By Staff Sgt. Neysa CanfieldJune 23, 2018
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- With every training exercise, mission, deployment or just a daily task, Soldiers add another page to their organization's history.
1st Sgt. Branden Velazquez, senior enlisted leader, Company A, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, has spent 12 years of his 15-year career imparting his contributions to 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team
"War Horse," 4th Infantry Division's history.
In 2003, a young fresh-faced infantryman arrived in South Korea and reported to Company B, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, then 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Little did he know of the massive changes his unit would experience.
Within a year, he saw his unit deploy from Korea to Iraq but instead of returning back to Korea, the 1st Bn., 506th Inf. Reg., sent him to Fort Carson to be part of the 2nd IBCT, he said.
However, before he and his fellow Soldiers could get too comfortable with the change, more change was on the horizon.
"In 2006, I left with the unit for a 15-month deployment, and when we came back, we reflagged as the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and
(prepared) to head to Korangal (Valley in eastern Afghanistan) in 2009."
After deploying three times, with what is now the War Horse Brigade and working his way from a young private to a seasoned sergeant first class,
Velazquez managed to squeeze in a stint at the U.S. Army Ranger School.
The bonafide ranger-tab-wearing senior NCO went on to be an instructor at the 5th Ranger Training Battalion in Fort Benning, Georgia, and
after three years of training rangers, he returned to Fort Carson.
"In retrospect, being and having history with this unit has definitely
given me a lot of opportunities," said Velazquez. "I think it's the best
organization in the Army. It has some of the greatest officers, senior NCOs and Soldiers I have ever met."
With six deployments now under his belt, all with the same organization,
Velazquez said he takes it upon himself to share the examples set by the stellar NCOs who gave the ultimate sacrifice and his own personal experience to instill unit pride in his younger Soldiers.
"All the names of the fallen Soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment (company operations facility) are my friends," he said. "I can tell and share the stories of who Sgt. Martinez, Staff Sgt. Montgomery, and Sgt. Moon were with my Soldiers and help them understand my
expectations of what a Soldier is."
The battalion needs and embraces having an experienced senior NCO, like
Velazquez, who has been part of both 12th Inf. Reg. battalions, said Command Sgt. Maj. Vincent Simonetti, senior enlisted leader, 1st Bn., 12th Inf. Reg.
"I rely on 1st Sgt. Velazquez to train and lead Soldiers, because of
his well-rooted combat and training experience," said Simonetti. "He is
exceptionally gifted and brings out the best in our organization and in each individual Soldier in his formation."
Simonetti said Velazquez's combat experience is extremely important,
especially during a time when the primary mission for the brigade is
to train and advise Afghan security forces and assist in counterterrorism
operations as part of the Train, Advise, Assist Command-South.
"He understands what it takes to fight and win in combat, and he is able
to impart that knowledge to not only his Soldiers, but to our NATO allies and coalition partners," Simonetti said.
Witnessing the progressive changes in Afghanistan since 2009 when he first deployed to the country has been a great experience, said Velazquez.
"Seeing the improved infrastructure and the way the Afghan army and
police train and fight is monumental," he said. "It motivates me to see how far they have come to complete their mission and regain control of their country, and to see that (my Soldiers) are assisting in this process is what I try to convey in them to take pride in."
Velazquez has served 15 years in the Army and plans to retire at 20 years, and complete graduate school to become a physician assistant.
Until then, he said he plans to continue leading his Soldiers by example.
"The Army and this unit are very near and dear to my heart, so I owe it
to both organizations to be the best that I can be and lead and mentor the next generation of leaders," he said.