Reservists Deploy to Help Build Afghanistan

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, July 13, 2011 — As much of the nation focus­es on draw­down plans in Afghanistan, Army reservists from the 425th Civ­il Affairs Bat­tal­ion are prepar­ing to deploy there this week to ensure secu­ri­ty progress made has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to stick.

The unit, with head­quar­ters in Enci­no, Calif., will deploy to Kan­da­har province to help Afghanistan extend the reach of its nation­al and provin­cial gov­ern­ments to pro­vide infra­struc­ture and ser­vices to the Afghan peo­ple.

With almost a month of mobi­liza­tion prepa­ra­tions and pre-deploy­ment train­ing now under their belts, the sol­diers say they’re ready to get on with the mis­sion so they can make a dif­fer­ence.

“I think this is the best way we can con­tribute to a pos­i­tive out­come,” said Army Cpl. Joseph Cruz, a for­mer Marine about to deploy for the first time as a civ­il affairs sol­dier.

Although he said he expects to draw on his com­bat expe­ri­ence while in Afghanistan, Cruz, a civil­ian pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, said he’s now look­ing for­ward to tack­ling some of the chal­lenges there non-kinet­i­cal­ly. “This is more peo­ple-ori­ent­ed, and you get tan­gi­ble results,” he said dur­ing the unit’s mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise here last week. “You know that what you are doing is help­ing.”

Army Staff Sgt. Hugo Rivera, a his­to­ry and edu­ca­tion stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Los Ange­les deploy­ing for the third time since 2003, has seen first­hand how civ­il affairs activ­i­ties — from build­ing schools and med­ical clin­ics to pro­vid­ing wells and elec­tric­i­ty — can help to change a coun­try.

“As a team, I think we have a big piece of the pie,” Rivera said, recall­ing his last deploy­ment, to Afghanistan’s remote Nuris­tan province.

“When we got there, they had no roads and no elec­tric­i­ty,” he said. “But by the time we left, they had roads, elec­tric­i­ty, a brand-new cell phone tow­er and even a radio sta­tion.

“We set them up for suc­cess,” he added. “When we took a step back and looked, we saw that we had left the place bet­ter than when we found it.”

Rivera said he looks for­ward to mak­ing a sim­i­lar impact in Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har province, birth­place of the Tal­iban and once a hotbed of insur­gent activ­i­ty.

“Our train­ing dic­tates that we are there to change the way [the Afghans] think and feel, and to help guide them in the right direc­tion,” he said. “We give them the basics and help them with projects that pro­vide water and elec­tric­i­ty, and then we train them so they can use what we give them.”

As cit­i­zen-sol­diers, the reservists bring not only mil­i­tary skills, but also civil­ian-acquired career skills to the table.

Army Reserve Sgt. George Rodriguez, who served as point man dur­ing a train­ing exer­cise here last week, over­sees pro­duc­tion of $1.5 mil­lion to $3.5 mil­lion in Frito Lay prod­ucts every week. Staff Sgt. Jacob Sier­ra is a cor­rec­tion­al offi­cer. Sgt. Joseph Sex­ton is a heavy equip­ment oper­a­tor.

Rivera called leav­ing his 13-year-old son and his stud­ies behind to help Afghanistan suc­ceed as a nation “a small sac­ri­fice.”

“I love my coun­try, and I real­ly love my job,” he said. “This is my way of giv­ing back.”

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