Afghanistan ‘Surge’ Troops Appreciate Support from Home

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 19, 2010 — Already oper­at­ing in some of the tough­est con­di­tions imag­in­able, and with win­ter set­ting in, the 101st Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team sol­diers in Pak­ti­ka province, Afghanistan, are keep­ing moti­vat­ed and focused on their mis­sion — thanks, their com­man­ders say, to their “Cur­ra­hee spir­it” and sup­port from the home front. Many of the brigade’s sol­diers are based at com­bat out­posts so iso­lat­ed they’re reach­able only by air. They patrol at alti­tudes begin­ning at 7,400 feet and make reg­u­lar con­tact with the ene­my. Just two months into their deploy­ment, the brigade has lost sev­en sol­diers.

As part of the “Steak- and Ice Cream Express” mis­sion to boost morale for 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, sol­diers serv­ing at remote bases, U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Pre­ston, com­man­der of the 801st Brigade Sup­port Bat­tal­ion, grills steaks for sol­diers deployed to For­ward Oper­at­ing Base YahYa Khel, Afghanistan.
U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. Christi­na Sin­ders
Click to enlarge

The brigade, the last of the 30,000-troop com­bat “surge” force to deploy to Afghanistan to sup­port Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Afghanistan-Pak­istan strat­e­gy, has weath­ered some dif­fi­cult times, its com­man­ders agreed dur­ing a video­con­fer­ence con­duct­ed here from their brigade head­quar­ters at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Sha­rana.

“It’s tough here in many ways,” said Army Lt. Col. Dave Wom­ack, com­man­der of the 506th Infantry Regiment’s 1st Bat­tal­ion “Red Cur­ra­hees.”

“It ain’t Shangri-la,” he con­tin­ued. “The sol­diers of Task Force Red Cur­ra­hee live in aus­tere envi­ron­ments. They are close to the ene­my. They are part­nered with their Afghan broth­ers and they are going out dai­ly, con­duct­ing com­bat mis­sions.”

To date, those mis­sions have left sev­en brigade sol­diers dead and more wound­ed. Just two days ago, the sol­diers of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 61st Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment, paid last respects to two of their fall­en sol­diers dur­ing a memo­r­i­al cer­e­mo­ny at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Con­nol­ly in Nan­garhar province.

Army Spc. Antho­ny Var­gas and Army Spc. David C. Lutes both died from injuries suf­fered when an impro­vised explo­sive device explod­ed dur­ing a Nov. 8 patrol in the vil­lage of Wazir. Under­stand­ing the toll these loss­es take on his brigade, Army Col. Sean Jenk­ins, the brigade com­man­der, said the Cur­ra­hees draw strength from each oth­er, their fam­i­lies, the Fort Camp­bell com­mu­ni­ty, and the nation as a whole as they con­tin­ue their mis­sion.

“We can’t have bad days here as lead­ers,” he said. “We can have tough days, and there are tough days. But you can feel the sup­port from back home –- the phone calls, the emails. They lift you up ear­ly in the morn­ing.”

Wom­ack said he’s amazed by the sup­port his sol­diers receive from all cor­ners, and its pos­i­tive impact on morale.

“Every day, the sup­port we get is unbe­liev­able,” he said. “An air­craft will land [or] a con­voy will drop in with a pack­age from a loved one. And that pack­age will mean every­thing. In some cas­es, it means extra ‘lick­eys and chewies’ and chow, and some­times it’s just a let­ter from home that con­nects you.”

The com­man­ders said they’re indebt­ed to their fam­i­lies and every­one else who has reached out to them, and offered assur­ances that they’re cop­ing with the chal­lenges as they con­cen­trate on the mis­sion.

“It’s real­ly easy to focus around here, because the mis­sion is impor­tant,” Wom­ack said. “We know why we are here and why we do it, and of course, we fight for one anoth­er and the mis­sion at hand.”

As the sol­diers per­form “incred­i­ble” work, Wom­ack urged those back home not to wor­ry about troop morale. “It’s great,” he said. “But keep up the sup­port because it makes a dif­fer­ence. We appre­ci­ate it on this end.”

Army Lt. Col. Dave Pre­ston, with the 801st Brigade Sup­port Bat­tal­ion, knows the impor­tance of let­ters and care pack­ages from home. Each day, his sol­diers deliv­er 3,000 pounds of mail to the brigade’s myr­i­ad oper­at­ing sites, includ­ing remote com­bat out­posts.

No com­bat out­post “goes more than five days with­out get­ting mail,” he said.

Mail deliv­er­ies are expect­ed to climb dra­mat­i­cal­ly as the hol­i­days approach. Back at Fort Camp­bell, rear detach­ment lead­ers, fam­i­ly readi­ness group vol­un­teers, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are assem­bling hol­i­day pack­ages to ship off to the brigade, ensur­ing no Cur­ra­hee sol­dier gets over­looked.

Next to mail, Preston’s main­tain­ers know that the next best way to a soldier’s heart is through the stom­ach. So about once a month, they treat troops at out­ly­ing com­bat out­posts to the “Steak and Ice Cream Express.” Pre­ston and a cou­ple of his cooks set up a grill and pre­pare and serve up steaks, pota­toes, corn on the cob, and heap­ing bowls of ice cream.

It’s a big hit with the troops, but Pre­ston said it’s just as mean­ing­ful for his own sol­diers who enjoy tak­ing care of their broth­ers in arms.

“Despite the sep­a­ra­tions from their fam­i­lies and the sched­ule, morale remains high,” he report­ed. “They love doing their job and tak­ing care of sol­diers.”

“This is a very chal­leng­ing envi­ron­ment,” said Army Lt. Col. Ivan Beck­man, com­man­der of the Spe­cial Troops Bat­tal­ion Apach­es. “But morale is very high for us over here. We are focused on the mis­sion, and focused on tak­ing care of each oth­er.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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