By Mollie Miller, 1st Inf. Div. Public AffairsOctober 31, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Oct. 31, 2011 -- Pockets of Taliban forces in Afghanistan are quickly losing strength in the face of an increasingly war weary Afghan population and decreasing resources and capabilities, two Fort Riley commanders said recently.
"We are separating the insurgency from the people, eroding their resources and hindering their capabilities," Lt. Col. Michael Katona, commander of 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, said via video teleconference from Afghanistan. "We have the enemy against the ropes and we are punching them hard right now."
Katona, along with his senior noncommissioned officer Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Cook and two of the squadron's Soldiers, joined Lt. Col. Christopher Kidd and Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer, the command team from 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, for a video teleconference with Central Kansas media Oct. 27.
Katona and Kidd deployed their battalions to southern Afghanistan from Fort Riley in early 2011 and are attached to Task Force Spartan. Both units are heavily engaged in the International Security Assistance Force's efforts in Afghanistan to defeat insurgent threats and train Afghan Security Forces.
"We have defeated the Taliban and we are now moving into training the Afghan security forces," Katona said. "We are securing the people and have empowered the Afghan government and we must now remain vigilant."
For the more than 1,000 men and women of the "Pale Rider" and "Dreadnaught" battalions, remaining vigilant means that the Soldiers will continue to partner with their Afghan counterparts on the training and construction projects and air assault and dismounted patrol missions that have kept the them very busy for the past six to eight months.
"We've got the enemy against the ropes and we can't stop now," Katona said. "We are going to move forward with all our projects and continue (intelligence) driven air assaults to prevent the enemy from regaining any sort of foothold."
For Kidd, the next few months will mean his battalion will give the Afghan troops and police they have been training more room to take the lead in securing their own country.
"We are constantly moving our Afghan partners along and letting them take the lead more and more so they can succeed long after we are gone," he said.
Getting their Afghan partners into the lead and getting the enemy "against the ropes," however, has come at a high price for Fort Riley's Soldiers. Since arriving in country in early 2011, nine members of the two battalions have lost their lives, more than 120 Soldiers have received Purple Heart Medals and 90 percent of the Soldiers assigned to 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. have been awarded some sort of combat action badge.
"These guys and gals have seen some intense combat," Katona said. "Our (area of operations) has been very kinetic but we have beaten the enemy down and they are not coming back up."
Being in an environment like the combat zones of southern Afghanistan is not something you can understand unless you have been there yourself, said Staff Sgt. Jared Davis, 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt.
"It's a difficult situation any time you get those bullets whizzing by you or those bombs going off but I wouldn't choose to be anywhere other than where I am right now," he said. "I've got a great platoon under me. We go on every air assault and do every foot patrol we can and I am proud to say that none of my guys have been injured in a way that they can't continue to fight. We hope to keep it that way."
Spc. Richard Jones, also with 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt., said he is thankful for the "great guys" he is serving with downrange and is looking forward to getting out of the war zone and back home to Kansas.
"I have been pretty fortunate myself," he said. "I have lost friends but you just have to drive on, take it day-by-day and hope that you continue to be blessed."
Within months of their January 2012 redeployment dates, the command teams from both battalions emphasized the pride they have in their Soldiers and all that they have accomplished and will continue to accomplish in the weeks and months ahead.
"We have accomplished the mission and will continue to accomplish the mission until the day we get on the plane," Katona said. "We owe it to the unit replacing us to hand this battle space over in the best shape possible and I will fight until the day I get on the airplane to ensure that we continue to make gains all the way to the last day. That is what I owe the Army and that is what I owe our Soldiers."
Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer, the senior noncommissioned officer for 2nd Bn., 34th Armor Regt., said Central Kansas and the entire Flint Hills community should be very proud of their Fort Riley Soldiers.
"These young men and women go out onto an uncertain battlefield not knowing what to expect from day to day and are doing incredible things out there," he said. "I am just as proud as heck of them and I think everyone back home needs to know that Soldiers like these are the reason we are going to win this war."