Friday, March 30, 2012

Rhode Island Guard Soldier makes selfless, ultimate sacrifice for Afghan child

By Kris Gonzalez
U.S. Army

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  -- The actions of one Rhode Island National Guard Soldier epitomized the Army Value of selfless service, "doing one's duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain," as he heroically saved an Afghan child without regard for his own life.

Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr. died March 22, from injuries sustained when he was struck by an armored fighting vehicle after moving an Afghan child to safety.

"Sadly, today we realized the death of a Rhode Island National Guard Soldier in a combat zone, and we are once again reminded of the enduring sacrifice our Soldiers and Airmen have made, and continue to make, in service to this great country," said Army Maj. Gen. Kevin McBride, adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard, in a press release March 23.

Weichel, an infantryman, mobilized with Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 56th Troop Command, to Camp Atterbury, Ind. in November 2011, and then deployed forward to Afghanistan in early March.

On the morning of March 22, Weichel and members of his unit were leaving the Black Hills Firing Range in Laghman province, Afghanistan, when they encountered multiple Afghan children in the path of their convoy. Weichel was among several Soldiers who dismounted to disperse the children away from the vehicles.

As one child attempted to retrieve an item from underneath a U.S. Army mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, , known as an MRAP, Weichel moved her to safety and was struck by the MRAP in the process.

Weichel was evacuated to the Jalalabad Medical Treatment Facility where he succumbed to his wounds.

The circumstances of Weichel's death speak to his character, said Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, Weichel's mentor who deployed with him to Iraq in 2005.

"He would have done it for anybody," said Corbett. "That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy."

Weichel was posthumously promoted from the rank of specialist to sergeant March 26.

He had been a member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard since 2001. He deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a member of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain), in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Weichel was considered a fun-loving guy yet a model Soldier, according to Corbett and 1st Sgt. Nicky Peppe, who also served with Weichel in Iraq.

"When I first heard, I kept expecting him to jump up and say, 'Oh, I got you guys,'" said Corbett. "The last few days have hit me hard."

"He was a big kid at heart. He always had a smile on his face and he made everyone laugh," said Peppe. "But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional. When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business."

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has ordered U.S. and Rhode Island flags across the state to be flown at half-staff until Weichel is laid to rest.

Weichel is survived by three children, his fiancée, and his parents.

"Tragically, Sgt. Weichel has made the supreme sacrifice, and at this time, we are mindful of the impact of that sacrifice on his family and friends," McBride said. "I pledge this command's perpetual support to Sgt. Weichel's family. We leave no Soldier behind, and we will not leave Sgt. Weichel's family behind."

Afghan-led Force Captures Haqqani Leader

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 30, 2012 – An Afghan-led security force captured a Haqqani leader during an operation in the Khost district of Afghanistan’s Khost province today, military officials reported.

The leader organized roadside bombings and other attacks against Afghan and coalition forces throughout the district, officials said. He also supplied insurgents with materials for building explosive devices.

The security force detained one additional suspected insurgent during the operation.

In other Afghanistan operations today:
-- A combined force captured a Taliban leader, detained one other suspected insurgent, and seized material used in the construction of improvised explosives, including multiple bags of fertilizer and a large drum of gasoline, in the Nad ‘Ali district of Helmand province. The leader organized roadside bombings and other attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces in the province.

-- An Afghan-led security force captured a Taliban leader and detained two suspects in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province. The leader coordinated insurgent movements in western Kandahar province for attacks against Afghan and coalition troops.

-- A combined force detained multiple suspects during a search for a Haqqani leader in the Pul-e ‘Alam district of Logar province. The leader coordinated the manufacture of roadside bombs and directed attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in the district.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Texas National Guard members help set Afghan school children up for success

By Army National Guard Capt. Jacqueline Wren
Georgia National Guard

When Americans think of spring they might think of rain, flowers returning from months of hibernation or children getting antsy with the thrill of upcoming summer. In Afghanistan a different excitement stirs in the month of March, and that is of children welcoming the start of the school year.

The Georgia Army National Guard’s 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Task Force Hydra, is active throughout Kabul working with Kabul’s political leaders, religious leaders and police to provide humanitarian assistance and funding for special projects. Two such projects are aimed at providing a better quality of life and employment for local Afghans.

This month the advancement of education was the focus of one of seven current projects that the team is overseeing.

On the first Sunday of classes, the TF Hydra civil affairs team, led by Army Lt. Col. Michael Hulsey along with Army Col. Andy Hall, TF Hydra commander, set out for a school with back-to-school gifts for the children.

Darulaman, a community within Kabul, is home to a school that is responsible for educating more than 3,000 students in grades one through 12. This school is the site of one of the seven current humanitarian projects that TF Hydra is currently overseeing. This particular project is to build a privacy wall for the school that will provide protection for girls attending the school.

“In Afghanistan, boundary walls equal security and privacy, which afford a conducive learning environment for this community’s youth” Hulsey said about the project that broke ground this week and is scheduled to be complete within 45 days.

Along with checking in on the progress of the privacy wall, the teams brought more than 400 bags of school supplies collected by Operation Outreach, a Soldier-run humanitarian organization, for the school’s head master to share with the students.

Hall had an opportunity to speak with children in the classrooms and shared with them that his wife teaches school back home and that he will consider them all friends after that day.

When speaking to the classes of female students, he introduced Lt. Col. Robyn Blader, a member of TF Hydra’s staff judge advocate team. Blader shared with the girls the importance of education in her own life.

An eighth grade female student, Gulnaz, who spoke English, shared with Blader that she wants to go on to college and study literature. She also said that it was nice to have Soldier visiting them.

“This was one of the best missions I’ve been on,” Blader said. “These kids are learning 15 different subjects in a bare classroom with only a black board and can only attend three hours a day. It’s nice to be able to help them.”

Hall agreed.

“Very near and dear to our heart is the education of children,” said Hall before departing. “I know you share the same thoughts and that creates an educational bond for us.”

Texas Army National Guard members teach combatives course in Djibouti

By Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Malcom McClendon
Texas National Guard

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (3/29/12) - On a make-shift training area, Soldiers and Marines grappled, tackled and clinched their way to graduation from a Modern Army Combatives Program here, March 12-16.

Texas Army National Guard members with Task Force Raptor, 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, hosted the class and certified 19 new instructors.

The Level-One Instructor Certification course covered a wide range of combat training skills, said Army 1st Lt. Joshua Kane, Task Force Raptor member and MACP instructor.

“We have provided realistic training and defenses in hand-to-hand combat,” Kane added. “We got into weapon retention, knee strikes, punch drills, how to utilize your Kevlar helmet as a weapon in defensive measures, and even using your weight to throw an opponent off balance.”

Kane shared his enthusiasm for the graduates’ recent accomplishment.

“This course in particular is an instructor’s course,” Kane said. “These are basic yet important skills that these new instructors are taking back to their units, and therefore the program continues to grow.”

Army Sgt. Candice Perez, Task Force Raptor member MACP class participant, said there is more to the program than just physical might.

“It’s like a chess game,” Perez said. “The main thing is to stay calm, control your breathing, and think. Don’t try to muscle your way through everything. There’s always a way out of any hold or position you are in.”

Kane and his fellow instructors plan on certifying more service members during their time here.
 “The great thing about this class is that it can be taught anywhere,” Kane said. “I’ve taught it at Fort Benning, Ga., Camp Mabry in Texas, Army bases everywhere, and now here in Djibouti. As long as you have mats and Soldiers willing to learn, it can be taught anywhere.”

Dempsey: Colombia Has Strategy to Take Down Terror Group

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BRASILIA, Brazil, March 29, 2012 – The Colombians have a good strategy to counter the main terrorist group in the country, and they will stick with it, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke with reporters traveling with him from Colombia to Brazil. He spent two days in Colombia meeting with senior leaders and visiting Joint Task Force Vulcano – a new interagency force aimed at defeating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

Dempsey said he was impressed by the senior leaders he met during his visit. “They had a remarkably coherent vision of where they are today to where they need to be,” he said.

The strategy calls for Colombia to cut the FARC forces in half in two years. “They selected 2014 as a key moment for them,” he said. “They want to accelerate their effects against the FARC.”

The conversations he had with senior leaders dealt not only with equipment, but also intellectual capital, the chairman said. “We’re getting ready to send some brigade commanders who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan down here to partner with their Joint Task Force commanders in a leader developmental function,” the general said. “The challenges they face are not unlike the challenges we’ve faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

These American officers will visit with joint task force commanders for two weeks and share insights into their fights overseas. Dempsey said he fully expects the American leaders to learn from their Colombian counterparts, too.

The Colombians began by speaking about their personnel, Dempsey said, and then went to ways to accelerate the effects they were trying to make on the ground. He said this includes border security; critical infrastructure protection; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; intelligence fusion; airlift; and remotely piloted vehicles. “It wasn’t a shopping list,” the chairman said. “It was more, ‘We have the strategy. We’ve got the resources we need to do it, with a few exceptions, and we can work together to close those gaps.”

The Colombians have made great progress and they want to take advantage of that, Dempsey said. They have found that as they introduce the army into the populace, people became fond of its presence, he added.

That works well, Dempsey said, until you want to move the units. “The army has become fixed to an extent, and part of the strategy is to reintroduce mobile forces,” he explained. “They are forming a number of joint task forces, but also national police, and they are putting them in the places where the FARC has migrated to.”

The Colombians are doubling their efforts and making sure they are integrating their efforts as a nation, the chairman said. “It really has to be the whole of government,” he added. “It is really emphasizing what we called in Iraq ‘clear, hold, build.’”

Colombia has been working closely with the U.S. government in the fight. Current Colombian military leaders all have received at least some American military training.

“There was a gravitas about them, and they have a grasp of what they are facing,” Dempsey said. “There was a real appreciation of the task at had. The Colombians are winning. The FARC has had a few successes, but so have the military.”