The 202nd is assigned to the 504th MP Bn, and they train Afghan Police forces, as well as patrol the streets of Kandahar City. After suffering his injury, Ballard could have picked the option to get out of the Army, but that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to stay in the Army and serve his full contract; that’s just what he did.
“I committed to a 5-year contract, and after getting injured I had only served 9 months of that contract,” said Ballard. “I wanted to fulfill my contract and keep serving my country.”
Through an upbeat attitude and a lot of hard work, Ballard has achieved that goal by working his way back to full active-duty status.
He didn’t just want to be back to work. More importantly, he wanted to go back to combat. Despite his injury, he wanted to prove to himself, and those around him that he could do the job of any MP officer in the force.
Ballard’s journey back to full service started at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he went through months of rehabilitation and prosthetic fittings.
While at BAMC, he spent a lot of time at the Center for the Intrepid, a center designed by the Army to facilitate the rehabilitation of amputees and burn victims from Iraq and Afghanistan.
While at the center, Ballard was given a chance to test himself against a number of soldier related skills, to include firing a multitude of weapons and putting on a chemical protective mask. “I found that I could still qualify expert with all of my weapons,” said Ballard. “I could also still run, jump and march.”
The last time Ballard qualified with his rifle was before deploying to Afghanistan. He hit 39 out of the 40 possible targets on the range, giving him the qualification of expert marksman.
Ballard was grateful for his time at the center, because it showed him that he could still perform his basic warrior tasks and drills, which gave him the confidence to stay in the Army and continue to serve his nation. “I felt that I had something to prove, but now that I am in Afghanistan, my mentality has changed,” said Ballard. “Now I just feel like any other soldier out here.”
When asked about the limitations he faces since his injury, Ballard jokes that he can’t play the guitar anymore. Without showing any negativity, he quickly changes subjects, and explains that the prosthetic he wears in place of his left arm, has the ability to lock in place, thus providing a more stable platform for him to fire his rifle.
Ballard always finds a way to put a positive outlook on something many would perceive as a negative. “It’s really hard to be negative around Ballard,” said Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Espinoza, 202nd MPC ops sgt. “He shows others that they can face adversity, and still be productive in the Army.”
Espinoza was Ballard’s plt sgt when he was injured in Iraq, and continued to stay in touch with him as he recovered from his injury. While stationed at Fort Bliss, Espinoza found out that Ballard was going to be stationed at Fort Bliss as well, so he worked to get Ballard not only assigned to his unit, but more importantly back into his platoon.
“I wanted him to work for me again, because I knew he was the kind of soldier that every plt sgt wants,” said Espinoza. “He always tries hard at everything; always has a sharp appearance, and has a ‘go-getter’ attitude.”
“The ANA plt. sgt. wanted to mobilize people to do the right thing, to support the govt in establishing security in the area,” said 2nd Lt. Peter Choi, 1st Plt leader for Troop A. “He was really calling for that support, because he knows that the ANSF can’t fight the insurgency alone; they need the people.”
“I think having the U.S. behind the ANA helps prove to the people the importance of the message,” said Spc. Jeffery Hall, a medic with Troop A. “It helps to build the trust and confidence between the Afghan govt and its people.”
During the visit, Soldiers with Troop A implemented the hand-held interagency identity detection system (HIIDES) to collect biometric data on Afghan locals, who worked on nearby Bagram Airfield, along with checking for proper and current ID and paperwork. HIIDES is a biometrics collection tool that helps the U.S. military to quickly identify and track known criminals, making sure they aren’t hiding among the general population.
“I love it,” AF Maj. Christopher Meeker, resident engr for the Bagram-area USACE, said of the new ANP station. “This is why we’re here, right? It’s beautiful.” Beautiful though it is to him, getting to this opening ceremony involved a lot of frustration. Meeker said that this building presents a challenge found across Afghanistan: the only available place to build is on the side of a mountain.
“The big problem we have in Afghanistan is a mountain, river, or farm,” Meeker said. “We can’t build on rivers; they don’t want us to build on farms; so we end up building all of our buildings on mountainsides like this, which presents some problems in how to control the slopes...”
But, as Meeker pointed out, the bulk of the work, and thus, frustration, was borne by the Afghans. “This one was successful because of the Afghans governing themselves, securing themselves, and doing the construction themselves.”
The brunt of this work fell on UCC Budservice Construction & Engineering Co., Ltd. Karimullah Samadi, deputy gen. mgr. for UCC, said that they faced several challenges in constructing this HQ. “I'm proud that we totally used Afghan labor, skilled and unskilled laborers, to construct this project, based on the design and the standards that were given to us by the USACE,” Samadi said. “This is a place to really be proud of.”
One thing they can be proud of is additional security. Sayid Mahmoud works in the new station’s detention center as a member of the ANA. Mahmoud also comes from Lolinj Village, located near the new station, and able to receive some security from it.
“I would like to thank all of these countries, all of these CFs that participated in building this new building,” Mahmoud said through an interpreter. “I feel much more secure right now, because I see the ANP is beside me.”
This flag, however, is different. It’s one that has flown at Ground Zero in N.Y.C. after 9/11, and holds special meaning to the 404th Soldiers, based out of Fort Dix, N.J., many of whom are from the N.J., and N.Y. areas.
The flag has been traveling around RC – East, visiting FOBs, while in the care of Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle Fournier, who's been the keeper of those colors since March 1, 2010. The flag will be returned to Ground Zero in July, and put on display at the Ground Zero Museum. Certificates of Freedom from each group the flag visited will be inducted into the museum along with the flag. “The flag is symbolic of America, and the strength of Americans,” Fournier said.
For many of the Soldiers in the 404th, the flag represents a day that has been burned into their memory. Maj. Paul Ferreira, cmdr of Co B, 404th, grew up in the shadow of the World Trade Center. He said that he watched it fall Sept. 11, and lost friends when it came down. Ferreira said that this was the first time he’d seen the WTC flag raised while in Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Teresa Wolfgang, 404th cmdr., and a resident of N.Y.C, said that she was in Dallas when the planes hit. Her uncle worked in the Pentagon and had left work 40 minutes before the plane hit, destroying his office.
Wolfgang said that being stewards of the flag is a great obligation for her battalion, and one undertaken with pride. They try to get the flag to as many FOBs as possible, and are often greeted with gratitude by Soldiers who simply want to see the flag, or take photos with it. “It’s important for it to make the rounds, because 9/11 is where it all started,” Wolfgang said. “We always have to remember how this started, so that we can continue forward.”
“Circulating the flag shows the attacks of 9/11 haven’t diminished what the American flag stands for,” said 1st Sgt. Dennis Hicks of N.Y.C.
As Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz entered the front door, a voice called the building to attention. The 6 soldiers and dozens of fellow soldiers snapped to the position of attention. Stultz immediately told the soldiers to “At Ease,” as he made his way to the front of the tent.
This was the day the soldiers decided to raise their right hands to re-enlist in the Army Reserve, and Stultz would perform the ceremony. Before he performed the e-enlistment, Stultz took a few minutes to praise the Soldiers and others like them.
"Reserve soldiers," Stultz said, "are people who, in most instances, have good jobs, good educations, and families. Still, Reserve soldiers are willing to put all that on hold to come to places like Afghanistan, and risk their lives, and even make the ultimate sacrifice."
"Even though Army Reserve soldiers are away from their families. Even though they’re sacrificing what they have, and even though they know they will probably be asked to do it again, Army Reserve Soldiers continue to re-enlist," Stultz said. “They say, ‘I want to stay. I love the Army. I want to be a part of this.’ That’s awesome,” Stultz said.
On Jan. 22, 2011, Stultz re-enlisted Spc. Daniel Freeman, Sgt. Christopher King, Sgt. Joshua Pruitt, and Staff Sgt. Brian Behrend of the 414th MP Co based in Joplin, Mo., and Spc. Sergio Cabrera and Sgt. Tommy Thomas of the 96th MP Bn based in San Diego, Calif.
Cabrera said that having Stultz perform the ceremony made the re-enlistment that much more meaningful. That the general would take time to spend with soldiers, illustrates that leadership back home are concerned about Soldiers in Afghanistan. “It lets me know that people out there really care about people here,” said Cabrera. “It’s a great feeling.”
King said that re-enlisting so far away from home was bitter-sweet. On one hand, he got a chance to re-enlist with his fellow soldiers, but his family couldn’t share the moment. Still, his wife was the first to know about the re-enlistment. “I had to get her permission,” King said.
As of mid-Jan., more than 6,000 Army Reserve Soldiers serve in bases, camps and outposts in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network facilitator moves weapons and supplies for attacks in Kabul City and in Khost prov. He has direct ties to other Haqqani Network leaders in the area. Recent reporting indicates that he received a shipment of weapons and supplies, and stored them in the local area for future attacks against Afghan and CF.
SECFORs followed leads to a targeted location in Nadir Shah Kot District, where Afghan forces called for all occupants to exit out of the buildings peacefully, before conducting a search. Several suspected insurgents were detained, based on initial questioning at the scene.
The SECFOR recovered a shotgun, RPG launcher parts, 300 lbs (136 kilograms) of IED making material and ammo at the scene.
Story and photos by Spc. Roland Hale
The brigade has flown about 115,000 flight hours, transported more than 250,000 personnel, and 8 million lbs of cargo around the country. However, it's not these statistics that Soldiers like Jackson are watching. An incoming unit is scheduled to replace the brigade this spring, and they're counting the weeks and days that stand between them and home.
"Stepping off the plane, smelling fresh air - I can't wait," said Jackson. Like many Soldiers, Jackson said he misses the "simple pleasures," that are foreign to Iraq. "Just being able to walk outside in civilian clothes, to drive to the store if I need something, that's the little things we look forward to," he said.
Spc. Manuel Ortiz deployed with the unit once before in 2007. For him, it's a new mission, and another countdown. This time, Ortiz looks forward to reuniting with his wife, whom he married 3 months before leaving. "Being married has made it harder and easier," he said. "Either way I can't wait; we get our place, be together."
The brigade still has a good deal of work ahead of it prior to its return. Serving as the only aviation brigade in Iraq, it's responsible for an area that was previously supported by 3 aviation bdes. In addition to mandatory redeployment briefings, classes and paperwork, the brigade's return home is a mission in itself.
However, it's simple to Spc. Jason Sulser. "All I've got to say," he said, "is tell me when it's time to go."
Col. Taha, chief of Goria IP station took the center of the floor at the start of the exercise, to explain the events taking place. “The system we go by for doing training exercises, and ops is to brief, execute, conduct analysis and evaluation at the end,” said Taha, alluding to a system similar to the U.S. Army’s train, execute, conduct after-action review cycle.
Taha provided a detailed brief of the procedures pertaining to the training op, using a sand table and map of the building, and pointed out to his superiors and subordinate cmdrs., the key areas his unit would secure, in the event of a terrorist attack on a building in Kirkuk city.
“In the event of getting a call that one of the buildings in the police station sectors is under a terrorist attack, and they're able to get into the building and take control of it, we're prepared to respond,” said Taha. “We must be prepared to enter the building, clear it, and rescue any hostages.”
Taha described what each element of the police force would be doing to complete the op.
For this particular training iteration, the ESU utilized a “glass house” made up of 3 rooms, where hostages were being held. A glass house is a training device, using an outline representation of a building or room, to allow soldiers to practice room clearing procedures, while trainers observe soldiers actions on the objective through invisible walls.
Taha explained that the first group to secure the scene would be the ESU, with their experienced raid team being used to breach and clear the building. As the ESU raided the glass house during the practice exercise, one of the officers was “shot” by the role-player standing in as a terrorist, and the police officer fell to the ground.
The ESU squad cmdr. secured the room, restrained the terrorists, and called forward an Emergency Medical Team (EMT) on stand-by, outside the secure perimeter to the building.
“I specifically put the injured police officer and the medical evacuation into this scenario, because I feel it’s very important that everyone knows how to react if someone were to be shot during a mission,” said Taha.
Taha explained that the K-9 and Iraqi Ordinance Disposal would be called in to clear the room of any explosives, before the CEU would move into the rooms to collect evidence.
“We gave the CEU 3 main duties; first to take finger prints, second to take blood samples at the scene, and third to confiscate the weapons in a safe, professional manner,” said Taha.
At the end of this particular scenario the ESU captured the “terrorists,” securing the role players outside the building, to be transported to a police station and placed in the custody of the CEU. "The CEU then worked to get more info and evidence from the suspects, before being processed through the Iraqi legal system," said Taha.
“The training exercise today was Iraqi led—the first out of the past 4 exercises that had minimal U.S. assistance,” said Lt. Col. Ardrelle Evans, cmdr of Provisional Police TT, part of the 512th MP Co.
During the after action report, Maj. Gen. Jamal said that he wanted to do unannounced training exercises in the future. “I think doing unannounced and unscripted training exercises is a great idea, so he can see exactly what these police force agencies are capable of doing,” said Evans.