of air-assaults--the movement of ground-combat troops and equipment via helicopter--it looks like the Green Mountain boys have been hitching some helo-rides. You may remember that there are a couple of Red Bull alumni currently downrange with the Vermont Army National Guard's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (I.B.C.T.), so I try to keep an eye out for news mentions of their units.

According to a recent National Guard press release, soldiers of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (C/3/172 Infantry) have been busy (that's them in the photo above):
A shocked group of insurgents looked up from the grounds of their supposed "safe house" in Mangal Kheyl village, Zormat District in Afghanistan's Paktya province, to see a pair of twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopters bearing down on them, April 22.

Working as part of the first combat air assault mission in the history of the Vermont National Guard, Soldiers from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment, alongside their Afghan partners watched from aboard the descending helicopters as the enemy dropped their weapons and fled.

"The enemy were completely surprised by our air assault," said [2nd Lt.] Mark Fazio, of the company. "As the aircraft landed we could see them drop their weapons and run away as fast as they could."
The soldiers captured the largest weapons cache to be found in the area in the past three years, as well as non-Afghan fighter. "The success of the mission showed the value of using air assaults in this area to gain surprise and catch the enemy when they aren't expecting us to be able to reach them," Fazio said.

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