LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, prepare to return to their home station in Fort Stewart, Ga., after a successful mission in eastern Afghanistan.The 3-7 Inf. Bn., known as the Cottonbalers, arrived on Forward Operating Base Shank in March 2013 to serve as the division reserve, or emergency combat element for Combined Joint Task Force-101, operating in support of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Regional Command-East, Afghanistan.Operating as the division reserve was no easy feat. The battalion maintained the ability to move anywhere in RC-East within 24 hours. Each mission was different and posed its own set of challenges.Many missions involved partnered operations with Afghan National Army soldiers including securing a pivotal area for a special operations unit to move into.The mission, which included ANA, 3-7 Infantry soldiers, and Special Operations soldiers, was planned within 24 hours, which made it a tough plan to execute. "This was one of the most complicated missions I have ever been on," said U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Brown, an East Hartford, Conn., native who is on his third deployment and the battalion's fire support sergeant. "The number of assets and ground forces involved was the key to the success of the mission."
After six months as the division's reserve, the Cottonbaler Battalion maneuvered elements to support other operations..Company A, 3-7 Inf., supported 3rd Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., 4th IBCT, to deny the enemies of Afghanistan freedom of movement along Highway 1, a critical route for resupply and movement in Wardak Province and one of the most volatile regions in RC-East.The ANA, with the assistance of Co. A, increased their presence to eliminate enemy activity in the area and denied them accessibility to supplies. ANA commanders commended the efforts of Co. A and praised them for their ability to take the fight to the enemy.In southern Logar Province, Company C, 3-7 Inf., partnered with the ANA, and first targeted an area that went without a Coalition Force presence for over a year. During an operation, Co. C and ANA soldiers entered the area at night to surprise the enemies of Afghanistan. The enemy attempted to mount a counter-offensive which was quickly defeated by U.S. and ANA soldiers working together to surmount the attack.Headquarters Support Company, 3-7 IN, provided support in the form of enablers such as mortars, scouts, maintenance personnel, medical assets, and unmanned aerial vehicles.The HSC's mortar section advised the ANA on the proper use of their mortar systems. The medics provided medical training to the ANA and cared for casualties.Unmanned aerial vehicle operators provided over 500 hours of aerial surveillance to identify enemy activity which directly led to defeating several indirect fire attacks on FOB Shank and prevented the emplacement of improvised explosive devices along roads increasing the safety of Coalition and Afghan forces and Afghan citizens.Co. B, 3-7 Inf., attached to 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th IBCT, provided an essential presence within their area of responsibility augmenting 6-8 Cav's operations.At the culmination of the nine-month tour, the Cottonbalers supported the ANA in one of their most significant missions. The Soldiers advised and assisted the ANA as they conducted clearing operations in the Tangi Valley, known to be a historical safe haven for enemies of Afghanistan.A portion of the Cottonbaler's advise and assist mission entailed air support operations, as this was the first time an Afghan Air Force aircraft supported an Afghan ground operation. The airspace and aircraft were coordinated by new Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators or ATACs for the first time in an operation known as Shaheen II.U.S Army Capt. T.J. Marlatt, a native of Summerville, S.C., and a battalion fire support officer for 3-7 Inf. was on hand to coordinate airspace de-confliction between U.S. and Afghan aircraft with the new ATACs. "Their air-to-ground integration was exceptional and I was very impressed that they had just completed their ATAC course," said Marlatt. "They performed very well for their first operation considering how difficult air to ground integration can be." The ANA and Afghan Air Force were successful in increasing security in the area and pushing enemy fighters back.The Cottonbalers, who earned their nickname when their commander, soon-to-be U.S. President Andrew Jackson, had them hold their position using cotton bales as cover against the British, proved they are just as tough, agile, and disciplined in today's fight as they were then.