By Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson
Task Force Red Bulls
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (7/13/11) – As Army Capt. Kevin Hrodey and Army 1st Lt. Elliott Henderson sat under a camouflage net stretched between a HESCO barrier and a connex – a small shaded area that served as the Bad Pech district center lounge – they were all smiles June 30, knowing that the countdown to home was short.
The two officers were the last Bravo Company Soldiers to leave Bad Pech, and the district center had served as home to the company from 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, for the past two months.
It was one of the most remote assignments in all of northeastern Afghanistan, requiring the Soldiers to sleep in hand-dug fighting-holes for the first three to four weeks after arriving early May.
"We got dropped off here in the middle of nowhere on a plateau," said Hrodey, the Bravo Company commander. "When we got here, the HESCO barriers were just being added. The perimeter was pretty much concertina wire, [and] our guys were living in fighting positions on the border."
Still, the Soldiers loved it, Henderson said.
"Out here is the mission we always wanted," he said. "We’re getting out into a new environment. The terrain here is a challenge in-and-of itself, and we’re working with a totally [untouched] territory and starting something from scratch."
For the previous six months before arriving at the district center, Hrodey’s Soldiers enjoyed what they called an easy and even boring assignment providing gate security at Torkham Gate on the Pakistan border. They also enjoyed a nice dining facility, working toilets and showers – the high life.
All that changed in early May when Bravo Company left for the Bad Pech.
The district center was born in early April at the end of Operation Bullwhip, the largest air assault conducted by the 101st Airborne Division during their year-long deployment to eastern Afghanistan. During the operation, the 101st cleared the Galuch Valley of most of its known insurgent strongholds.
Today the area serves as the district center, but initially it was a joint security compound. Afghan National Army soldiers, Afghan National Civil Order of Police, Afghan Uniform Police and National Directorate of Security personnel along with the Bravo Company Soldiers all occupied the small, remote compound which bordered a health clinic.
Hrodey said his company enjoyed working with these Afghan forces over the past two months.
"I think the biggest reason the Soldiers have enjoyed this mission is it allowed them more interaction with their International Security Assistance Forces-Afghanistan partners and the citizens of the valley," Hrodey said. "We meet daily with the district sub-governor, the ANP commander, the ANA commander, the ANCOP commander, the NDS and all the local village elders."
Hrodey said the center has become recognized as a form of government in the valley where villagers meet and speak with sub-governor Haji Alif Shaw, who also works in the district center.
Though the 133rd’s Soldiers swept through the valley without contact and seized large quantities of enemy weapons before establishing the district center during Operation Bullwhip, the insurgents maintain a presence in the valley.
Hrodey said the district center is still attacked often by indirect fire, as are many other forward operating bases and combat outposts throughout eastern Afghanistan.
"I’m very proud of the things that Bravo Company has been able to accomplish," Hrodey said. "To say that we were here at the beginning during the elevation of a government with our ISAF partners is something I’d like to look back on and see the progress [of] 10 or 20 years from now, knowing we were there in the beginning.”
Hrodey and Henderson said the company enjoyed adopting a more traditional infantry role at the Bad Pech – patrolling the villages and the area of operations around the district center with their Afghan counterparts. At Torkham, most of the unit’s patrols were mounted, but here that was not the case.
They said a particular highlight was climbing one of the bordering 6,500-foot mountains on a 15-kilometer movement one day.
The conditions at the center have improved since the Soldiers arrived in Bad Pech. There are still no showers or latrines, but where there were once only holes in the ground, Soldiers now sleep in air-conditioned tents and have an Internet connection and resources from which to call home.
"It's going to sound funny, but turning this place over to Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Cavalry Squadron is going to be bitter-sweet," Hrodey said. "On one hand, I want to go home and see my wife and family, but I’d like to see the progress here continue. I plan on staying in touch with our counterparts and seeing what happens next."