By Army Capt. Michael Greenberger
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 30, 2009 - The rising sun brought a flurry of activity in the motor pool of the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, Special Troops Battalion on March 19 as the soldiers prepared to run a "reverse option" – a joint checkpoint with Afghan National Police outside Bagram's entry control points. Just two weeks prior, a suicide bomber attacked one of the base's entry control points, but was thwarted by local Afghan peacekeepers.
Everywhere in the 2nd Platoon motor pool, Alpha Company soldiers moved with a purpose, loading equipment, weapons and water into their up-armored Humvees. After radio checks were complete, the soldiers mounted up and rolled out to the entry control points.
The road outside the southern edge of Bagram Airfield is a stretch of muddy potholes, rocks and debris. With skill, precision and watchful eyes, the soldiers navigated their immense vehicles over the uneven terrain, constantly beeping their horns at civilian traffic to alert them to their presence.
"Our main goal is to keep everyone and the vehicles safe," said Army Sgt. Roberto Castillo, an Iraq veteran now serving in Afghanistan. "We do a lot to avoid civilians and their vehicles on the road, because we have to share it and want to maintain a better relationship with the [local people]."
Gunners constantly scanned the terrain for threats while the vehicle bounced around the muddy mess.
"We are always aware of our surroundings," said Army Spc. Todd Haskel said. "When I first got here, I was constantly scanning – constantly on edge. Now it is like second nature to me."
After a short but challenging trip, the soldiers rolled on to the checkpoints in force. They moved swiftly to cover the avenues of approach, laying down concertina wire and orange cones to block the roads while patrol leader Army 1st Lt. Jeremy Button contacted the Afghan National Police already on the ground.
"We are very happy with these guys," said Jalaludin, a captain with the ANP. "We have worked with them often, and we work well together. The Army soldiers are happy with us, because they know when they call us for a joint mission, we will be here."
The town outside Bagram is a bustling hub of two-story buildings, shops and shanties --– people are everywhere. The Afghans watch the soldiers intently as they go about their tasks, yet keep their distance.
"We set up these blocking positions as an antiterrorism measure," Button said. "It's a nice show of force for any bad guys who might be in the area."
The soldiers kept an eye out for anyone or anything that looked suspicious.
"If we see a suspicious vehicle, the Afghan police stop and search the vehicle and question the occupants," Button said. "We mainly serve in a support roll to back them up."
"We've been doing missions like these for 13 months," said Army Spc. Randall Preston said. "We set up these positions, and the Afghan people immediately adjust. They stay out of the way and try to help."
The Afghan National Police are familiar with the people who congregate around the entry control point, and they quickly recognize strangers.
"Before the Americans came, there were a lot of bad people here," Jalaludin said. "These are good people here now though, and they are tired of all the fighting. They just want security and peace, and are glad the Americans are here to help."
"These ANP are really solid," Button said. "They do what you ask them to do, and they show up and do a good job."
Missions employing random antiterrorism measures and procedures are an important part of security operations in Afghanistan.
"It's important to do random patrols to disrupt enemy forces," said Army Capt. William Coulter, Alpha Company commander, "as well as not set a predictable schedule or pattern of patrolling."
After an hour or so, the ANP commander gave the call to collapse the blocking positions, so the U.S. soldiers secured their equipment, said their goodbyes, and headed for home.
Unique to the 101st Airborne Division, the "Slayers" serve as a mobile reaction force, able to respond within minutes of being called.
"We have infantrymen, signal soldiers, a mechanic --– it makes us self-sufficient, adaptable and flexible," Button said.
Along with Alpha Company's 1st platoon, 2nd platoon's primary mission is patrolling and the security of Bagram Airfield and Afghanistan's Parwan and Kapisa provinces.
"These are an extraordinary group of guys," Button said Button. "They never back down from a mission, and never got a mission they couldn't handle."
The Slayers have performed more than 1,000 missions since arriving in Afghanistan in March 2008.
(Army Capt. Michael Greenberger serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)