12 November 2010

Making Connections: Events, Terrain, Media, Families

Next week, I plan to return to working through my notes from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's (2-34th BCT) pre-Afghan training rotation at Fort Irwin, Calif. In the present-day, however, there are a number of recent media reports worthy of note.

As many of you are aware, the Red Bull has been on the move. Some units launched directly into Afghanistan from California. Others returned temporarily to the mobilization station of Camp Shelby, Miss. According to previously published press reports, all 2-34th BCT units are expected to be in country by the upcoming U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

According to the Nov. 11 Des Moines Register, the soldiers of Iowa's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry "Ironman" Regiment (1/133rd Inf.) have hit the ground running in Afghanistan's Laghman Province. During a recent patrol to meet a local Afghan leader, Ironman soldiers engaged insurgent forces and captured one Taliban leader. The engagement included use of mortar fire and close-air support ("CAS," pronounced "kaz"). Guess all that training in the Mojave paid off.

It's important to remember that political and military conditions can vary greatly even between one Afghan valley and the next, much less between one province and another. In other words, don't read too much into adjacencies.

However, Laghman does share a short border with Kunar Province--the location of Iowa's 734th Agribusiness Development Team (734th A.D.T.)--the "Dirt Warriors." Kunar is also the general location of the 2007 events depicted in the documentary "Restrepo," which is to be released on DVD next month, as well as the books "War" and "Infidel." If you're looking at pictures from any of these sources, MAYBE you're looking at similar conditions, peoples, and terrain to that of Laghman.

Not all the Red Bulls are heading straight into a fight, however. Supporting October comments by the commander of 101st Airborne Division, the commander of Vermont's 86th Brigade Combat Team (86th B.C.T.) indicated that conditions in three other eastern Afghan provinces--Parwan, Panjshir, and Bamiyan--are secure enough to potentially warrant transition to Afghan control.

The 86th BCT, "Task Force Wolverine," is currently transitioning these provinces to the 2-34th BCT, "Task Force Red Bull."

According to a National Guard Bureau press release earlier this week:
"In Panjshir, they just opened up a marble mine factory that is really providing a lot of revenue as well as jobs for the locals," [Col. William Roy, commander 86th BCT] said. Tourism signs are beginning to pop up in Bamyan, he added. The future of Afghanistan lies in small business, Roy said.

"When I was here in 2002, when you went from Kabul to Bagram, there was virtually nothing on the road," he told reporters. "Now, in about an hour-long drive, you get the development all the way along -- businesses growing up, gas stations on the side of the road."

Afghanistan's ability to self-govern is moving slowly, but steadily, Roy said, noting that Bamyan has Afghanistan's only female governor, representing the Hazara population. Panjshir's ministry of agriculture put together a budget, sent it to the central government and received the budget back to put in place in the province, he added. [...]

"The governors that we have in all three of our provinces understand what the requirements are to oversee the needs of the people," Roy said.

"It's the Afghans who are leading the way," he added. "And it's been that way for quite some time."
In related news, the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press reported Wednesday that Roy had indicated "security for two of the provinces under the responsibility of Task Force Wolverine — Panjshir and Bamyan — was turned over to Afghan forces in the past month, a sign of stability in the region. Parwan province, where Bagram Airfield is based, should follow suit soon."

Other connections to be made:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa's KCRG-TV9/The Gazette multimedia reporting team has added an RSS feed to its continued "Operation Enduring Freedom" blog coverage of the 2-34th BCT's mobilization and deployment. If you use a news reader, you know how useful this is for keeping up on the latest.

The KCRG-TV9 team also recently aired two additional reports regarding the Red Bull's training and subsequently deployment from California. Check them out here and here. Consider that your Fort Irwin fix for the day.

Des Moines-area WHO-TV13 has continued its coverage of the Red Bull homefront with its "Iowans at War" series, including stories regarding how families are coping with separations caused by the deployment.

While Steve Hartkopf has been deployed, his wife Sophie Hartkopf has given birth to their first child. (Both Steve and Sophie, by the way, are Iowa National Guard soldiers.) The baby now rocks to sleep to the recorded sounds of Steve's electric guitar.

In other recent "Iowans at War" story, Christine Refsland musters three kids everyday while husband Nik is deployed. The kids try to help each other out where they can, but it's controlled chaos. "My daughters are twelve, eight and four, all going on 16," Nik says in the report.

Text and video at links, above. The amount of helpful, insightful, and friendly media attention being focused on our Red Bull soldiers and families is gratifying. Please check it out when you get a chance.

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