By Sgt. Kimberly HackbarthJuly 12, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Following an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, approximately 230 soldiers from 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division "Raiders," returned July 10 to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Among the returning soldiers were Sgt. Maj. David Dougherty and Col. Thomas Cook. The two senior leaders served on one of the brigade's security force assistance teams (SFATs).
SFATs are groups of soldiers who live with, train, and mentor the Afghan National Security Forces, which include the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Air Force, and the different branches of the
Afghan National Police.
The SFATs that belonged to 4th SBCT, 2nd ID during the deployment were comprised of organic members of the unit, augmentees, including Cook, and, often, Army National Guardsmen. Each combat arms unit had an SFAT attached to it for the deployment.
Cook worked in Africa for seven years as an African foreign area officer before joining the SFAT as the coordination cell director in the Spin Boldak District of Afghanistan.
"It was very refreshing to get back to working with the soldiers," said Cook. "I think if there's anything that I'm taking from this personally, (it) is the satisfaction (of) being able to see the hard work that the soldiers put in to their assigned mission."
Dougherty came to the brigade straight out of the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon arrival in Afghanistan in November 2012, he became the command sergeant major mentor for 1st Brigade, 205th Afghan National Army Corps.
The experience of working on an SFAT was a good one, he said.
"The ANA work hard. (They have) got a lot at stake in their country and it shows daily," said Dougherty. "For us, being able to assist them in growing their capability capacity to be a successful army as we start our withdrawal from their country was very beneficial and gratifying."
He said he saw a visible difference in the army.
"I was in Afghanistan in 2004," said Dougherty. "It was a different army when we got back there in 2012."
Cook said he saw a transformation in a shorter amount of time.
"I truly believe that you can see a significant difference in their capabilities to be better prepared to conduct their security mission within their assigned areas of the Spin Boldak District," said Cook. "Whether it be running checkpoints or named operations, I think you saw a significant difference between when we first arrived and when the (SFATs) departed."
When it came to redeployment, the two men had differing emotions about being back on American soil.
Cook said, for him, the return was bittersweet. It was a joy to be able to see progress being made in Afghanistan and being able to work with soldiers again.
Returning to his pre-deployment job means less interaction with soldiers, he said. However, he is happy to be back with his family in the United States where it is green.
Dougherty said he views the traveling associated with deployments as part of his work and not as emotional as being able to see his wife and children.
"Get me off this ... plane, that's all we're thinking when we landed," he laughed.
Now that they have returned, the soldiers organic to the Raider Brigade will go back to their respective battalions. Meanwhile, augmentees will go to their parent units or go to follow-on assignments.
Cook is slated to report to the Pentagon Joint Staff in the Africa Division of the Strategic Plans and Policy section. Dougherty is slated to take over as a battalion command sergeant major in Vicenza, Italy.
The brigade's remaining soldiers will return to JBLM throughout the end of July and early August.