KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Dec. 17, 2009) -- The Secretary of the Army got a first-hand look at Soldiers and their mission in southern Afghanistan during his fifth visit here and first as the Army's top leader yesterday.

"As always, the troops are absolutely incredible," said the Honorable John McHugh. "We all as Americans can be very, very proud of our military and the United States Army."

McHugh's intent behind the visit was to see for himself how the troops are doing, to ask them how they feel about their evolving mission, and to ensure they have the supplies, training, and equipment necessary to succeed.

In addition to meeting with Soldiers at Kandahar, McHugh flew to Forward Operating Base Sweeney in the Shinkay district of Zabul province.

At the headquarters for 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, commanded by Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, McHugh heard from troops how they will adapt to the strategy recently announced by President Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan. McHugh said the Army is "on a good path" and felt "very positive" after visiting with the unit.

During a visit with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade based at Fort Bragg, N.C., Soldiers manning the operations center had the opportunity to speak directly to the secretary about how they support the mission. Of particular interest was the brigade's ability to medically evacuate wounded Soldiers from the battlefield to combat support hospitals in a timely manner.

More air assets have been allocated to Afghanistan in the last year to reduce the elapsed "medevac" time.

"It's good for the troops to be able to tell the Secretary what they do," said Lt. Col. David Jernigan, acting brigade commander. The 82nd CAB has attack, assault, reconnaissance, medical evacuation, cargo, command and control and airspace management capabilities.

McHugh then left for Forward Operating Base Sweeney in one of the 82nd CAB's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, where he met with members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Commanded by Col. Brian M. Drinkwine, the unit works side-by-side with the Afghan National Army's 1st Kandak (Battalion), 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps.

At FOB Sweeney and other bases across the sparsely populated Zabul province, U.S. Soldiers mentor and train with their Afghan partners.

"That's a key to success here," said McHugh, referring to the partnership. Subsequently, he observed a "key leader engagement" of NATO and Afghan senior leaders. The commander of Regional Command - South (RC-S), British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, met with Zabul provincial governor Muhammad Ashraf Naseri, 205th Corps (Afghan) commander Lt. Gen. Zasi, and other military and civilian leaders including U.S. Brig. Gen. Frederick "Ben" Hodges, RC-S director of operations.

The secretary heard the Afghans express concern that the recently announced change of mission there would result in a decrease in security and a subsequent suspension of developmental projects. The Afghan leaders discussed current limitations in providing security for the people of their province, and Carter assured them of his commitment to continue their collaboration.

McHugh left with a positive impression about the way forward. "I wish every citizen in the nation could have a chance to come here and see the great sacrifices - great achievements - these brave men and women make on our behalf, virtually every minute of every day."