Experience earned and shared
November 13, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq- Much is expected of non-commissioned officers serving in a combat zone. From leading Soldiers on dangerous patrols to conducting training for individual Soldier growth, NCOs are expected to do a little bit of everything.
For Staff Sgt. Allan Huhn, a Westville, N.J., native and a squad leader with the 218th Military Police Company, previous combat experiences and dedication to his Soldiers help him better accomplish his unique responsibilities.
While most missions in Iraq are run at a platoon level, with a junior commissioned officer platoon leader that plans and directs missions, and a platoon sergeant-normally a sergeant first class-resourcing and executing; some special groups, such as MPs, have to operate on a much smaller level, with individual squads within a platoon conducting missions independently.
For Staff Sgt. Huhn, this means he is not only responsible for handling the normal duties of an NCO: mentoring Soldiers, leading training, inspecting equipment, and much more; but he also has to plan and lead his own missions with the support of his squad.
"It's a lot of responsibility placed on a staff sergeant," said Staff Sgt. Huhn. "It definitely makes you grow up quick."
But professional growth for Staff Sgt. Huhn is not a big problem. His skills had already been tempered and tested during his previous two deployments to Iraq as an NCO.
His first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom was in 2004, where he was stationed in Baghdad performing route reconnaissance, route security and convoy escort.
During that deployment Staff Sgt. Huhn was engaged by the enemy on several occasions and was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions during one of these encounters.
According to Staff Sgt. Huhn, his truck was hit by a large improvised explosive device, which instantly killed his gunner and wounded his platoon sergeant in the rear of the vehicle. After assessing the situation, and under heavy fire from an enemy element, he began to remove the casualties from the burning vehicle and returned fire, keeping those around him safe until reinforcements could arrive on the scene.
Staff Sgt. Huhn returned to Baghdad in 2006, where his duties changed to assisting Iraqi National Police at checkpoints and training IP as part of a police transition team.
Staff Sgt. Huhn was again exposed to enemy attacks on multiple occasions, surviving IED blasts, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and grenades.
"I can honestly say I've been through almost everything," he said.
But all this has only served to assist Huhn develop as a NCO.
"Every situation helped me learn, and gave me confidence in myself," he said. "Nothing can replace experience."
And the experience from these two deployments is something Staff Sgt. Huhn uses to help educate the Soldiers in his squad.
"I use past experience and stories to help these guys understand and really make [my point] hit home," he explained.
According to Staff Sgt. Huhn, this has helped him teach the Soldiers in his squad what it takes to be both a good MP and a good Soldier.
"Even though we are going out with the IP every day, my first job is still these guys," he said about his Soldiers. "Something might happen to take me out of the equation, and these guys need to be able to survive without me."
For the Soldiers under him, these lessons have not gone unheard.
"He's helped me grow as a Soldier," said Spc. Richard Davidson, a Romulus, Mich., native and a military police Soldier in Staff Sgt. Huhn's squad. "He's given me advice on nearly every aspect of my life."
According to Davidson, Staff Sgt. Huhn has helped instill in him the Army values, and has helped him develop his skills as an MP.
Staff Sgt. Huhn also took Davidson "under his wing" and assisted him in losing excess weight by helping him develop an exercise plan and teaching him the value of eating right.
"Probably one of the biggest parts of this job is mentoring Soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Huhn.
"I want to help build them up as leaders," he said. "Part of the Army is helping them understand more about what we do and why we do it."
"A lot of the times what I do is put them in the lead," he said. This consists of taking his team leaders and putting them in his position, letting them plan and execute missions under his supervision. He also tries to put junior Soldiers in roles of increasing responsibility to help them prepare for becoming NCOs.
All this mentorship has already paid off in Staff Sgt. Huhn's eyes.
"I think if we were going to [be attacked] I wouldn't want to have anybody else than my guys," he said.
And on at least 12 different occasions this year, his squad has responded to enemy contact, and Staff Sgt. Huhn was proud to say they performed well each time.
But his Soldiers aren't the only ones benefiting from his mentorship.
According to Staff Sgt. Huhn, he and his squad have worked with Iraqi Police on a regular basis since their arrival in Iraq earlier this year. They have already been involved in training IP in numerous policing tasks including: vehicle searches, weapons cleaning, investigative training, weapons ranges, sensitive items inventories, detainee abuse prevention, fingerprinting, community policing and basic medical skills, to name a few.
Staff Sgt. Huhn also regularly supports missions of the IP at their request.
"We sit back and let them do the missions, and we observe and mentor them," he said. "We just try to help out wherever we can."
Staff Sgt. Huhn said he has noticed a difference between this deployment and his last.
"Now it is more about letting them [IP] do their jobs, and we just act as an overwatch."
Staff Sgt. Huhn will continue to work closely with the IP through the rest of this deployment, which will end during the early part of next year.