War on Terrorism

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mullen Praises Stryker Soldiers in Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 18, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, for their service in Afghanistan's Kandahar province here yesterday, saying the unit has made a difference. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the soldiers he appreciates their sacrifices and their flexibility. The Stryker unit was supposed to deploy to Iraq. That mission was changed to Afghanistan, and the soldiers arrived here in July.

The reinforced battalion moved into battle space formerly occupied by a Canadian Forces company. The company's 80 servicemembers physically could not clear the area of Taliban. The 800-man Stryker battalion aggressively moved out after the enemy – going into areas where the Canadian company had lacked the muscle to venture.

The unit began taking casualties soon after arriving, and through November, had lost 21 soldiers and had 40 more wounded. Now the battalion – part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade's 5th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Wash. – has to change again.

"You have already adapted to the changing counterinsurgency strategy," Mullen said during an all-hands meeting at the dining facility here. The unit has embraced the "protect the population" concept. Now, its soldiers will switch missions again, being responsible for freedom of movement on the major highways into Kandahar – Afghanistan's second-largest city.

"I've spent a lot of time on leadership, and there is no more difficult time to lead than in a time of change," Mullen said. "I know you have been in a very tough fight, and those you've lost, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of those."

Mullen said leaders believe the new strategy will work, and now the military must rapidly execute the plan. This should be plain to the soldiers, he said.

"It is on your shoulders to execute that," the chairman said. "[That's] part of the reason I come out here to the pointy end of the spear and see what we're actually asking you to do."

Protecting the people is the key to success, the chairman told the soldiers, and civilian casualties are the bane of a counterinsurgency operation. "I've said many times that we can tactically win, but if we're killing local civilians, we're going to strategically lose," he said.

Each soldier is going to have use leadership in the fight, the chairman said. They are going to have to learn all they can and make important decisions.

"I want to encourage you to do that: to lead quietly, to lead [while] listening, to lead [by] understanding what the challenges are for these people," Mullen said. "Because in the end, they want to raise their kids to a higher standard of living, [and] they'd like to do it in peace and security, just like you and I."

Mullen expressed his gratitude to the soldiers' families for the support they provide. He said he understands the sacrifices being made in soldiers' homes across the country.

"We've asked a lot, you've sacrificed a lot, you really do make a difference, and this region is absolutely vital to our national interests because of the threat that resides here that still threatens American citizens," he said.

Mullen told the young soldiers to keep their head in the game and to watch out for each other as they continue to serve and to adjust.

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