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Story by Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes
Forward Operating Base Phoenix, Afghanistan – A little more than a year ago, the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, found itself on the list of units that the Army had scheduled to de-activate, ending its illustrious history.
What a difference time makes. The battalion, which is assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade, is now preparing to head home from its fourth deployment in eight years in support of the war on terrorism. They also take with them the belief that their mission to train and mentor Afghan security will have a lasting impact.
“I give us an A-plus on the success of this mission,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Thomas Nguyen. “Given the short notice that we would be deploying after all, this was an opportunity for us to showcase our flexibility, agility and adaptability of our air defenders to complete a unique mission as trainers, mentors and partners to the Afghans.”
This was the first time the battalion conducted a mission as trainers. The battalion received a Meritorious Unit Commendation for their time here in Afghanistan and cased their colors as they prepared their soldiers for the long-awaited trip back to the states to be reunited with their loved ones.
Nguyen said the battalion was scheduled to de-activate when he first arrived at Fort Campbell back in June 2009. They then received notice in December 2009 from the Department of the Army that their de-activation orders had been rescinded until 2017.
“We also knew there was a reason why we were kept on the Army’s role, and that was because of a pending deployment,” he said.
His statement proved correct. Nguyen said by mid April 2010, the battalion received orders to Afghanistan to provide support to NATO trainers as they trained the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
“Our original mission was to provide counter rocket artillery support, but that mission slowly evaporated and disappeared,” Nguyen said. “We were told by FORSCOM, ‘hey, short notice, we’re going to deploy you to Afghanistan as trainers.’ So really, in a matter of six months, things really changed for us.”
Battalion command Sgt. Maj. William Maddox said the junior officers and non-commissioned officers lead the way in mentoring and training the Afghan security forces.
“It was difficult because we had 37 locations to start with, and missions did change frequently, but the way these soldiers adapted and plugged in to the mission was phenomenal.”
“I think we found it [to] be a challenge to step out of our comfort zone to conduct this mission and see where we could make a difference,” Nguyen said. “I have to give the Afghans credit as well. The leaders we worked with really stepped up to the plate. They know at the end of the day, this is their country, and they’ve got to make a difference.”
This was the battalion’s first deployment to Afghanistan, Nguyen said. They had deployed three times previously to Iraq, and noted the similarities and difference between the two countries.
“Even though they had Saddam Hussein, the road systems in Iraq were already in place and there was a central government as opposed to here,” Maddox said. “They’re a lot more technically savvy than the Afghans.”
Maddox, who replaced former battalion command sergeant major Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Phifer in mid-April 2011, also pointed to the Afghan illiteracy rate as an example of the difference between the two countries.
“It’s a huge problem here. One of the challenges we had when training the police force here was finding those Afghans who could read,” he said.
An Afghan soldier and an Iraqi soldier were similar in terms of learning and comprehending, Maddox said. They utilized a hands-on approach to learning and problem solving, he said. “The Afghans sat down and listened. Our guys, regardless of military occupational specialties, were able to come here and teach them about their jobs, from vehicle maintenance and logistics, to actually how to run supply, contracts, etc., and [ensure] that the work is done properly.”
Maddox said he agreed with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ assessment that the Afghans are much closer now to taking over their own security. “The first thing I thought about was the soldiers in this battalion who came over here. They understand the concept of improving your position as time goes on.”
“It’s a complete 180 degrees. What they were able to accomplish have helped. There are still things in the country they will need help with, but I can leave here and say they’re better off. I feel the Afghans are in a better position now.”
“Our intent is to work ourselves out of a job here,” he said. “Meaning, we were going to turn over the facility maintenance and management and training aspect from ‘Coalition-run’ to ‘Afghan-led.’ The Afghans own their own programs.”
Nguyen also said he wanted the American public to understand that there have been sustainable gains made during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It’s not to U.S. standards, but it is good by their model,” he said. “What we’re doing here is building capability. I mean, if we don’t do this, who wants to come back here in five or 10 years?”
Topics101st Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division Public Affairs, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghanistan, Dennis Phifer, Department of the Army, FORSCOM, Forward Operating Base Phoenix, Iraq, James Mallory, Lifeliners, NATO, Operation Enduring Freedom, Peter Mayes, Thomas Nguyen, U.S. Army, William Maddox
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