By Todd Oliver, 7th Army Joint Multinational Readiness CenterSeptember 23, 2009
HOHENFELS, Germany - Soldier's of Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry (1-4) in Hohenfels, Germany, arrived home Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, after returning from an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We worked with both the local Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, as well as, with local leaders," said Staff Sgt. Azhar Sher, from Maryland, a squad leader with the unit. "We worked toward building better relations with local leaders.
The 1-4 is the only conventional unit in the U.S. Army to maintain a continual presence in Afghanistan. Since 2004, it deploys a company-size unit, during each International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) rotation, during which, they are attached to the Romanian Land Forces serving in Afghanistan's Zabul province. Their mission is part of an ongoing joint partnership between the two countries in support of NATO.
"The best part was the interaction with the local population," said Staff Sgt. Muhammandun Abdallah, also a squad leader, from Chicago. "Our previous deployments were more combat-oriented. This time we were able to focus more on working with the local civilian population."
Although the continual presence in Afghanistan helps the people there, the 1-4 also adds realism to the training mission at home station. When not deployed, the 1-4 serves as the opposing forces at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, passing down lessons-learned downrange to Soldier preparing for future deployments.
As if in synch, both squad leaders said the hardest part of deployment was dealing with the threat of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and the violence.
"By working with the local key leaders they would many times provide us with intelligence about possible improvised explosive devices," said Sher. "Many, many times they gave us intelligence that led to our discovering those IEDs."
Sometimes the locals even went out and show them where the IEDs were located, said Sher.
"It was the same in our area of operations. We focused very heavily on key leader engagements... building those relationships paid off," said Abdallah. "The hardest part was trying to react to warnings from the local leaders, often times we would be unable to react in time to those warnings...by the time we got there the Taliban had fled."
For Capt. Jason Basilides, from Virginia, second platoon leader, it was the best of both worlds. Being so isolated had both its perks and its drawbacks.
"We were a platoon all by ourselves. We had a squad of eight Afghan National Army Soldiers that worked with us," said Basilides. "It was both training and an operational mission. But one of the hardest parts was the logistics, we were very isolated, and everything that we got had to come by air, either by helicopter or by parachute or sometimes it would not come at all."
But he said isolation also came with its benefits.
"I had almost complete autonomy, more than a typical platoon leader would have had. Normally you work very closely with the other platoons in the company but there we were so spread out we had the ability to act on our own," he said.
After completing reintegration training, Bravo Company will be taking leave to visit with friends and family or to just relax. But not before knowing that their experiences in Afghanistan have brought them first-hand, personal knowledge of today's tactics, techniques and procedures, as well the current battlefield trends as they relate to both U.S., allied and combatant forces deploying there. Well-learned lessons they can pass on to others.