8th TSC troops take engineer lead in Afghanistan
October 3, 2013
By U.S. Army Capt. Spencer Garrison
Joint Task Force Triple Nickel Public Affairs
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - "In every sense, this is a legacy built to last," said Col. Nicholas Katers, as he reflected on his unit's mission in Afghanistan.
It's a mission complete for the team he commands from the 555th Engineer Brigade Headquarters - they're now heading home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
For the past nine months, the 555th has served as Joint Task Force Triple Nickel, leading a 5,000-strong U.S. Theater Engineer Brigade supporting NATO's International Security Assistance Force throughout Afghanistan.
Coalition forces looked to JTF Triple Nickel for a critical triad of engineering needs, including training Afghan National Army engineer units, construction and deconstruction projects, and removal of enemy roadside bombs along key roadways.
Now that engineer mission falls on new shoulders, as the Hawaii-based 130th Engineer Brigade, JTF Sapper, has arrived to take over the Theater Engineer Brigade.
"The 555th Engineer Brigade has done amazing things here over the past nine months," said Col. Diana Holland, commander of the 130th. "It has been a pleasure working with them as we prepared to deploy and now that we assume the lead."
The formal transfer of authority from the 555th to the 130th took place Oct. 2 at the engineer headquarters here, as the Triple Nickel team cased its unit colors for the long trip home. JTF Sapper then unfurled their own colors, officially marking the start of their mission.
The keynote speaker, Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, Deputy Commanding General of Separates, thanked the Triple Nickel and encouraged the incoming 130th team, describing how the engineer branch motto, "Essayons" (Let Us Try), speaks to the sense of dedication and unified effort exemplified by the Theater Engineer Brigade.
As Katers and his staff hand off the mission, they also want to hand off a positive, lasting legacy, a substantive record of progress and development on which the new team can build.
The numbers suggest they are well on their way, with visible progress in each aspect of the Theater Engineer Brigade's mission.
With coalition mentorshp, including training and support from JTF Triple Nickel, more than 40 ANA engineer companies now operate independently, including route clearance units, and five construction battalions have also been established. These construction units have already built and improved Afghan roads and facilities throughout the country, helping ensure that Afghan forces can build, protect, and sustain their own infrastructure, especially after the drawdown of coalition forces. The next big step for the 130th will be to advise and assist Afghanistan's first-ever National Engineer Brigade, scheduled to form this winter.
The 555th managed more than 240 construction projects, totaling more than $40 million in value, to support the draw down and consolidation of coalition forces. The brigade also established and managed small-repair teams which completed well over 100 health and safety-related projects (such as plumbing and electrical fixes) for smaller bases across Afghanistan, helping fill the gap in essential services as contractors draw down.
JTF Triple Nickel's ongoing route clearance mission led to the discovery and safe removal of over 300 enemy-emplaced improvised explosive devices from key roadways across the theater, thanks to the continued efforts of more than 30 route clearance patrols operating under the brigade. This has helped protect the lives of both coalition forces and the Afghan populace, both targeted by IEDs.
Soldiers of the 130th Headquarters Company express excitement and confidence as they take the reins of the Theater Engineer Brigade.
"I feel pretty confident overall," said Spc. Jaymz Smith of Sanger, Calif., an intelligence analyst for JTF Sapper. "When you have guys who are giving 100 percent to everything they do, things tend to get done pretty effectively."
Smith is excited to experience all aspects of his job in a deployed setting, but admits he'll miss hunting and scuba diving back home, and will most of all miss his fiancée Andrea.
Meanwhile the homeward bound soldiers of Triple Nickel are anxious to return to their families.
Sgt. Taylor Read, assigned to the 555th Engineer Brigade command group, is one of several soldiers in the company who had to miss the birth of a child while out here, but now the father of three from Salt Lake City is only days away from reuniting with his wife, Kaitlin, and meeting two-month-old Ariana for the very first time.
"I'm beyond excited," Read said. "My family means everything to me," he added - a feeling no doubt shared by many soldiers in the 555th, 130th, and throughout Afghanistan.