JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Eleven and a half hours and half a planet may separate Lt. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, I Corps commander, from his headquarters building at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but when speaking to the media via satellite on matters such as his troops and their role in Afghanistan, he was anything but distant Oct. 20.

"It's been good to get back here and see the progress that's been made since I had left Afghanistan a little over a year ago," Scaparrotti said, who deployed to lead International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, while also taking the helm of deputy commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, last July.

Scaparrotti was joined by approximately 560 I Corps Soldiers for the summer deployment, whom he said are spread throughout Afghanistan, but a majority are deployed locally with him in the eastern part of the country.

"I Corps Soldiers are playing a key role in degrading the enemy, denying insurgents safe havens, training Afghani security forces and protecting American lives here and at home," he said. "I want to express my appreciation for the entire I Corps Family. To the parents, spouses and children, thank you for your sacrifice to remain steadfast in the face of many challenges.

"(I Corps Soldiers') morale is very good. They know they're making a difference and they know this mission is important. They've fit in very well; that adds to their morale and it certainly adds to mine."

As commander of ISAF Joint Command and deputy commander of USFOR-A, Scaparrotti directs day-to-day operations for coalition military efforts throughout the country and said I Corps is currently serving as the core of ISAF headquarters. Embarked on his second deployment to Afghanistan, he said the country continues to evolve.

"Over the past decade, significant advances have been made in Afghanistan, especially since the 'surge' of 2009 and 2010" he said, speaking of the "surge" led by retired Gen. David Petraeus, USFOR-A commander until his retirement in July to become CIA director. "Since 2002, the Afghan GDP has grown by 12 percent a year on average. More than five times as many children are now in school, and while there's still a need to improve health care, access has greatly increased today; nearly 85 percent of Afghans have basic health care within one hour of where they live."

He said the achievements displayed by Afghani government and its security forces continue
to impress him, even since his recent departure from Afghanistan in June 2010 when he served as 82nd Airborne Division and Combined Joint Task Force-76 commander.

"There are now more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces (servicemembers) throughout the country and they're conducting operations on a daily basis," he said. "A majority of all coalition operations are partnered with Afghan security forces, and increasingly it's the Afghans that are in the lead.

"I see improved leaders throughout the ANSF, particularly those who are leading at corps and brigade levels. The ones at platoon levels have been through branch schools, something that didn't exist 12 to 15 months ago."

Last summer Scaparrotti succeeded Petraeus as ISAF commander, and serves as deputy to Marine Gen. John Allen, who succeeded Petraeus as USFOR-A commander. He said he felt he and Allen saw eye-to-eye from the outset and believe in the value of "seamlessly" maintaining the operational tempo put in motion under Petraeus' command.

Also, speaking just hours after ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had been captured, he added that while his focus remains on Afghanistan, he felt the desires of the Libyan people aren't unlike the desires of most human beings.

"I think all people desire some sort of representative government," he said. "It's what the Afghanis want here. They want representation. They want security and they want some form of justice. It's pretty basic and to the extent that their government can provide that ... they will support it whole heartedly."

While he said improvements encourage him daily, he also stressed being resilient in dealing with the challenges which lie ahead, not only for coalition forces, but for the success of Afghanistan as an independent nation.

"This winter we'll continue to put pressure on the enemy and focus on expanding our gains," he said. "We'll continue to develop Afghan National Security Forces and they'll take the lead wherever they are ready. Our campaign is not just about military operations; it's about creating the right conditions and opportunities for the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan to be successful and have a better life."