KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (19 Feb 11) - More than 55 command sergeants major attended the Command Sergeant Major Sustainment and Equipping Conference at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 14-18, either in person or via video telephone conference, to discuss ways to equip Soldiers and improve the equipment available to Soldiers.

The first two days of the conference allowed the leaders from combat units across Afghanistan, Army Material Command, U.S. Army Headquarters and U.S. Central Command to learn from each other by sharing their challenges and successes in theater. The leaders from the states shared their expertise about what their organizations could do for the combatant leaders in theater.

Some of the other topics discussed during the conference ranged from the tactics used by insurgents to ways to improve the Army Direct Ordering system to troops having to hand-carry their Improved Outer Tactical Vest to Kuwait when going on their mid-tour leave so they can have the ballistic plates X-rayed to ensure they are still serviceable.

After the two days of roundtable-style discussion, leaders from outside Afghanistan got the opportunity to traverse the battlefield with regional command sergeants major to gain a better perspective of what leaders and Soldiers are dealing with on a daily basis.

Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca, Regional Command South command sergeant major, hosted three of the leaders, Command Sgt. Maj. Bernard McPherson, Program Executive Officer Soldier; Command Sgt. Maj. Tyrone Johnson, Communications and Electronics Life Cycle Management Command; and Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command.

Although the three guests arrived to the RC-South area of responsibility together, once at Kandahar Airfield they dispersed so they could link up with leaders and Soldiers in their particular area of expertise. Yates linked up with aviation assets on KAF, Johnson traveled to Forward Operating Base Lagman in Uruzgan province, and McPherson spent his two days conducting battlefield circulation with Greca.

On the first day, Greca and McPherson traveled to FOB Wilson where they got the opportunity to speak with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) leaders and Soldiers. During the visit the leaders were given a demonstration on portable mine detectors and the military working dogs and their effectiveness. They also saw static displays of the anti-personnel obstacle breaching systems and mine clearing line charges.

"When I was out there talking to Soldiers I was focusing on how to lighten the load of Soldiers and I was trying to leverage whether the systems they were showing to me were effective despite the weight," McPherson said. "The Soldiers wear and carry about 90-120 pounds and then they have to carry additional equipment. I was interested in whether the equipment we were giving them could be made lighter but still have the same capability."

While he was getting feedback from the Soldiers, McPherson noted that not once did the Soldiers complain about the weight of the equipment because they were happy with the capability the systems provided. The PEO Soldier said that his organization is responsible for most of the items a Soldier wears and uses on a daily basis.

"I wanted to hear directly from the war fighter," McPherson said. "I wanted to know if we are fielding him or her with the appropriate stuff and find out what they need from PEO Soldier. We want to make sure our Soldiers are combat effective."

Feedback from the troops is what drives the process of ensuring the equipment is lighter, better and more technologically advanced, said McPherson.

"Soldiers are always willing to provide feedback because they know that in a year or two they will be using or wearing new equipment," said Johnson.

The next day the duo met up with Johnson at FOB Lagman, which is where they received a 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment Operations and Intelligence Brief.

"I got an opportunity to spend time talking to the leadership and walking around the FOB to look at the systems that we provide support for," said Johnson. "It was a good opportunity for me to go out there to find out the support that is needed. I was able to give them the point of contacts of folks who we have in theater so they don't have to look around and try to figure out how they can get that support."

By moving around the RC-South battle space, it allowed the leaders to gain a perspective about what the terrain looked like, what challenges the warriors have to deal with on a daily basis and what the environmental challenges are.

"We have a lot of young Soldiers out there and we've got to take care of them ... they are our replacements," said Yates. "Even though the Soldiers are tired they understand why they're here and they have no issues being here because they love doing what they're doing. I spoke to a Soldier who is out of here in two days and he went and borrowed a toolbox from somebody so he could to go work on an aircraft, saying, 'I'm working until the day I leave.' Now that's dedication."

Even though they were here only a couple of days, the information they gathered from talking to various leadership and Soldiers was equivalent to nine- to 12-months worth of knowledge to take back, Johnson said.

All three visitors agreed that the highlights of the trip were being able to speak with the war fighters and creating the bonds with their peers during the conference.

For McPherson there was one additional highlight ... being able to be in attendance when RC-South leadership presented a Purple Heart to a Soldier who was injured by an improvised explosive device Feb. 16.

"I had the privilege of accompanying Major General (James) Terry and the CSM to the hospital to present a Purple Heart to a Soldier," McPherson said. "... to see the compassion the division commander showed for the Soldier and to hear the words of encouragement they gave the (Soldier). It was just incredible."