FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Sept. 25, 2012) -- Long after midnight with most residents here fast asleep, 3rd Zone Afghan Border Police and International Security Assistance Force members quietly launched their surprise air assault mission in conjunction with Operation Southern Strike III, an Afghan-led mission that took place in Spin Boldak and Takhteh Pol districts, Sept. 1-9.
The air assault team of Afghan, Albanian, and U.S. forces focused on interdicting enemy supplies of improvised explosive device, or IED, materials and preventing enemy forces from fleeing across the border, said the air assault commander.
"This was my first air assault mission and also the first dismounted mission as well," said Pfc. Nick Schumacker, an infantryman with Alpha Company of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. "It is quite the adrenaline rush when you're getting off the helicopter."
In fact, it was the Tomah, Wis., native's first helicopter ride ever.
"I was pretty excited, [I'd] never been on a helicopter," Schumacker said. "That was pretty fun, just locked and loaded, and then ran off the helicopter and pulled security."
While Schumacker and others were busy securing the area and searching caves, Soldiers with the 569th Engineer Company were creeping toward their predetermined positions, clearing IED threats to make the roads safe for subsequent Afghan Border Police, or ABP, and International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, convoys.
"We go out there, clear the routes, and we save lives," said Pfc. Forrest Myers, an engineer and radio telephone operator from Hanford, Calif. "Although we do spend the long hours out there, at the end of the day you know each IED that you find could be one life saved. To me, it's all worth it."
During Southern Strike, the engineer company discovered eight improvised explosive devices along routes, while border police and Soldiers with A Company, 5-20th Infantry found a cache of 650 pounds of homemade explosives in the form of 14 five-liter jugs.
"When we get intel that the infantry found a cache, it makes us feel that much better," Myers said. "Because we know, 'hey, we didn't just clear this route for the fun of it.' The infantry behind us were able to do their jobs and were able to stop the Taliban."
During the operation, ABP and ISAF cleared five villages of any possible threats. After that, shuras were held with village elders in an effort to better connect district leadership with these outlying villages.
One of the Soldiers responsible for safely escorting the U.S. leadership to these meetings was Cpl. B.J. Buie, an infantryman and team leader with the 5-20th Infantry's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
"We are the eyes and ears of the headquarters element," said Buie of Fayetteville, N.C. "We allow the colonel to get from point A to point B so he can talk to all the village elders and get that face to face with all those guys."
Without service members on the ground to focus on security and support, the operation's main goal of dislocating the enemy from the local population would have been difficult to accomplish.
"We focus on these little things so the colonel doesn't have to," Buie said. "He knows the bigger picture so we take care of the small stuff so he can go in there and focus on what he needs to."
In addition to facilitating the shuras in the villages, the operation included the enrollment of individuals in the Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit, or SEEK.
"The SEEK system involves certain biometrics such as getting the iris scan, finger prints and other personal information," said Spc. Michael Brown of Laurinburg, N.C. Enrolling people in this system has similar benefits to registering with the DMV back in the states.
More than 50 Afghan civilians were enrolled in the biometrics program during Southern Strike by U.S. and ABP forces.
"We will get together and talk with villagers for awhile and I'll let my lieutenant know, 'hey sir, I think it would be good if we SEEK this guy.' Normally, it consists of the elders or anyone who is well known in the village," said Brown, who is a human intelligence collector with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron of the 14th Cavalry Regiment.
The ABP also handed out humanitarian aid at the end of each visit. Soldiers offered medical aid to villagers and spent time interacting with local children.
After many 14-hour days spent enduring the weight of bulky body armor and battling the fierce sun, the participating service members and their Afghan counterparts can look back and realize with satisfaction their support mission directly contributed to the large-scale efforts in the region.
"It may be long and hard," Myers said, "but at the end of the day, you can lay down in your bed peacefully knowing, 'hey, I did my job, I'm going to get up and do it tomorrow.'"