To Friends of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
April 18, 2013
To Friends of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault),
Greetings from Afghanistan! Every day is a great day when you serve in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); yet every day is even better when you have the opportunity to see our Screaming Eagles proudly serving the Nation in Afghanistan and representing all of us so well. They are leading the way in all areas of operations; setting a standard of excellence and living up to the legacy of the Screaming Eagle heroes that have gone before them in the most difficult of environments.
Just over thirty days ago, on March 14th, our Division completed a transfer of authority with Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One", formally establishing Combined Joint Task Force - 101 (CJTF-101) and assuming responsibility for Regional Command - East (RC-East), Afghanistan. MG William Mayville and the Fighting First provided a superb transition. Their efforts to facilitate our preparation during pre-deployment training, and their professionalism during the staff transition process, were instrumental in ensuring we were fully prepared.
While we have been here before, and our physical role as CJTF-101 and Regional Command East is not entirely new, our functional relationship has significantly changed. Whereas we were in the lead of operations and doing most of the fighting when we were here in 2008, and we were 'shoulder-to-shoulder' closely partnered with the Afghans in 2010, today we are advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while they do most of the fighting. The Afghan National Army (ANA) in particular is developing into a professional and highly respected force across the Nation. Other elements of the ANSF such as the Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan Border Police (ABP), Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) are also increasing in capability daily. As a whole, these five pillars of Afghan security are more and more working as a combined team and have come out on the offensive swinging with "Afghan Fists" during the initial stages of this year's fighting season.
During this first month in Afghanistan, I have had the opportunity to travel around the region and I have seen significant progress since my last tour. The most substantial progress has been made in the strength and power of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Although the war is certainly not over and there are continuing attacks and other acts of violence, the Afghan security forces are maintaining a sufficient level of security for a stable government and economic growth. I see a steady flow of commerce along the national highways. I see a growing number and an increasing quality of homes constructed around the provincial capitals. One of the biggest surprises for me was that I have seen a large number of children playing cricket and soccer; activities that were banned during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan and not widely seen, if seen at all, in 2009.
The amount of commercial development that has taken place in this country is evident, as well. Everywhere we look, we see cellular towers dotting the mountains and increasing numbers of paved roads connecting towns to the main road throughout the country. Once isolated populations are growing more connected to the whole of the country. Increasing ownership of cellular phones and the appearance of colored paint on more modern-styled homes are indicative of an increasingly connected population and sense of confidence in the future as people develop a more dispensable income.
The division headquarters is not the only Screaming Eagle element here. Our 1st and 3rd Brigade, and 101 CAB are all components of CJTF-101.
First Brigade, 'Bastogne,' is organized into combined teams (CT) and is making marked improvements with their focus on Afghan brigade and kandak (battalion)-level advising and the transfer of capabilities such as the D30 artillery training program. CT Kunar supports the ANSF in numerous kandak-level operations improving cooperation and interoperability between all pillars of the ANSF. CT Nangarhar supported the largest combined ANSF operation since Bastogne's arrival in Afghanistan, incorporating a combined force of over 1000 Afghan Soldiers and Police.
Third Brigade, 'Rakkasans,' advises and assists ANSF in the eastern provinces of Khost and Paktiya. In the last 30 days, the Rakkasans have witnessed improvements in staff operations at the brigade and corps level where the ANSF increasingly develop their own intelligence and are conducting operations with minimal support. These units continue to expand their "operational reach" and have found significant weapons caches and detained several insurgents with noticeable effect on the enemy's ability to conduct operations. The Rakkasans have begun preparing for their redeployment to Fort Campbell. Next month, they will begin transition with our own 4th Brigade "Currahees". To ensure a smooth transition, they are currently conducting significant unit-to-unit planning and the first few "Currahees" are on the ground to facilitate the changeover.
"Task Force Destiny", 101st CAB, continues to provide the gold standard of aviation support to conventional and special operations forces in RC-East and RC-North. TF Destiny provides the ground force with the flexibility and lethality for both time sensitive and deliberate target sets. The aviation brigade continues a recent partnering initiative with the Afghan Air Force. Mentors from TF Destiny provide tactical and technical advice and procedures to Afghan rotary wing elements to allow them to better support the Afghan National Security Forces across RC-E. Destiny is preparing to conduct a transfer of authority with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and will return to Fort Campbell in May.
I can't talk about progress without also saying we are well aware that many dangers still exist. We are in the early stages of the fighting season -- traditionally the most dangerous time of the year. Although our forces have assumed a primarily advisory role, we still operate daily to ensure we are advising the ANSF at crucial points across the region. As a result, many of our Soldiers still serve directly in harm's way.
This month we mourn the loss of Sgt. Michael Cable, a Bastogne Soldier, who died March 27 while providing security for an advisory team in support of a local council meeting, or Shura, in support of ANSF operations in Nangarhar Province.
Your Screaming Eagles continue to serve proudly and honorably representing the greatest Army in the world. As such, we have already attracted several high visibility visitors. Several Congressional delegations have come to gain a better understanding of our operations and the environment, while also having an opportunity to meet with their constituents. We also hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, and were honored that he took time out of his busy schedule to personally present awards and reenlist some of America's finest service members.
We remain on the offensive here in Afghanistan. Know that we appreciate everything you do to support us and our families.