Task Force Centaur
KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2011 – A radar dish malfunctioned Sept. 15 near Combat Outpost Chamkani here, a small outpost located in a remote, mountainous region near the Pakistan border. A repair team was summoned for the risky task of crossing a mountain in a hostile environment to replace it.
Within an hour, the team diagnosed the system, replaced the radar, and was ready to move on to the next mission.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher B. Sutton, a fire finder radar operator from Kankakee, Ill., led the team. He’s assigned to Task Force Centaur with the 1st Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Sutton, a 14-year Army veteran, works with intricate computer systems known as lightweight counter mortar radar. The main function of the system is to detect incoming mortars and identify their firing location.
“I love this job and everything that comes with it,” he said. “This job saves lives.”
Part of that job is making sure the system is in good working order, he said.
“The LCMR is a tool well suited for the fight coalition forces are currently engaged in with insurgents,” said Army Spc. Magella Correa of Kahaluu, Hawaii, one of Sutton’s team members. “Because of the LCMR’s ability to detect and designate where enemy mortars are fired, we are able to find and counter-fire on the insurgent that attacked us.”
Sutton said he started his career primarily to “see the world through a secured job.”
As he matured, so did his desire to care for his growing family, which now consists of his wife, Tiffany, son, Christopher, and daughter, Icis.
Working long hours and being constantly on the move isn’t easy. For Sutton, however, his family plays a large part in why he does this job.
“It’ s hard to be away from them, especially missing out on my son’s soccer games and my daughter’s gymnastics and piano lessons, but they understand this is my job,” he explained. “This is what I do to take care of them, as well as the nation as a whole.”
Since Sutton’s team, based out of Forward Operating Base Salerno, is in constant demand, they are never in one spot for long. He stays in contact with his family as much as possible via Skype.
“I’m based at FOB Salerno, but I don’t live there - I visit,” Sutton quipped. “Wherever they need us, we go.”
Most of Sutton’s time is spent making the journey to a number of different combat outposts, he said. The team is constantly on the move, and gets warm welcomes at several of the more remote outposts, such as Chamkani.
“It’s a great honor to know you are recognized for doing good work,” he said.
Being a fire finder radar operator isn’t easy. It requires its technicians to be highly knowledgeable about the equipment to be able to troubleshoot the dish, Sutton said.
“As with most jobs, skills are perishable,” he explained. Sutton said his team stays sharp by staying busy.
“Most soldiers get their training through classes and reading,” he said. “We get ours through actual hands-on experience, and in most cases, while under duress.”
Sutton said leading his team and being a soldier isn’t a 9-to-5 job.
“Being a soldier is being dedicated to the military lifestyle and our country,” he said. “It’s more than wearing a uniform. It’s about sacrifice, hard work, and doing everything you can to wear the uniform with pride. To me, every soldier’s job is an important one.”
Army Warrant Officer Bryan Nelson of Longview, Texas, said Sutton is “a hard-charging, mission-first leader.”
Sutton credits his family with inspiring him to do what needs to be done regardless of how tired he may be or how dangerous the task.
“My family looks at me as their hero, so I work hard on being that person for them,” Sutton said. “My son told me ‘Dad, you’re my hero,’ and because of his words, I do everything I can to do things better than before, because I don’t want to ever let my family down.”