Greetings from Afghanistan! This is Eagle 6 Update (#18).
The past two weeks have been a cause for sorrow. We have also celebrated several successes. We had the fortunate opportunity to celebrate the Afghan New Year with our friends, and we have had several important visitors join us.
As you may have heard, on 29 March we lost six Soldiers during an operation in Kunar. While any Soldier we lose is hard, the loss of six Soldiers in one day is particularly hard. The Soldiers were assigned to
2-327 IN (TF No Slack). The battalion inserted into an area where they knew they would have a fight. The operation is still ongoing as I write this (will provide more in next update on this particular opn), and I can tell you that we have had a significant impact on the insurgents during this operation. Our condolences go out to the Families of these Soldiers and all of the Families who have lost Soldiers. We can never forget the sacrifice of our Soldiers or of their Families whose lives are now forever changed. Please keep them in your prayers.
Yesterday I had a chance to visit TF No Slack Commander, LTC JB Vowell, at his tactical command post (TAC), and I also had a chance to visit with several of the Soldiers and leaders both at the TAC and on an objective. The battalion operation is designed to deny insurgent freedom of maneuver as we move into spring operations. I can tell you that despite the arduous terrain and the challenging winter weather, their morale remains high because they know they are inflicting serious damage to the insurgents' ability to fight. While there JB briefed me on his plans for the remainder of the operation, and I believe under his leadership and that of his junior leaders, the battalion will significantly impact the insurgents' ability for a spring offensive.
The Soldiers, NCOs, and officers are doing a great job. I am very proud of them.
Down in RC-South, 1-75 Cav from TF Strike (2BCT, 101st) has completed their transition of authority (TOA) and is headed back to Fort Campbell.
The Widowmakers have done a superb job under the leadership of LTC Tom McFadyen and CSM Andre Johnson. The rest of the TF Strike battalions will continue their TOAs through the month of April. Great work by all of TF Strike, and I know the Families are anxiously awaiting their return.
On 24 March, we hosted a Nowruz Celebration here at Bagram. We had several provincial governors, GEN Petraeus, Ambassador Keith, and our ANSF partners here. The keynote speaker was Governor Fedai of Wardak Province. One of our special guests was Heidi Kuhn who runs "Roots for Peace" an NGO that has done incredible things here in Afghanistan and throughout the world for people less fortunate. Nowruz marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Persian calendar, and stands as hope, a new light, for Afghans as they celebrate extraordinary blessings and look forward to the promise of a new day. The Afghan people have suffered far too long under the oppression of the Taliban.
For too many years, the Taliban have carried out a campaign of intimidation and terror against the Afghan people. The Taliban continue to target women and children...they continue to kill innocent Afghans.
With the Taliban there will be no new light...no new beginning for Afghanistan. The Taliban offer only a dark future for the Afghan people. So it is fitting that we had a chance to celebrate this season of new beginnings with the governors, ANSF commanders, and all Afghans that we had present. Nowruz is a season of hope and renewal, and that is exactly what these leaders offer to the Afghan people.
Two days prior to the Nowruz celebration at Bagram, I was able to attend a Nowruz celebration in Ghazni with Governor Musa Khan. Tied to this celebration was recognition of education with several students being presented with school supplies. Together we also planted trees. These events were symbolic for the future of Ghazni Province. As part of the celebration, Governor Musa Khan hosted a superb lunch. I am thankful I had the opportunity to share this special celebration with our friends in Ghazni.
During the last week of March, I joined Task Force Red Bulls' Commander, COL Ben Corell at his Tactical Command Post on the side of a mountain during their Operation Bull Whip. With the Afghan National Security Forces, TF Red Bulls conducted this operation to defeat insurgents in the western part of the Laghman Province in order to allow GIRoA to establish governance in the area. While there, TF Red Bulls uncovered several caches and conducted a peace shura with the locals and the governor of Laghman, Governor Azizi. The peace shura was successful, and the local and provincial government established a GIRoA presence in the area for the first time. While visiting COL Corell and I did an aerial reconnaissance of a route and landed to meet with a route clearance platoon with some ANSF. Shortly after we landed, LTG Fazludin, the 202nd Shamshod Commander, also landed, and we had an impromptu meeting on the front of a HMMWV (see attached pic). Well done Red bulls!
On 29 March, I went to the 11th Corps Headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan. I met with my counterpart, LTG Asif, and discussed complementary operations along the border. I believe over the last 10 months we have significantly improved cooperation with the Pakistan military, and that has led to conducting complementary operations along the border as well as improved relations and communications along the border. The trip was very worthwhile, and LTG Asif was a gracious host.
Like we did with the 203rd Corps, on 30 March, the 201st ANA Corps presented me and MG Abdullah a backbrief on their spring campaign plan.
The 201st Corps staff did a superb job putting together a comprehensive plan that will synchronize efforts across the ANA, ABP, AUP and coalition forces to achieve the goals of GIRoA and minimize the effects of the insurgency. Following the backbrief, MG Abdullah flew to Kabul with me and we met with the Minister of Defense, Minister Wardak.
Together we discussed the way ahead for realignment of forces in Kunar.
We have some refinement to do on the plan, but we now have a way ahead to realign both coalition and ANSF in Kunar to better enable us to conduct operations against the insurgency.
Several key leaders have been to visit during the past two weeks:
* On 21 March, Mr. John Inglis, the Deputy Director of the NSA
visited to assess the posture and performance of NSA support and personally solicit feedback from key leaders on how the NSA can provide optimal support to us.
* We also had a Joint Monthly Access to Reserve Components (JMARC)
visit. The JMARC is a USCENTCOM Commander-sponsored program that serves as the primary mechanism for the Reserve Components (RC), both Reserve and National Guard, General/Flag Officers and their senior enlisted to visit Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. The JMARC's primary goal is to enable leaders to see, first hand, the contributions of their brave men and women, who are serving on the cutting edge of freedom. On this trip, we had MG Timothy Orr (IA), MG Paul Crandall (416th TEC), MG Judd Lyons (NE), BG Timothy Reisch (SD), CSM John Breitspecker (IA), CSM Eli Valenzuela (NE), CSM Larry Zimmerman (SD), and CSM Robert Stanek (372nd Engineer Brigade). Picture attached.
* We had a CODEL visit from Representative Thomas Marino (PA),
Representative Marsha Blackburn (TN), Representative John Sarbanes (MD), and Representative Michael Grimm (NY). They were here to discuss issues pertaining to training and equipping combat forces, combat operations, reconstruction efforts, and training of ANSF. They had the opportunity to see the Currahees at FOB Sharana as well. It was particularly nice to have one of our representatives from TN. I saw Representative Blackburn in DC prior to the deployment so it was good to see her again.
* The second CODEL that visited was headed by Representative Rob
Wittman (VA). Also visiting with him were Representative Mark Critz (PA), Representative Larry Kissell (NC), Representative Dave Loebsack (IA), Representative Scott Rigell (VA), and Representative Todd Young.
While here, we gave them an overview of operations in RC-East and the progress that we achieved.
* On 27 March, we had a visit from MG Douglas Carver, the Chief of
Chaplains, and SGM Marrero, the Senior Chaplain Assistant. They were here to meet with the religious support teams in Afghanistan. While here MG Carver also promoted Chaplain Mark Frederick to LTC. Pictured attached.
* GEN Petraeus also came to visit us this past week. The staff
did a great job providing him an overview of RC-East and our operations.
Following our briefing, I took General Petraeus out to the Pech River Valley and we stopped at Honaker-Miracle where he met with Soldiers and presented a few Soldiers valorous awards.
* Closing our visits over the last two weeks was Ambassador Yousuf
Sail Sabaa Al Ali, the Ambassador to Afghanistan from the United Arab Emirates. The purpose of his visit was to discuss the role the UAE plays in contributing to the international coalition here. The UAE has made significant contributions on both civilian and military efforts as well as strategic infrastructure development. It was a great visit, and we finished by going to dinner at the UAE dining facility here at Bagram.
The news back in the States I'm sure is on Libya; I have gone out with the media a few times in the past two weeks to keep sending the message that our Soldiers and Afghan counterparts are continuing to make progress every day. I did the Nashville Morning show on FOX 17 and will amp it up a bit as we hit our Spring Campaign and our operations continue to make a huge difference. We have a Regional Communications Center (RCC) which I'll spotlight in the next update.
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I would like to close this update the way I started...by remembering our fallen Soldiers. I have been asked several times if what we are doing here is worth it, and my answer to that is yes. The sacrifice of even one Soldier is tremendous, but since we have been in Afghanistan, we have not seen another 9-11 type event where terrorists attack and kill thousands of innocent civilians. We have made great strides in making Afghanistan better for the Afghans, and now we are at the beginning of transitioning parts of Afghanistan. As of this writing, we have lost
196 Service Members since our TOA on 14 June 2010. 117 of the Soldiers are from the 101st Airborne Division. We mourn the loss of every one of our Soldiers killed and those wounded. We mourn the sacrifice of their Families for their lives are forever changed. We must never...can never...forget.
Thank you for your continued support of our Service Members.
Eagle 6 (JC) Marshburn-Campbell