By Army Sgt. Amber Robinson
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2009 - The 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is taking up positions in eastern Afghanistan that until now have had little coalition presence. The BCT, known as 'Task Force Spartan,' and based at Fort Drum, N.Y., was rerouted from Iraq to Afghanistan in the fall. As the first substantial illustration of the new military focus in Afghanistan, the brigade will be moving into forward operating positions through mid-February, serving under Combined Joint Task Force 101 as a unit in NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
The brigade will be responsible for the provinces of Wardak and Logar in Regional Command East. The area has been sparsely occupied most recently by units from the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
The brigade is the first element of its size to deploy exclusively into the two provinces, increasing the U.S. presence there by thousands of soldiers. All forward operating bases throughout these provinces will be reinforced to accommodate the influx of troops.
The brigade's mission has been called expeditionary because of the undeveloped region to which it's assigned.
"The term basically means that we are a very flexible force," Army Col. David Haight, Task Force Spartan commander, said. "We can get a mission in an austere part of the world, and if you give us the right equipment and the right amount of personnel, we can quickly come up with a solution, deploy to that area from our home base of Fort Drum, N.Y., and begin effective operations in a short period of time."
Flexibility was a key word for the brigade as they prepared for their current deployment.
"We spent well over a year preparing to deploy into the region of East Baghdad," Haight said. "Once we found out we were being re-routed, we very quickly replicated our training for Afghanistan."
Although much of the brigade's last year of training for Iraq can be applied to combat and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, the brigade staff and soldiers quickly adjusted fire and integrated new training objectives for Afghanistan.
"Some may say that a counterinsurgency is a counterinsurgency, no matter where you are in the world, but there are obvious differences we had to prepare for," Haight said. "The infrastructure in Iraq is much more advanced than what we are dealing with here in Afghanistan, as is the overall terrain. Language and terrain issues are obviously vastly different in Iraq than they are in Afghanistan."
In the past, only a battalion-sized element occupied the two provinces that now belong to Task Force Spartan. Sleeping arrangements, chow hall capacity, showers, and phone and Internet connectivity are concerns of the brigade.
Army Pfc. MaryPearl Parnell, an information analyst who deployed early and has been in Afghanistan for a month, noted the progress the brigade has made since they began to arrive.
"When we first got here, our tactical operations center was only a bunch of wires and lots of wood," said Parnell, who is on her second deployment to Afghanistan with the brigade. "We really had to organize our priorities once we got here. Things were different this time around. So once we arrived, we had to establish connectivity in our headquarters and make sure each room had the correct lines run for the personnel that would need them. These basics were already established for the brigade last time, so that was a challenge."
Aside from the challenges, Parnell and others have focused on some of the positives.
"I was impressed with the [forward operating base]. It was much more than what I expected," she said. "I also notice that personnel have a lot more patience. They understand that this is a slow process, but it is a necessary process towards progress."
Like Parnell, about a third of the brigade soldiers have deployed with Spartan before, Haight said.
"That adds an advantage to our current mission, due to the fact that they already possess the cultural sensitivity, awareness of the terrain and are more aware of the tribal dynamics," he said.
"We learned a lot of critical lessons last time we were here," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers, command sergeant major for the brigade. "We learned how to operate efficiently in this environment and what are the best ways to interact with the people, to include the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police," he said. "We'll lend a lot of effort and focus to working with and helping to train the local Afghan security forces this time around."
The brigade is now focused on building adequate bases to conduct missions from, but soon they will begin to move into Wardak and Logar and build relationships with the local populace.
"Our first steps are to get forces out into these more populated areas and begin to interact with the people," Haight said. "Knowing the human terrain is as important as knowing the mountainous terrain surrounding our forward operating bases."
"We cannot accomplish our mission without the support of the people," Army Maj. James Baker, the brigade's information operations officer, said.
"We establish these relationships so we can understand the locals' viewpoint, position and better help them in our efforts to work towards the overall security of Afghanistan," he said. "We base these relationships on trust, which is vital to our joint efforts over the next year."
The focus of the brigade for the next year will be to help to improve security in Wardak and Logar and to help bring the local populace into a position of strengthened governance and infrastructure, officials said.
(Army Sgt. Amber Robinson serves with the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)