Reservist serves missions worlds apart - from Natick to Bagram
April 15, 2013
NATICK, Mass. (April 15, 2013) -- It's hard to imagine two more different places than the Natick Soldier Systems Center and Bagram Airfield. Just ask David Sanborn.
While one is a 78-acre military research and development facility on Lake Cochituate in Massachusetts, with approximately 1,800 Department of Defense civilian employees, contractors and service members, the other is a sprawling base in the high desert of Afghanistan with as many as 42,000 people.
They are separated by 6,500 miles, but Sanborn has spent time in both worlds. Normally the chief of Master Planning at U.S. Army Garrison Natick, the command sergeant major in the Army Reserve has been serving since Oct. 6, 2012, as the command sergeant major of USAG-Bagram.
When he and Col. Steven Campfield took over, it marked the first complete Installation Management Command, or IMCOM, change of command for an Army garrison in a combat zone.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Sanborn during a recent telephone interview from Bagram. "Having been selected as the garrison CSM for the largest (forward operating base) in Afghanistan has been a great honor and opportunity. We have everybody here. We've got all the military services, to include all the special operations 'tribes,' as we call them. We are a 'purple' base by all standards.
"I'm not only dealing with Army units and their respective missions, I'm also dealing with the Air Force and my counterparts there," explained Sanborn. "It's really a job in interaction and cooperation. I have made very good friends here, and we work together constantly to ensure the base is operational."
Sanborn also pointed out the advantages of being at a coalition base.
"I've had the opportunity to have dinner and attend functions with the Koreans, Egyptians, Polish, New Zealanders, French, British and Canadians," Sanborn said. "It's just such a great environment for the coalition. One of the most important things is just the friendship, camaraderie and focus on the mission that is here."
File this Afghanistan deployment under unfinished business for Sanborn. A knee injury had kept him out of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but he jumped at the chance to deploy last fall into this brigade-level position.
Sanborn has 31-plus years in uniform and earned his Combat Infantryman Badge in 1983 with the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. The Portland, Maine, native has held every leadership position in the enlisted ranks, and his military and civilian backgrounds made him an ideal choice for his new assignment.
"I can honestly say that my experience working with IMCOM garrisons and my military background has set me up to succeed here," Sanborn said.
Among Sanborn's responsibilities is providing billeting for the tens of thousands on Bagram.
"We've got 27,000 permanent and another 6,000 transient billeting spaces we manage on a daily basis, with roughly a 91-percent occupancy rate," Sanborn said. "Garrison has 10 billeting offices to manage the day-to-day operations. That's one of my herding cats stories -- trying to keep a handle on the transients and the permanent party that we have."
According to Sanborn, the Bagram Directorate of Public Works has more than $500 million in ongoing military construction projects.
"Our [Directorate of Logistics] is busy with tracking over 5,000 non-tactical vehicles used on the base and also managing eight functioning [dining facilities] to feed all the personnel here," Sanborn said. "Garrison also runs the MWR, DES, PMO and has a detachment of MPs used for the law-and-order mission.
"I also travel around the battlefield visiting MPs that are stationed on some of the outlying [forward operating bases.] It is important to me that I go visit them so they know they are part of the garrison."
Sanborn also is helping to oversee retrograde operations at Bagram as the U.S. reduces its presence in Afghanistan. The garrison had the lead for implementing and identifying all the containers on Bagram, and it set the template for retrograde in theater.
But it doesn't end there for Sanborn.
"I'm not just talking containers," Sanborn said. "I'm talking [mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles,] vehicles, equipment. We're closing [forward operating bases] and [contingency operating bases] all over the theater, and they're all coming through (Bagram) or Kandahar for processing out of theater or de-milling for disposal."
Those and other challenges have kept Sanborn busy seven days a week, and most of those days have stretched to 12 or 14 hours since last fall. Along the way, he has hosted town hall meetings for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sergeant Major of the Army, and Chief of the Army Reserve, to name a few.
Campfield, the Bagram garrison commander, called Sanborn "one of the best CSM's in the Army. His time spent each day goes well beyond 10 to 12 hours per day to help run this city of over 30,000. USAG operations in a combat zone (are) no easy task, as the enemy lets us know they are just outside the fence on many occasions. CSM Sanborn helps in the coordination of life support, force protection, services, facilities, master planning and infrastructure, to tenant units and organizations on Bagram Airfield."
Unlike in his civilian career at Natick, Sanborn goes about his duties at Bagram under a constant threat of indirect fire. He recently earned his Combat Action Badge during one such attack.
"This is an active base, and the bad guys know we're here," Sanborn said. "We usually get two or three rounds at a time coming in. The last one we had was a few days back. It's going to increase now that the fighting season's back in session."
Soon, Sanborn will spend his mid-tour leave with family in New England and Florida. Then he will return to Bagram for his final six months of duty.
If anything, his experience in Afghanistan has only increased Sanborn's appreciation for the equipment researched and developed at Natick for warfighters.
"The technology that's been developed at Natick is here," Sanborn said. "It's all been developed at Natick -- from the body armor, MREs, tent systems to the desert camouflage design. It's amazing what's here for equipment."
Sanborn said that he sees no difference between Soldiers in Afghanistan who use that equipment -- active-duty Army, Reserve or National Guard. He has been surprised by his informal tally of those he has met.
"Three out of five are Reserve (or) Guard Soldiers," Sanborn said. "This mission could not function without these service members over here working side by side with their active-duty counterparts."
For evidence, look no further than Sanborn himself.