USA — 101st ‘Currahee’ Brigade Prepares for Afghanistan Deployment

FORT POLK, La., May 24, 2010 — FORT POLK, La., May 24, 2010—For troops seek­ing the most real­is­tic train­ing expe­ri­ence pos­si­ble before deploy­ing to Afghanistan, most would­n’t expect to find it with­in the pine forests of west­ern Louisiana.

The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
The Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter at Fort Polk, La., pre­pares rota­tion­al train­ing units with sce­nar­ios that repli­cate sit­u­a­tions they’ll encounter dur­ing deploy­ments to Afghanistan.
DoD pho­to by Don­na Miles
Click to enlarge

But here at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter, that’s exact­ly what the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team is real­iz­ing, as it goes through a rehearsal exer­cise designed to build on its strengths and iden­ti­fy any short­com­ings before the deploy­ment.

The 4th BCT “Cur­ra­hee” arrived here ear­li­er this month. It is wrap­ping up a demand­ing train­ing regime that Army Col. Sean Jenk­ins, the brigade com­man­der, is count­ing on to ensure mis­sion suc­cess in Afghanistan.

“This is our last big train­ing exer­cise,” Jenk­ins said, before the 4th BCT deploys to east­ern Afghanistan as part of the 30,000-troop surge force there. The 4th BCT will be the last of five 101st Air­borne Divi­sion “Scream­ing Eagle” brigades to deploy to Afghanistan. As Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell, the division’s com­man­der, was cas­ing the divi­sion col­ors back at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., Jenk­ins’ troop­ers were focus­ing on the skills they’ll need when they arrive in east­ern Afghanistan. About 60 per­cent of Jenk­ins’ sol­diers will be return­ing to the same area of Afghanistan they served in a year and a half ago – a big plus in Jenk­ins’ book. “It’s an incred­i­ble advan­tage,” he said. “It takes some of the home-court advan­tage away from the ene­my.”

The Cur­ra­hee brigade had built strong rela­tion­ships with their Afghan coun­ter­parts dur­ing the past deploy­ment that Jenk­ins plans to rein­force in the months ahead. He was struck how deeply the bonds run when sev­er­al of the brigade’s for­mer Afghan mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts paid a vis­it to Fort Camp­bell.

“They knew them by name,” he said. “And I’m not just talk­ing about our guys know­ing their names, but them know­ing our sol­diers, too. “I think it’s a great advan­tage when you can build upon what you left 17 months ago.”

The biggest change since the brigade’s last deploy­ment is Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strat­e­gy, being imple­ment­ed on the ground under the lead­er­ship of Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal.

“I think the goal is the same: a sta­ble, secure Afghanistan where the peo­ple have con­fi­dence in [and] sup­port the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan,” Jenk­ins said. And McChrystal’s revised tac­ti­cal direc­tives, issued last July, place an empha­sis on pro­tect­ing inno­cent civil­ians while con­fronting the insur­gency. “It real­ly comes down to the allo­ca­tion of your resources – your most pre­cious being peo­ple – and how you apply the [coun­terin­sur­gency] strat­e­gy,” Jenk­ins said. “I don’t look at it as … lim­i­ta­tions or con­straints. It is actu­al­ly a ben­e­fit. You are get­ting after that same goal with­out vio­lat­ing the cul­ture.

“You are hon­or­ing the cul­ture of Afghanistan and you are … show­ing the peo­ple that, ‘See? We can do this,’ ” he said. “We can bring agri­cul­ture to your region. We can bring med­ical. We can bring edu­ca­tion with­out vio­lat­ing the cul­ture.”

Anoth­er big change since the Cur­ra­hee Brigade’s last deploy­ment is the empha­sis on increas­ing­ly mov­ing Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces into the lead. The 101st will be large­ly respon­si­ble for train­ing and men­tor­ing Afghan Nation­al Army and Afghan Nation­al Police forces. And exer­cis­ing a “com­bined action” strat­e­gy ini­ti­at­ed by the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion, they’ll embed with their Afghan coun­ter­parts.

“As we do things for­ward, every­thing is [going to be] com­bined action,” Jenk­ins said. “Every­thing this brigade will do, there will be an Afghan lead. So if we are out on patrol, there are Afghans there with us. We have planned it togeth­er. We have rehearsed it togeth­er, and we are going to exe­cute it togeth­er.

“If some­one needs to go into a house, the first one in the house is [going to be] an Afghan,” he con­tin­ued. “The first voice [one] hears is Afghan.” That focus has been para­mount in the train­ing plan the 4th BCT worked out with the JRTC cadre months before its arrival at Fort Polk.

The Cur­ra­hee have been keep­ing their eyes on what Jenk­ins calls the “big six.” It’s an exten­sive array of capa­bil­i­ties he con­sid­ers crit­i­cal to bat­tle­field suc­cess: phys­i­cal fit­ness, marks­man­ship, bat­tle drills, med­ical skills train­ing, dri­ving and, reflect­ing an area of Army-wide empha­sis, resilience.

The brigade’s “Toc­coa Tough” pro­gram — named for the Geor­gia town where the sto­ried unit that came to be known dur­ing World War II as the “Band of Broth­ers” was found­ed in 1942 — empha­sizes men­tal as well as phys­i­cal resilience for sol­diers and their fam­i­lies, Jenk­ins explained.

Now at JRTC, the brigade is ham­mer­ing away at those and oth­er capa­bil­i­ties, with an empha­sis on company‑, troop- and bat­tery-lev­el oper­a­tions dif­fi­cult to con­duct with­in the con­fines of its home sta­tion.

JRTC’s exten­sive train­ing space – 200,000 acres that includes live-fire ranges, sit­u­a­tion­al train­ing exer­cise lanes and 22 mock Afghan vil­lages — pro­vide the per­fect venue for fine-tun­ing those skills that will be crit­i­cal in Afghanistan.

Oper­at­ing under the watch­ful eyes of train­er-men­tors from the JRTC cadre, the sol­diers are work­ing shoul­der-to-shoul­der with role play­ers serv­ing as Afghan secu­ri­ty forces as they con­front a wily oppos­ing force well-prac­ticed in insur­gent tac­tics.

They inter­act with the local pop­u­la­tion, also por­trayed by role-play­ers, ever attempt­ing to sway the “hedgers” and fence-sit­ters and bol­ster sup­port for the coali­tion, and more impor­tant­ly, the Afghan gov­ern­ment and nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

“It is not us, [going] for­ward,” Jenk­ins said. “It is them see­ing the legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan [and them see­ing that the] Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces are legit­i­mate, and that they are the ones doing it. We are just help­ing them do it. We give them some back­ing. We give them some train­ing. But like we have seen in oth­er areas of the world, they have got [to be the ones to do it.]”

Jenk­ins expressed that com­mit­ment in the Pash­tun lan­guage dur­ing a mock news con­fer­ence inte­grat­ed into a JRTC train­ing sce­nario. The brigade will stand “shohna ba shohna” – shoul­der to shoul­der – with the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces to pro­vide a secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment that “will allow the Afghan peo­ple to live their dai­ly lives with­out fear of insur­gents,” he said.

“The Currahee’s num­ber-one pri­or­i­ty is to assist the Afghan peo­ple and do every­thing in our pow­er to improve their qual­i­ty of life,” Jenk­ins said. Speak­ing to his Afghan mil­i­tary coun­ter­part, role-played by an Afghan nation­al, Jenk­ins pledged his brigade’s sup­port and assis­tance to the mis­sion. “We are proud to be part of your mis­sion,” he said, empha­siz­ing the word “your.”

“And we will sup­port you in your mis­sion to pro­vide the peo­ple a bet­ter way of life,” he added.

After the mock news con­fer­ence, Jenk­ins expressed con­fi­dence that the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces ulti­mate­ly will be up to the task of assum­ing full respon­si­bil­i­ty for their country’s secu­ri­ty.

“Many of them are phe­nom­e­nal,” Jenk­ins said. “They are incred­i­bly com­pe­tent peo­ple, incred­i­bly com­pe­tent offi­cers.” Many Afghan non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers, he not­ed, are grad­u­ates of the sergeant’s major acad­e­my.

Jenk­ins said he rec­og­nizes the impor­tance the U.S. lead­er­ship is plac­ing on what hap­pens in Afghanistan dur­ing the next six months. And he has no doubt that his own sol­diers are up to the task ahead.

“Mis­sion accom­plish­ment is some­thing you are taught from day one,” Jenk­ins said. “And I think they are going to look at it and say, ‘OK, here’s the chal­lenge. Let’s go out and get after it.’ ”

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