Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts
BALKH PROVINCE – As 1st Lt. Zachary Weigelt and Staff Sgt. Christopher Lepczyk conducted their final patrols in Shor Tepah district, they didn’t act like soldiers preparing to return home – they acted like men leaving it. “It’s finally setting in,” said Weigelt, an Iowa native, at an Afghan police compound.He was halfway through a 4-day mission to transfer his responsibilities to a fellow plt. leader in C Co. It was less than a week before that he and his soldiers started travel back to Baumholder, Germany, after 9 months deployed to Afghanistan’s border with Uzbekistan. In a country where U.S. soldiers have conducted missions for more than 10 years, Shor Tepah was still relatively uncharted territory when C Co Soldiers arrived in early 2011. Lepczyk, a Nev. native, now a squad leader, said that his platoon patrolled to the village more times in their first month, than the previous unit had during their yearlong deployment. Before the surge of troops to Afghanistan in 2010, there were nearly no U.S. forces in the district. “People wanted to know if we were Germans, because they’d never seen Americans before,” said Lt. Col. Erik Zetterstrom, a Vt. native, now the 40th Engr Bn cmdr. Soldiers with 170th IBCT across RC- North are transitioning from traditionally structured bns. to streamlined SecFor advisory teams. As part of that transition, Weigelt and his soldiers were sent home. However, gains in security and ongoing infrastructure projects won't be sacrificed. Another platoon from C Co will still patrol to Shor Tepah, until they too return to Baumholder in early 2012. "After that, projects underway will be monitored by soldiers from the next unit, although they will primarily focus on advising ANSF," Zetterstrom said."When they arrived, soldiers with 4th Platoon were ordered to train and partner with Afghan police, and to assist the district govt in providing essential services to its people," said Capt. Neil Kester, S.C. native, now the C Co cmdr."Deep relationships were forged through mutual needs," Lepczyk said. Police showed the Soldiers alternate routes through the district’s narrow village roads, around its web of irrigation systems, and across its desert expanse. Soldiers showed police new ways to fight, and cmdrs. how to better equip their patrolmen. Most of Weigelt and Lepczyk’s farewells were quiet. An Afghan Border Police (ABP) cmdr. sat still like a statue on the floor with his legs folded, as he shifted prayer beads on a necklace in his hands. His eyes were fixed somewhere beyond those in the meeting. He listened to the interpreter translate the news that his partners would be heading home. “People see the building projects, the schools, the bridge and it’s good they see that,” he said. “But, they don’t see the good you’ve done for us in training.” Both police cmdrs. in Shor Tepah said that they were aware that transition after transition will eventually lead to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country. The chief of police in Shor Tepah said, “I’m sure we can handle the security of this area. We grew up with war. Everybody knows about the fight.” His point is evident at one the district’s schools, where a spent artillery round is used as a bell. At the end of each multiday stay at the police compound, U.S. soldiers buy food that the Shor Tepah district chief of police insists on preparing. Their last mission was no exception. Weigelt enlisted soldiers from the incoming platoon to cut vegetables. The chief of police directed his patrolmen and the soldiers, as if he were calling orders during a mission. Three hours later, Lepzcyk helped carry platters of the meal from the outdoor kitchen into the compound’s dining room, bootless, as he was still in someone else’s home. His standard issue socks padded the tile of a room he’d eaten in many times, but would never see again.
From left, Sgt. Aloysius Goodshield, a S.D., native, and Pvt. Amanda Parker, a Kan. native, walk to a school in Shor Tepah district, Oct. 19, 2011.
1st Lt. Zachary Weigelt assembles hand-crank radios for a man in Shor Tepah district, Oct. 18, 2011. Soldiers distributed the radios while assessing a culvert near Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan.
Soldiers with C Co meet with Afghan govt officials during a brick laying ceremony at a school in Shor Tepah district, Oct. 19.
Spc. Donald Ditty, a Md. native, now a team leader with C Co, plays Red Rover with students at a school in Shor Tepah district, Oct. 19. The soldiers taught the children how to play, after participating in a brick laying ceremony for a new school building.
A boy runs during a game of Red Rover with Army Soldiers. Staff Sgt. Christopher Lepczyk, right, taught the children how to play.
1st Lt. Zachary Weigelt prays during a brick laying ceremony.
A Soldier with C Co takes a photo of a desert plain, south of Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan, Oct. 18.
KAJAKI SOFLA DISTRICT, Helmand province – Just weeks after the outset of OpTofan Sharq (Eastern Storm), the Marines and sailors of 1st Bn. are turning their attention to strengthening relationships with local leadership in the vicinity, in an effort to further eliminate insurgent forces in the area.The op is a major offensive to root out the Taliban-led insurgency in the Upper Sangin Valley region of Kajaki. The bn. began in Sangin and pushed north to Kajaki along Route 611, working with ANSF to push the insurgency out of the once-terrorized Kajaki area. The op is bringing security to the isolated district, making it safe for local residents to return to their homes, and allowing much-needed contract work to continue on the Kajaki Dam, which has the potential to provide a great deal of power for northern Helmand prov. “Future ops planners have been looking at this area for years, mainly because the Kajaki Dam was built by American engrs., back in the ‘50s,” explained Capt. Paul Tremblay, company cmdr., Bravo Co, 1/6. “It’s something we gave to the Afghans that is no longer working, but the timing was never right until recently. Based on the success in Sangin, mainly from 3rd and 1st Bns, the decision was made to capitalize on those successes and surge 1/6 up here.” Landing 2 plts. on the outskirts of the green zone, a veritable oasis, and pushing 1 plt. into the heart of the area, the company was able to pull off “a modern day aerial blitzkrieg,” Tremblay explained. “The scheme of maneuver couldn't have been executed any more professionally or skillfully by the Marines of Bravo, 1/6,” Tremblay said. “We were able to overwhelm the enemy on multiple fronts in a very nonlinear fashion, in a rapid succession he couldn't cope with. When they got overwhelmed and saw the size we were bringing into the area, the majority of enemy cmdrs. fled to the north, leaving their mid-level cmdrs. in place.” Marines now move through the bazaar outside PB Pennsylvania, a former narcotics hub in the region, and speak to the area’s residents, who previously feared reprisal from the roughly 300 insurgent fighters who have since fled the area. With the threat of direct fire engagements dwindling, the Marines now fight a political battle for local support, in which they contend with insurgent cells returning to the area.
“What’s critical now is we have this momentum; we have some time to get established into our fixed sites to start a sustainable battle rhythm,” Tremblay explained. “There’s a lull in violence that we can capitalize on, integrating ANSF and police forces. Basically, it’s a race how fast we can get Afghan solutions into the area, versus how fast Taliban can reintegrate. The reality on the ground is more disrupt, isolate, overwhelm, integrate ANSF, and then transition. At any point in time, at any day, any hour, we can be at any one of those. The point is to generate a tempo and a presence where we’re able to do all of those things simultaneously.” The Marines of Bravo Co perform patrols at a ceaseless pace, moving through the bazaar and pushing out to the farthest boundaries of their AO. The goal is to keep a constant presence, and, in doing so, send a message to the local populace that coalition and Afghan forces are the dominant power in the area, not the insurgency. Switching from a tactical mindset, in which the goal is to insert into an area and directly engage enemy forces, to working with local leadership and building rapport can be a challenge, but it is one the Marines are up to, according to Marines like Lance Cpl. Peter Hulme, a 60 mm mortarman from Va., who serves with 2nd Plt. “When we first arrived we were pretty edgy, but since getting here, we’ve found the local populace is a lot more accepting,” explained Hulme, a 2010 graduate of Herndon High School. “We expected them to be more standoffish than they are.” Operating in this situation, the Marines and sailors on the ground serve as goodwill ambassadors, while still maintaining a tactical mindset. Though the patrol rotation is grueling, Tremblay speaks with confidence about his junior leaders and their ability not only to keep up the pace, but also to operate independently and with minimal guidance - a necessity in counter-insurgency (COIN) ops. “I’m a firm believer in maneuver warfare, and a firm believer that as long as Marines understand the intent, they can go out and execute,” said Tremblay. “I have phenomenal squad leaders and unbelievable team leaders. We're able to generate more momentum, because we're able to operate decentralized, because I trust them and they trust me.”
A Marine with 2nd Plt. provides security, during a recent patrol through the area.
A child herds his donkey, laden with supplies, through the area. Marines are working with Afghan soldiers in Op Eastern Storm to force insurgents from the area and return security, allowing residents to return to their homes.
Marines conduct patrols through the area.
Lowenberg-DeBoer, a professor in the Dept of Agricultural Economics, and Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in Agriculture, has been visiting universities across Afghanistan to help strengthen Afghan Agricultural faculties.
“I’m here to get an idea of how SZU can partner with Purdue or other Universities,” said Lowenberg-DeBoer. “Afghanistan is Purdue’s largest international commitment, and it’s my responsibility to develop programs that can help.”
Speaking in English and German, Lowenberg-DeBoer proposed enhancements for the school, students, curriculum, farming techniques, and the use of video conferencing lectures with Purdue.
“We can make a relationship with Purdue University,” said Walizai. “I'm thankful for the ADT and Dr. Lowenberg-DeBoer for coming here. This new relationship will help us have a good future.”
KABUL – Members from various Afghan govt ministries and depts, including the Afghan Land Authority, or Arazi, participated in a consultation workshop to review proposed amendments to the national law governing land mgt., at the Afghanistan MAIL, Oct. 25-26.“The land management law review workshop is an opportunity for stakeholders to participate in a consensus-based, inclusive process to amend land mgt. law,” said E. Jed Barton, the deputy director for USAID.In Afghanistan, an estimated 89% of the land is owned by the govt. As most of this land is rural, agricultural land, Afghanistan’s MAIL is responsible for determining what land belongs to the govt, how to lease that land to the private sector, and what land belongs to individuals.“The objective of identifying the land is not to obtain income from it, but how to obtain employment, and better the economy for the Afghan people. How much employment will the lease create? In light of these issues, I urge all the participants to review the law,” said Asif Rahimi, the MAIL.As a directorate within MAIL, Arazi is responsible for managing govt land. During the past year, the dept has been working throughout Afghanistan to improve the govt’s ability to manage their land through land leasing, land conflict resolution, land transfer and exchange, land protection, land inventory, land registry, land rights identification, and land preparation.“Our mission is to bring a very transparent entity to focus on all land mgt. issues, and also bring all land related issues, which may fall under other ministries or orgs, under one roof for mgt.,” said Haroon Zareef, the director for Arazi.One way Arazi has done this is through the land rights identification process, or Tasfeya. Like many Afghan programs and procedures, Tasfeya, is a holistic process where a team of ministerial reps goes to the local community, takes statements from the local people, reviews the tax records, water rights registration, court documents, and historical maps to determine land ownership.“The Tasfeya team, consisting of 3 members of Arazi and MAIL, and 1 rep each from the Ministries of Justice, Energy and Water, Finance and the local extension of the Ministry of Agriculture, analyze the info and issue a final decision. If either of the parties does not agree to the decision of the 7 people, then we send the forms to the courts, and they decide,” Zareef said.Working closely with Arazi, the USAID’s LARA project members mentor the directorate to help them develop a system that incorporates traditional land practices and values, and encourages the Afghans to cultivate and develop their land.“Through the LARA project, we are trying to encourage the govt to recognize customary deeds – some of the practices that are done locally to ensure that people have that security in their land – so that people can stay on the land they have spent years living on and investing in,” said Angela Cardenas, a USAID land reform advisor, and LARA project mgr.One of the recommended amendments to the Land Mgt. Law reflects this incorporation of the customary deeds into the system. The suggested change, found in Article 5: Legally Valid Documents, gives the authorities directions on how to validate such deeds.Army Lt. Col. Robert Underwood, of Mont., would welcome such a change in the law to garner support for the Afghan govt. As the chief of ISAF’s Public Administration Service Cell, Underwood advises and works closely with MAIL, Arazi, the Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office (Afghanistan’s national mapping org.), and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, to help solve internal boundary issues.“The govt will be better connected with the people if it protects their rights to the land they live on,” Underwood said. While the amended law is still being reviewed, Cardenas, the LARA project team members, and ISAF are furthering their efforts to work with the municipalities, where mayors largely control who owns the land.“The LARA project is working to help the Afghan govt formalize informal settlements in Jalalabad,” Cardenas said. “These are people who don't have any recorded documentation of ownership, but have been living in places for, sometimes, up to 50 years. We want to work through the municipality to determine how those people can stay on their land.”While the official city limits used to be much smaller, local Afghan people have moved into 6 informal districts around this eastern Afghan city. “The LARA team is working with the municipal govt and the Ministry of Urban Development and Affairs, to set up a system where the city of Jalalabad annexes these areas, and provides the people city services, like streets, power and garbage collection,” said Underwood. “The residents would pay taxes to the municipal govt to fund these services, and the people would receive some sort of formal deed to their land.”While these plans are ongoing at the local level, working within the context of different land laws from 1923 to the current law passed 3 years ago, the amended law will be the unified voice of the national govt. Cardenas is hopeful the Afghan govt can come to a consensus, and use the democratic process to improve its ability to manage the Afghan land, in a way that most benefits the Afghan people.
By Sgt. Lizette HartKONAR – Afghan Commandos captured a key insurgent figure, during clearing ops in Maya village, Khas Konar district, Oct. 25. The clearing op resulted in 18 killed enemies, a wounded enemy, and 2 unidentified personnel taken into custody by the Commandos. The wounded individual was later confirmed to be a significant insurgent leader.The insurgent leader was involved in several aspects of the Khas Kunar insurgent org., including facilitation, finance and ops. In addition, a computer, which was discovered at the time of his detention, was found to contain multiple insurgent propaganda videos, including recordings of mortar teams and attacks on U.S. and Afghan military sites.
NIMROZ PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition patrol killed an insurgent leader and 2 other insurgents, during a weeklong ongoing op in Khash Rod district. The leader was responsible for the intimidation of local civilians and assassinations of Afghan govt officials. During the op, the armed leader and insurgents moved into position to engage a coalition helicopter. The patrol responded to the threat by firing at the insurgents, killing them. Two AK-47’s were confiscated and a quantity of ammo.
ZABUL PROVINCE -- In Qalat district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor captured a Taliban leader and detained 2 additional suspected insurgents, during an op to disrupt insurgent activity, yesterday. The leader coordinated roadside bomb attacks against CF.
HELMAND PROVINCE -- A CF discovered a weapons cache while on a routine security patrol in Kajaki district, yesterday. The cache consisted of detonation cord, numerous containers of home-made explosives, 20 pressure plates, various IED components, 4 82 mm mortars, a grenade, a 107 mm rocket, several variants of mines and small arms ammo.
KANDAHAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an opn in search of a Taliban leader in Panjwa’i district, yesterday. The leader distributes weapons in Panjwa’i district and plans attacks throughout Kandahar.
NANGARHAR PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor killed a Taliban leader and detained a suspected insurgent, during an op in Sherzad district, Oct. 29. The leader conducted ambush attacks against convoys of Afghan forces. An AK-47 assault rifle and a grenade were confiscated by the force.
KHOST PROVINCE -- In Manduzai district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained numerous suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader. The leader plans attacks against Afghan forces. The SecFor confiscated multiple weapons during the op.
PAKTIYA PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader in Gardez district, yesterday. The leader coordinates roadside bomb attacks in the Gardez district.
"We're responsible for all logistics, communications and scheduled aircraft maintenance for the brigade," said Lt. Col. Lou Carmona, the 640th ASB's bn. cmdr. The bn's based in several cities in Southern California, including Torrance, El Cajon, Fresno, Stockton and Los Alamitos. It's organic to the 40th CAB, and is HQ in Long Beach, Calif.
The 640th ASB played an essential role providing aviation support during the deployment. The bn's main base of ops has been Camp Taji, with detachments in Balad, Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) and Kirkuk. Several hundred Soldiers were assigned to 4 companies in the bn., performing 4 different support jobs.
HQ Co, 640th ASB, consists of wheeled-vehicle mechanics, medics, cooks, as well as the command staff for the bn. It contains the largest group of medics and cooks in the brigade, and its wheeled-vehicle and generator mechanics have been responsible for working on the vehicles and generators operated by other companies in the brigade.
Alpha Co, 640th ASB, operated Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) at Camp Taji and BIAP, and provided security for the brigade. At Camp Taji, Alpha Co fueled all aircraft that flew missions throughout central Iraq. Its fuelers also provided gas for IA aircraft.
Early on in the deployment, the 640th's Personnel Security Detail (PSD) provided security for supply and personnel convoys in the Baghdad area, and later, security for Camp Taji airfield.
Bravo Co, 640th ASB, is the largest company in the bn., with more than 300 personnel assigned. The company's aviation maintenance personnel ordered, tracked, warehoused and issued parts once they arrived in theater, and made sheet metal repairs to the helicopters. Also, the company's mechanics and electricians completed phase maintenance inspections on all aircraft, to ensure that the parts were replaced, and met all checked functions so they could perform their missions. Company maintenance test pilots put the helicopters through the prescribed flight checks after maintenance, to make sure that they were mission ready.
Charlie Co maintained and operated tactical communications and provided tactical, or mobile, communications for brigade units at Kirkuk, Taji and Speicher.
"We currently support 7 aviation bns.," said 640th, Command Sgt. Maj. Bryon Robinson. "Our Soldiers have pumped almost 2 million gallons of JP-8 jet fuel, completed 144 aircraft phases, and in the month of September, 14 CH-47D Chinook Helicopters broke a record, by flying more hours per airframe than ever before in the Army. They were able to do this because the 640th completed scheduled maintenance and inspections quicker than the Dept of the Army standard timeline."
Soldiers from Alpha Co, 640th ASB recently conducted a week-long class training IA personnel to operate Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks, in preparation for the upcoming assumption of ops by ISF at the Camp Taji Airfield.
Training the IA and fueling weren't the only things that 640th excelled at during its tour. "We do whatever needs to get done, so that the aviation brigade can accomplish its mission," Carmona said.
"The bn. and the 549th Quartermaster Co worked in conjunction with the Mobility Redistribution Team (MRT), during Op Clean Sweep to locate and turn in more than $12 million of excess non-property book equipment at Camp Taji," Flores said. The bn. has collected and itemized unused or misplaced military equipment that has accumulated over the 8 years the Army has been here.
"The equipment found on the post that was serviceable included automotive parts, such as tires, Gator utility vehicle parts, and MRAP vehicle parts, and other items the military can make use of," said Capt. Joseph Adams, a planning officer with the 640th.
"In Taji, we're continuing to manage various classes of supply: Class I (food and water), Class III (fuel) and Class V (ammo)," Carmona explained. "We support the brigade with numerous sustainment missions, like fuel, airfield security, Chinook and Apache aviation maintenance, computer, signal, and the Taji transportation control team."
"As units roll out, we need to ensure the logistic train follows them," Robinson said. The 1204th ASB from Kentucky, assume the mission allowing the 640th demobilize, travel home, and celebrate their success with family and friends over the holiday's.
"This is a historic time and the responsibility on everyone, from me to the newest private, is immense," Carmona said.