Commander provides update from Afghanistan
September 15, 2011
Ahead of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. commander of the International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan offered a progress report from the place where al-Qaida once operated with impunity, reminding Americans to never forget why troops are there.
"This is where it started, that's why we're here." said Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, Regional Command South and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, during a live video teleconference Friday from his headquarters at Kandahar Airfield. "Let's never forget … (those) who died on 9/11, nor the ones who have sacrificed over the last 10 years."
Terry, who has commanded coalition forces in Kandahar since last November, announced the 10th Mountain Division (LI) would turn over command of RC-South to Maj. Gen. Jim L. Huggins, 82nd Airborne Division commander, on Oct. 2.
"We are returning home in about 22 days," he said. "The (Soldiers) are coming home proud. From a division headquarters level, I'm very proud of everything they have accomplished. I think it's a pretty positive chapter in this history of Afghanistan."
Along with depriving mid- and senior-level Taliban leadership of the ability to conduct coordinated large-scale attacks at will, Terry said a lot has been accomplished over the past year, but significant work remains.
"We believe we have set up the 82nd Airborne Division … to take this momentum that we have built here in Regional Command South and take it up to the next level," he said.
The commander noted the 10th Mountain Division (LI) was the last part of the surge of troops sent to Afghanistan in 2010. Since then, as security has expanded throughout key terrain and governance has begun taking root at the district level, coalition forces have established "home-field advantage," he said.
He also said he was proud of the increasing competence of the Afghan National Security Forces.
"I guess the most visible sign is the freedom of movement on all the highways and the roads," Terry said. "We simply did not see the amount of people and vehicle traffic along the roads when we first got here. When you fly out on a Friday night, the city is very well lighted, and I'm always amazed at the string of cars that are coming back from the Arghandab River."
The general praised the work of 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 4th Brigade Combat Team in Regional Command East as well as 3rd Brigade Combat Team's efforts in the Zhari and Maywand districts of southern Afghanistan.
Terry said troops throughout RC-South would take part in small but meaningful remembrance ceremonies to mark the anniversary of 9/11. Afghan security partners, who also have "sacrificed immensely" since 9/11, he said, were invited to attend the ceremonies as well.
The RC-South commander acknowledged the difficult costs of war on Soldiers and Family Members. He said the unfortunate reality that may come with a warrior's profession is being wounded or killed.
"To those Families who have (lost) a loved one, I offer my heartfelt condolences and gratitude," he said. "Please know that your loved ones will always be in my thoughts and prayers and will hold a place in my heart for their service and commitment. We must never ever let those fallen Soldiers be forgotten."
While considering the impact of the division's past year in Kandahar, Terry couldn't help but reflect on the division's role in the war on terrorism since 9/11.
"I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that in two days we will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks."
People who live in the North Country "realize the role and the sacrifices made by the Soldiers and Family Members of the 10th Mountain Division since then," Terry said, "not just in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and several other regions around the world.
"(Sept. 11, 2001) certainly reshaped the last 10 years of my life," he added. "We have seen a lot of changes in the way we do business, not just the 10th Mountain Division, but the Army also. (For me), it's probably the most significant 10 years (of change) in almost 34 years in the Army."
The commander pointed out that division headquarters is currently completing its fifth combat deployment since 9/11 -- its fourth to Afghanistan.
The accelerated operational tempo of fighting two wars drove Fort Drum to be at the leading edge of the Army's transformation away from what was a "linear, Cold War doctrine" construct, he said.
"Much of the challenge over this time period has really fallen more and more on (Soldiers) at the small-unit level," he said. "I got to tell you … these Soldiers are my personal heroes. They are dealing with the deployments in a way that I didn't conceive of when I was back at Fort Drum in 2006.
"They understand the mission," he added. "I think that's important to them. I think when the mission is of value, that's significant."
In addition to Soldiers, high on the general's list of admirable members of the Army community are the Family Members and loved ones who support them.
"The high op tempo drives a cost," he said. "A lot of our Soldiers have been separated from their Families for 12 months, and in some cases up to 16 months.
That leaves those Families who are left behind to manage everything that goes on during these deployments and all the while concerned about their loved one."
That's why post services and community support is so vital for Fort Drum Families, he said.
"Soldiers are a lot more comfortable when they are deployed knowing their Families are taken care of," he said. "I think we have developed a very healthy and highly functioning rear detachment support base back (at Fort Drum). We have tremendous family support and networks that you don't see in a lot of other places.
"Our installation programs for the Families are first-class," he added. "I think we're leading the Army there."
Admitting he's "a little biased," Terry is quick to classify Fort Drum as the best installation and supporting staff that he has seen in the Army.
"I think a lot of people who get to Fort Drum really just like (it) … and the North Country community, because it has a great small-town atmosphere where you really feel safe," said Terry, a Georgia native. "My children consider Fort Drum their second home."
He took a moment to also thank local community members for their unwavering support of Soldiers and Families during a decade of war.
"(The support) has been tremendous and, frankly, humbling," he said. "Like I have told everybody quite often, it takes more than just Fort Drum (to operate successfully); it takes that North Country community out there reaching out to our Soldiers."
Terry, who was recently nominated for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and an assignment with U.S. Army Europe, said he will undoubtedly miss northern New York.
"Fort Drum is the warmest place I know, because it comes from the heart, and the heart of Fort Drum is the community that surrounds it," he said. "I think I'll miss the community more than anything and all the close personal relationships we have."
Upon returning from Afghan-istan, Terry will relinquish command of the division to Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, who currently serves as deputy director of operations at the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C.