War on Terrorism

Thursday, May 15, 2014

ARCTIC TRAILBLAZERS AFGHANISTAN BOUND:Three units mark separate deployments

by Army Capt. Richard Packer
2d Engineer Brigade PAO

5/15/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Deploying Soldiers from three 2d Engineer Brigade units stood in formation on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Pershing Field May 8 to case their unit colors in preparation for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan.

The headquarters of 2d Engineer Brigade, the headquarters of 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the 23rd Engineer Company of 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne), will all be leaving within a few weeks of each other to fulfill separate missions supporting coalition forces.

Unlike brigade combat teams, which are intended to train and deploy as a whole, the 2d Engineer Brigade is a modular organization. Each subordinate command is designed to deploy separately from their parent organization based on the needs of the Army for that unit's skill set.

While deployed, the headquarters of 2d Engineer Brigade will become the Theater Engineer Brigade and take command of Army and Navy construction units already in Afghanistan. The brigade will be responsible for managing construction and deconstruction projects supporting retrograde operations, inspecting and building bridges, and advising their counterparts in the newly-created Afghan National Army National Engineer Brigade.

"This effort is critical to posturing the force in preparation for NATO's post-2014 Resolute Support Train, Advise and Assist mission," said Air Force Col. Pete Andrysiak, commander of 2d Engineer Brigade, speaking of the NEB during his speech at the ceremony. "Success in this mission will provide the Afghans a national combat engineer capability that is professional, effective and sustainable."

Retrograde operations require tactical infrastructure and dozens of bases built up during the last 12 years of war to be torn down. The valuable equipment must then be redistributed and consolidated to other bases for continued use or else prepared for transportation out of Afghanistan.

"Our nation has given much in blood and resources to the people of Afghanistan," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, during his ceremony speech. "As the longest war in U.S. history winds down, you will play a leading role in the retrograde of material back across the force worldwide.

"This is an historic effort that is vital to re-equipping U.S. forces and maintaining the readiness levels our nation expects," Shields said.

Retrograde will be the main focus for the headquarters of 17th CSSB. They will take command of 800 Soldiers and contractors operating in small teams dispersed across 15 locations throughout Afghanistan. They'll be responsible for enabling the redistribution and disposal of excess material and equipment while closing down or transferring bases to the government of Afghanistan.

Spc. Michelle Partin is a unit supply specialist preparing to leave with the 17th CSSB.
"I'm really excited and ready to learn," she said of her first opportunity to deploy. "All I want is the experience."

Retrograde and construction missions wouldn't be possible without safe roads to transport equipment on. The improvised explosive device has proven to be the most effective weapon in the enemy's arsenal and is the tactic that has taken more American lives in Afghanistan than any other. The 23rd Engineer Company is charged with finding and destroying these devices in Regional Command-East.

This will be the third time the engineer unit has deployed to hunt IEDs in Afghanistan since 2010. They have extensive combat experience and will again deploy to one of the most contentious regions in the country to protect coalition forces and the people of Afghanistan.

"Their route-clearance efforts are critical to the success of the redeployment and retrograde of our equipment," Andrysiak said. "They will also enable the Afghan economy by allowing the uninhibited flow of commerce."

All three units are prepared to serve nine-month deployments. During this time, most of the brigade still left in Alaska will either transfer to other commands or inactivate completely. The 793d Military Police Battalion will inactivate in the fall after transferring a small detachment to each of USARAK's brigade combat teams.

The 6th Engineer Battalion will inactivate some units this fall. The battalion will then convert to become the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion and transfer commands to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. After returning to JBER following deployment, the 23rd Engineer Company will inactivate.

Upon returning from Afghanistan the 17th CSSB and subordinate units will also transfer to the airborne brigade.

The 2d Engineer Brigade will inactivate completely in early 2015 when the brigade headquarters returns from its first deployment since the Korean War.

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