08 February 2011

The Red Bull Story So Far: 'Halfway There'

Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division (2-34th BCT), recently marked the "halfway home" milestone on their deployment calendars.

The 2-34th BCT comprises approximately 3,000 Iowa and Nebraska National Guard troops. In the largest single deployment of Iowa National Guard troops since World War II, units comprising the brigade began mobilizing in late July and early August 2010. Red Bull units first trained at Camp Shelby, Miss., before conducting realistic war games at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., in late September and early October 2011.

While most units returned to Camp Shelby prior to phased departures to Afghanistan, the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry "Ironman" Regiment (1/133rd Inf.) and select brigade personnel launched directly into country from Fort Irwin. According to news reports, 1/133rd Inf. soldiers captured one Taliban fighter just days after arriving in Afghanistan.

Other Red Bull units gradually arrived in Afghanistan through the end of November 2010. The brigade officially relieved the Vermont National Guard’s 86th BCT at Bagram Airfield (“BAF”) on Dec. 4, 2010. The event nearly coincided with a surprise visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The mission of “Task Force Red Bulls” marks only the second time a U.S. National Guard brigade has been given responsibility for geographic area of operations in Afghanistan. The brigade is under the command of 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” Division, headquartered in Fort Campbell, Kent.

In Army jargon, a "task force" is a battalion-or-larger-sized group of units temporarily organized to address a specific mission. The term can include the addition of personnel from other U.S. and allied armed services, both active-duty or national guard/reserve, as well as civilians.

“[Task Force] Wolverine [86th BCT] was the first National Guard Brigade to serve as a battle space owner here in Afghanistan, and throughout their tenure here, Task Force Wolverine focused on making Afghanistan better for the Afghan people and coalition forces,” said 101st Airborne Division commander Maj. Gen. John Campbell in a Dec. 5 statement. “From partnering with the Afghan National Security Forces ... to increasing capability of local governance ... to implementing and continuing new development programs ... to improving quality of life on Bagram, Task Force Wolverine has set an incredible standard of success.“

He continued, “Their successors, the 2-34 IBCT ‘Red Bulls’ from the Iowa National Guard have some big shoes to fill, but I am confident they will meet the challenges of this deployment with success. I have seen many of the Task Force Red Bulls soldiers on my battlefield circulation, and I have seen first-hand that they are well disciplined and well trained. I am confident that under the leadership of COL Ben Corell and CSM Joel Arnold that Task Force Red Bulls is exactly the right unit to continue capitalizing on the successes of Task Force Wolverine. Welcome to Afghanistan, Red Bulls!”

Task Force Red Bulls comprises:
  • Headquarters, 2-34th BCT, Boone, Iowa.
  • 334th Brigade Support Battalion, headquartered in Johnston. The 334th BSB is commanded by Lt. Col. John Perkins, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Adams. As "Task Force Archer," the unit is responsible for the operation of Bagram Airfield, an installation of approximately 30,000 U.S. and other personnel. The unit also provides logistical, maintenance, and medical support to the brigade.
  • 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB), 34th Infantry Division (2/34th BSTB), headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The 2/34th BSTB is commanded by Lt. Col. Allyn Gronewold, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. Christine Short. Due to requirements surrounding the Bagram base operations mission, much of the 2/34th BSTB has been task-organized under 334th BSB.
  • 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1/113th Cav.), headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa, is commanded by Lt. Col. David Updegraff, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Wayman. As "Task Force Red Horse," the 1/113th Cav. is responsible for security operations around Bagram Airfield and in surrounding Parwan Province.
  • Personnel of Iowa’s 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery (1/194th FA) have been distributed throughout the brigade. The 1/194th FA is headquartered in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and is commanded by Lt. Col. John Cunningham, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. David Enright.
  • 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry "Ironman" Regiment (1/133rd Inf.), headquartered in Waterloo. The 1/133rd Inf. is commanded by Lt. Col. Steven Kremer and Command Sgt. Maj. Marcus Mittvalsky. The 1/133rd Inf. is currently operating in Laghman Province. Ironman soldiers recently described 'average' days in this Army news release.
The other of the 2-34th BCT’s two organic infantry battalions has been attached to units outside the Task Force Red Bulls area of operation: 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1/168th Inf.), headquartered in Council Bluffs. The 1/168th Inf. is commanded by Lt. Col. Steve Boesen, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. Duane Hinman. The unit is currently operating in Paktia Province.

Until recently, the 1/168th Inf. had been operating under "Task Force Rakkasan," led by the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (3/101st BCT). The Rakassans were recently relieved by 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division of Fort Knox, Kent., however, and the Iowa unit now reports to "Task Force Duke."

The Nebraska National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment (1/134th Cav.), headquartered in Lincoln., Neb., also deployed with the 2-34th BCT. The unit is commanded by Lt. Col. Tom Rynders, assisted by Command Sgt. Maj. Marty Baker. As "Task Force Fury," the 1/134th Cav. trains and mentors Afghan police personnel in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul. This National Guard news article describes recent 1/134th Cav. operations.

Iowa soldiers deployed with the 2-34th BCT wear the Red Bull patch on their left shoulders, and are authorized to wear the patch as “shoulder sleeve insignia” (SSI) more commonly referred to as a “combat patch.” Slang terms for a soldier wearing a Red Bull patch on each shoulder can include: “Wearing the ‘Double-Bull’” and “Wearing the ‘Steak-Sandwich.’”

Living conditions for Red Bull soldiers in Afghanistan range from the densely packed Bagram Airfield, in which soldiers are bunked in multi-level stacks of air-conditioned and heated semi-trailer containers, to austere platoon- and company-sized Combat Outposts (“COP”), in which soldiers do laundry in 5-gallon cans filled with river water, lack hot showers and Internet access, and must burn toilet waste.

In early January 2011, the brigade suffered its only reported combat casualty to-date, when Sgt. Brian Fieler, 27, was injured after stepping on a landmine in Laghman Province. The Earlville, Iowa, soldier lost the lower portion of one leg.

The 2010 deployment is not the first time the Red Bull patch has been seen in Afghanistan. In 2004-2005, nearly 1,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers deployed as “Task Force 168,” where they provided security for Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) sites across the country.

In other connections to Red Bull history, 2-34th BCT commander COL Ben Corell and CSM Joel Arnold were in charge of the 1/133rd Inf. during its deployment with the Minnesota’s National Guard’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, 2005 to 2007. Included as part of a U.S. troop "surge," the 22-month deployment was the longest continuous deployment to Iraq of any U.S. Army unit. Members of Nebraska’s 1/134th Cav. also participated in that deployment as part of 1st Squadron, 167th Cavalry Regiment (1/167th Cav.).

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