By 1st Lt. Tyler DovelApril 2, 2013
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - With the 1st Engineer Battalion's deployment roughly halfway complete, the Diehard soldiers reflect on their time in theater, and the impact they have had at this critical time as Operation Enduring Freedom begins to enter its final days.
The Diehards are no strangers to making a mark on history; the battalion colors proudly boast 67 campaign streamers and awards. At the onset of World War I, the battalion was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, under whom they served in both World Wars, as well as Vietnam. In late 2007, in response to the ever-shifting modern battlefield, the 1st Eng. Bn. was reassigned to the 555th Engineer Brigade, while still attached to the division.
Today, for the first time, the Battalion will be serving in a combat theater under both of its parent units.
Within Task Force Diehard's area of operations are the major routes of Highway 1 and Highway 7. Highway 1 in Wardak province is part of Afghanistan's famous "ring road" that serves as a major thoroughfare for the entire country. Highway 7 stretches from TF Diehard's area out to the east, running to Torkham Gate, the busiest border point between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both of these roads are critical for coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan, and it is up to TF Diehard to keep them open.
The Battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) has been busy running the show. From the soldiers in the tactical operations center, coordinating simultaneous missions, to the supply personnel pushing equipment out to the troops on the battlefield, they continue their busy and often thankless jobs.
Sgt. 1st Class Karen Bobbit, the battalion contracting officer, spoke of her contact with the local Afghans.
"The reality of war wasn't actually real to me until now," she said. "Overall, the people here are no different than us; they love their country and want a good life."
As HHC continues to look to the future, Sgt. Curtis Rose, a communications sergeant, commented that, "from the beginning of the deployment to now, we have made so many improvements that it will make things easier for future units."
The Forward Support Company has been busy meeting the logistical support needs of the battalion. Based out of Forward Operating Base Shank, the FSC soldiers have worked long hours into the night keeping the unit's fleet of vehicles running, as well as transporting much needed supplies to the Engineers on the battlefield.
The 41st Clearance Company is making their second trip to Afghanistan on this deployment. They have been conducting patrols out of FOB Airborne along Highway 1. By the end of 2012, 41st Co. has cleared 3,000 km of road, with over 550 hours on patrol.
Spc. John Kirby, the tactical operations center day shift noncommissioned officer, talked about how he stays busy at work and uses his off-hours to go to the gym and run.
"Days are just rolling along, going pretty much how I expected it to," he stated. "Keep praying and we'll be home soon."
The 111th Sapper Company has been operating under Task Force Prowler at Combat Outpost Zormat in the Paktya province. Directly supporting the 1-187 Infantry in their efforts to assist and strengthen the Afghan National Army in the area, they have completed 57 clearance missions in 2012, covering more than 2,200 km of road. They report that motivation is high, and have continued to train and build their Soldier skills while not on mission.
Spc. Todd Cram, who was on a team that destroyed a cave used as a local insurgent hideout, stated,
"Things have been pretty quiet. Everyone is doing great out here. We're building a good family out here, but we can't wait to come back home to our families."
Also tasked to TF Prowler, the 72nd Mobile Augmentation Company, currently operating out of FOB Sharana, has been conducting clearance missions to support supply convoys in their area, getting materials and equipment through lesser traveled roads in the mountainous terrain. They have so far completed 52 missions, clearing 4,000 km of road under TF Prowler, with some of their missions being partnered with Afghan Army units.
"We get a lot of support from the other units," stated Spc. Kyle Cullinan, a combat medic. "You learn a lot from them."
The 264th Clearance Company, based out of FOB Fenty in the Nangarhar province, has been keeping busy clearing Highway 7. In addition to their responsibilities on Highway 7, they have also conducted missions in the Kunar province, clearing out many side-routes to hinder insurgent forces from keeping a presence in the area, totaling almost 6,000 km of road cleared. The company has also worked with an Afghan route clearance company, helping to train the Afghan soldiers in their mission.
For Spc. Elijah McIntosh, the company armorer, the building techniques employed by the local populace has impressed him.
"Everything that is here," he said, "the locals make with nothing more than bricks they make themselves in the sun."
This isn't the first deployment for Staff Sgt. Nativo Rodriguez, a squad leader in the 264th, who echoed the same sentiments.
"I have enjoyed my time being in the military, as I have met some outstanding people from different cultures and backgrounds," he said. "As they say there is always good times and bad times, but for the most part the good times have been more than rewarding in my lifetime in the military, and I would not change a thing."
The 102nd Sapper Company, located at FOB Shank, has conducted several missions on main coalition routes in the FOB's vicinity. After falling under TF Diehard, they have spent over 550 hours on patrol, clearing 3,000 km. The company has also directed its efforts in assisting an Afghan route clearance company in the area.
Two of the 102nd soldiers, Spc. Corie Dunning and Spc. Jeffrey McKnight, recall one patrol where they administered first aid to a local girl who had injured her foot.
"I realized how rewarding it is to be able to make a positive impact on the lives of these people we fight to protect every day," said Dunning.
The 289th Vertical Construction Company, from Mississippi and stationed at FOB Shank, had completed work on Highway 1's Salang Tunnel in the north just before falling under TF Diehard's command. Since then, they have completed three major construction projects on Fenty and the surrounding combat outposts, increasing housing capabilities and protective structures.
The 289th also has two teams that have been assisting Afghan engineer companies, providing them with instruction to help facilitate their construction missions.
Staff Sgt. Tommie Turner reflected on the deployment, saying:
"We the people of the United States of America are truly blessed. I miss my family, but I'm proud to be able to help others."
Other soldiers echoed his thoughts.
"It has been an experience that will always remain with me," said Spc. Odessa Kirkwood. "The important thing is to adapt and overcome. I know that some things happen to make you better."
The 857th Horizontal Construction Company has performed numerous projects on and around FOB Shank, including constructing an anti-tank ditch, repairing craters, and it has led the way for the task force with the reduction in equipment and materials in Afghanistan in preparation for the eventual departure of U.S. Forces.
The 857th also employs a training team assisting an Afghan engineer company, and recently helped them set up 27 tent-pads on their camp to increase their housing capabilities.
Spc. Howze Christian, originally an automatic logistics specialist, is one of the soldiers tasked to the company's crater repair team.
"I've gotten good on some of the equipment we use out here," he said. "I'd like to go out on more missions."
He said he keeps in contact with and is supported by his family back home.
"I love you, and I'll see you all in a few months."
Despite their accomplishments and hard work on which they can reflect, the Diehard soldiers continue to look to the future. As TF Diehard moves forward with the deployment, each company continues to strive for excellence and is prepared to deliver the same degree of success in 2013.