FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Army Space Support Team 5 recently returned from a deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of the ongoing NATO-led Operation Resolute Support - a train, advise and assist mission in the country that began in 2015.
As the mission in Afghanistan winds down and more service personnel are gradually being withdrawn from the country, ARSST 5 also happened to be the final ARRST team to deploy there after almost two decades of support from rotating teams.
“As we closed down the theater, we had to train people to learn pieces of our job,” said Maj. David Maddaford, ARRST 5 officer in charge. “We had to identify those people, educate them, and then watch them be successful as we were exiting, because we were the last of our kind.”
Maddaford said one of the team’s biggest initial challenges was to get the newly-formed Information Warfare Task Force-Afghanistan, led by Army Special Operations Command, to utilize the team’s resources. Once they did, ARSST 5 planned and coordinated operations for Afghanistan district and provincial centers, police and army checkpoints, convoy operations and vehicle recovery operations.
Additionally, the six-man team, from 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade, did everything from advising their higher command on all-things space to construction projects like the building of a sensitive compartmented information facility used to process classified information.
The team said they were doing things they were not exactly trained to do and had to adapt quickly upon arrival.
“I always enjoy being deployed,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Cheek, a geospatial intelligence noncommissioned officer on the team, who previously deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2017. “You might not even be doing your craft, but you have to find your niche.”
Cheek and his fellow Soldier Sgt. Jeffrey Farr, deputy Special Technical Operations chief of the team, who was in charge of satellite classified programs, said the team used space-based assets to locate an American Air Force pilot that had crashed in the country and to locate improvised explosive devices along convoy routes.
“Being able to figure out what space can provide in those types of situations is quite the learning experience,” Farr said. “Once we proved what we could do as a team, they (SOCOM) really used us.”
Another challenge the team overcame was losing its two highest ranking noncommissioned officers two months into the deployment after they went home for the birth of their children, Maddaford said.
“My other two enlisted guys stepped up bigtime and fulfilled the roles of the noncommissioned officer-in-charge and his deputy,” Maddaford said. “They quickly had to grow up, learn the mission and speak to generals and hardened ground commanders who had been there awhile.”
These are same generals who witnessed the U.S. sign a peace treaty with the Taliban in late February after nearly two decades of war. Because of this the team said there were no attacks against the base during their deployment.
“Things were pretty quiet,” Farr said. “We had it good compared to years past. Good food, good housing – it was a small camp, but the facilities were nice.”
Col. Brian Bolio, commander of 1st Space Brigade, said ARRSTs have been utilized in Afghanistan since 2001 and praised their importance for the tenure of their time in theater.
“To me their biggest accomplishment is taking highly classified and technical capabilities and integrating them into the war fight,” he said. “These teams are our experts, and they are able to speak in the language of the warfighter to affect the battlespace. While other brigade units specialize in a particular mission area, this diverse and extremely talented team is on the hook to know it all and be able to integrate it into maneuver and fires at the tactical level. Space- based missile warning, GPS optimization for precision fires, navigation, satellite communications, electronic warfare, navigational warfare, you name it.”
With the final ARRST having completed their mission, Bolio hopes they will be remembered not necessarily as “space Soldiers,” but as Soldiers who filled an important role just like any others in the fight. “I want them to be remembered as bold and ready Soldiers,” he said. “They were reliable teammates who had a tangible impact on the success of our operations since the (World Trade Center) towers fell in 2001.”