By Staff Sgt. Peter BerardiSeptember 23, 2012
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Krygyzstan - The number of U.S. Troops in the Afghanistan now stands at 68,000, Secretary of State Leon E. Panetta told reporters. The troop count is down from the peak of 101,000 U.S. forces last year and marks the end of a critical phase in President Barack Obama's war strategy.
The drawdown of U.S. forces is in keeping with Obama's timetable to pull out all conventional combat forces by the end of 2014.
A team of soldiers from the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), working at the Manas Transit Center, Krygyzstan, has helped achieve the commander in chief's objective to lower troop numbers in Afghanistan to pre-surge levels ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.
Over the last month the team, comprised of Lt. Col. Eric Johnson, Master Sgt. William Brown, Sgt. Phong Le and Spc. James Washington, have helped more than 30,000 service members that were part of the surge return to the U.S. from Afghanistan through Manas.
"We have been a liaison team, increasing the presence at Manas and assisting with deploying and redeploying forces," said Johnson. "Our main objective has been to maintain a smooth, uninterrupted transit of Army units and U.S. Forces into and out of Afghanistan."
Moving such a large number of service members is an intricate joint forces process. "Our job is more than just scanning ID cards," said Le, a resident of Mechanicville, N.Y. "We track units while they are traveling, work with the Air Force to move personnel and units, place service members in tents during their transition period, work with custom and help with problems such as emergency leave."
The 316th soldiers have enjoyed the challenging mission. "I think it has been a great experience," said Brown, a resident of Marengo, Ohio. "The workload can be sporadic. During the surge it is really busy. I am on duty mostly during the day but I am on call 24 hours if something happens or a problem arises. We still make sure everyone gets at least one resiliency day a week though."
"This has been a great experience," said Le. "You can work anywhere but when you get to experience something different, like new people or new food, I think that's a great opportunity."