LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Members of the Afghan National Army’s 203rd Corps practice hand and arm signals during a drivers safety class given by Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Kirven, left, a Ruston, La., native and a platoon sergeant with Company D, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, attached to 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th IBCT, at Combat Outpost McClain, Afghanistan, May 26. The course helps improve the ANA soldiers’ driving skills and prevent casualties due to rollovers. Better driving is one of many ways U.S. Soldiers are helping Afghans improve their ability to take the lead for security.
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – In a hot tent on Forward Operating Base Shank, with an American flag hanging from the ceiling, works a U.S Army welder whose recent project can help save many lives in eastern Afghanistan.
Reggae, soul music and rhythm and blues pours out of Sgt. Patrick Lewis’s stereo, as he goes to work welding together rebar to create culvert denial systems.
The systems will help prevent insurgents from placing improvised explosive devices in culverts along Afghanistan’s Highway 1.
Lewis, who hails from Queens, N.Y., is originally from Jamaica and moved to the United States in 2001.
He learned to weld at the Apex Technical School in Manhattan, N.Y., and joined the U.S. Army in 2007 as an allied trade specialist. He currently serves in Company B, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Lewis, the primary welder in Co. B., has completed many projects since arriving at FOB Shank such as repairing radio towers and building steel gates, but this project is expanding his reach into Wardak and Logar provinces.
Preventing the emplacement of IEDs is essential to help prevent military and civilian casualties.
“Highway 1 is a main supply route going from BAF (Bagram Airfield) to Ghazni, and a critical point of our mission here is to keep that safe,” said 1st Lt. Shane Hook, Co. B executive officer.
The brigade counter IED office passed a sketch of the system’s design down the chain of command to Lewis. Then, rebar was shipped from BAF.
“We do just about anything,” Lewis said. “You name it, if you can come up with a picture and show us that, we can make it. It’s as simple as that.”
The static crackling sound can be heard as Lewis welds the rebar together into a cone-like shape.
Spc. Jonathan Carpenter, a native of Pendleton, S.C., and a wheeled vehicle mechanic in Co. B, who helps Lewis when he’s not servicing vehicles, said the culvert denial system will allow water to flow through the culvert, but deny insurgents the ability to plant IEDs inside of them.
Lewis said the system would benefit all U.S. Forces as well as Afghans who travel on Highway 1.
Lewis has a good reputation as a hard worker within the brigade.
“He’s a measure twice, cut once, type of guy, which is good,” said Hook. “That is exactly the type you want.”
First Sgt. Robert Walker, a native of Bryant, Ala., and the Co. B. first sergeant, said Lewis is one of his better noncomissioned officers. “He takes every opportunity he can to teach Soldiers,” he added.
Lewis’ good reputation stems from his enjoyment of his job.
“I love what I do,” Lewis said. “This is me playing my part. If this is what I can do to prevent the loss of another U.S. service member then I’m more than willing to contribute in whatever way I can.”
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A total of 195 Soldiers in 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were awarded combat badges at Forward Operating Base Shank, May 28.
Of the 195 badges awarded, 151 were combat infantry badges, 40 were combat action badges and four were combat medical badges.
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, the International Security Assistance Force command sergeant major, gave an encouraging speech to the Soldiers at the award ceremony.
“We are so lucky, over blessed, by having great men and women like you who went to find that recruiter, raise your right hand, swore on the Constitution that you wanted to take and defend,” said Capel. “You didn’t have to be here. You didn’t have to join the Army, but it takes great men and women like you to fight for freedom that so many people back in the United States of America get to enjoy everyday.”
To be awarded a combat infantry badge, an infantry Soldier in an infantry unit must engage or be engaged by the enemy during combat operations.
For medical personnel to receive a combat medical badge, he or she must engage or be engaged by the enemy during combat operations.
The combat action badge is for all other Soldiers who personally engage or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations.
Being awarded a combat badge is a significant event for Soldiers.
"The badge signifies everything that myself and my entire battalion is going through day in and day out," said 1st Lt. Gerald Ratchford, the 3rd Bn., 7th Inf.Regt., chemical officer, who earned his badge after being within 40 meters of an indirect fire impact.
“This is justification for them that they [unit Soldiers] are prepared for combat,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Dillingham, the battalion’s command sergeant major. “They are going to survive and they are going to take care of their friends out there on the battlefield.”
Being prepared for combat is critical for the battalion, also know as Task Force Baler, who have a unique mission to respond when needed in Regional Command East.
“We’re the operational ready reserve force for RC-East,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Bell, commander of 3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt.“Basically, we are the reserve force and when division or another unit needs help with an assignment, they call us and we quickly integrate and fill in to help accomplish their mission.”
Capel thanked the Soldiers, who serve selflessly overseas during wartime. “We can’t do what we do without you,” he said. “We are very proud, very thankful of you great Soldiers from the 3ID.”
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers searched for simulated improvised explosive devices with a remote-controlled robot during the practical exercise portion of a counter-IED course at Forward Operating Base Shank, June 5.
Members of the 36th Engineer Brigade Security Force Advise and Assist Team attached to 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, designed the counter-IED robot course to help Afghan soldiers defeat IEDs.
IEDs emplaced by the enemies of Afghanistan cause the deaths of many Afghan soldiers and civilians. Being able to safely dispose of them will significantly improve the ANA’s ability to take full responsibility for securing Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown of Coalition Forces.
ANA Staff Sgt. Amil Khan, a route clearance sergeant from Jalalabad Province, with 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, said this was some of the best training he’d ever received. “We lose a lot of officers and soldiers to IEDs, so this will save a lot of lives.”
Khan, a serious man who joined the army five years ago, quickly overcame his initial concern of using a remote control robot to become an advocate for its use. He believes it is a wise decision to use the robots over the traditional Afghan method of digging up IEDs by hand.
U.S. Army Capt. Brendon Hischar, a combat engineer originally from Keller, Texas, heads the group of engineers within the advisor team who advise the Afghan soldiers on counter-IED training and operations.
Hischar said the 4th Bde., 203rd Corps brigade engineer saw the need for a better way to destroy IEDs and requested help from him and his team.
U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Mubarak, a fellow Texan from Houston and a forward observer with the 4th IBCT SFAAT, worked with explosive ordnance disposal experts to design a six day “train-the-trainer” course to prepare Afghan soldiers to use, and train others how to use, the robots.
Upon graduation, the group of five will become the first trained robot operators in their brigade. Sharing their new-found expertise will be a priority as they work to expand their fellow soldiers’ capabilities and save lives.
The MMP-30 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robot System has three remotely-operated cameras and one arm that allow the operator to identify, investigate and destroy an IED from a safe distance, protecting soldiers and preventing civilian casualties.
Mubarak said the Afghan soldiers are very smart and picked up the operation of the robot very quickly.
The students, enlisted men in their 20s and 30s, eagerly worked together to find several simulated IEDs emplaced in the training area by Mubarak the night before. The exercise was preparing them for their test the following day.
“They got it”, Mubarak said with the smile of a proud teacher.
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As Afghan National Security Forces assume responsibility for security ahead of the U.S. Forces draw down in 2014, the Operational Coordination Center, Provincial unifies security agencies across Logar province.
The OCC-P in Logar works 24-hours a day and is manned by Afghan Uniformed Police, Afghan National Army soldiers and members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, who coordinate with security agencies in the province.
“The Afghan’s are in the lead,” said U.S. Army Maj. Elliott Bird, the executive officer for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Security Forces Advise and Assist Team to the Logar OCC-P.
Bird, a Salt Lake City, Utah, native and a member of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), said the OCC-P also works with the provincial government to promote governance and security for its people. The OCC-P established a tip line, which received three tips since its activation three weeks ago, he added.
“The greatest success for the OCC-P is the unity, which is between coalition advisors of the OCC-P and the ANSF,” said Afghan National Army Col. Abdul Habib, the operations officer for OCC-P Logar. “This is the greatest and key achievement as we work as one independent team … coordinating security forces on the ground.”
The Logar OCC-P recently coordinated three operations and continues to track new security checkpoints.
Habib said a great achievement for the OCC-P is the increased security on the highway which leads to Kabul, because the ANA are able to diffuse any type of enemy movement and ambushes.
“We as OCC-P staff do our best to decrease CIVCAS (civilian casualties) day by day, and bring better security for the people,” Habib said. He added there are difficulties like budgeting and lack of weapons and aircraft, but in the last four years he has seen improvements, specifically in the increased number of security personnel like the Afghan National Civil Order Police.
Habib praised the coalition advisors for their help and training. “We are happy to work with the current team,” he said.
As the U.S. and Coalition Forces footprint gets smaller, the ANSF will soon take full responsibility for securing Logar and Afghanistan.
“It will be an obligation for ANSF to be in charge and carry the full responsibility,” said Habib. “They have to take the responsibility.”
“We have good and talented people at the MOD (Ministry of Defense) to manage and lead the Army and defend our country’s borders.”
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