Not so far from home
As it turns out, the rugged terrain surrounding Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is actually a pretty good double for Afghanistan.
“We were out in the winter months repeatedly doing driver training to get ready for this,” said Lt. Col Brad Hinson of the 725th Brigade Support Battalion (Centurions) during a recent conference call from Afghanistan.
The Centurions are tasked with providing logistical support for the 4,000 members of Task Force Spartan currently deployed in Eastern Afghanistan. That means they’re responsible for getting everything from food to ammunition to soldiers who are spread out across a 19,000-square mile area of operations in the Khost and Paktia provinces.
“We distribute all the different classes of supplies for all the soldiers for Task Force Spartan,” Hinson said. “That’s food, water, bulk fuel, ammunition, building supplies, repair parts…”
The unit uses both air and ground equipment to accomplish this mission, and Hinson said the training done in the Alaska backcountry has been a big help in the icy mountains of Afghanistan.
“It’s paying unbelievable dividends,” he said.
The two locations are actually fairly similar in at least one regard, Hinson said.
“The weather is very unpredictable,” he said.
Hinson and Sgt. Maj. Brian Morrison took time out from their work to speak with the Star during a conference call on Feb. 1. The soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in November and December for a 10-month tour. So far, Hinson said he couldn’t be happier with how the mission has gone.
“They have hit the ground running,” he said of his paratroopers.
Task Force Spartan goes through roughly 55,000 gallons of fuel each day, Hinson said, all of which has to be provided by the Centurions. The unit is also responsible for fixing broken equipment and providing medical care to both wounded Spartans as well as the occasional Afghan civilian.
Sgt. Maj. Morrison said the work is always different, and forces the Centurions to be able to think on their feet.
“It’s amazing to see how fast they work these things out in their mind,” he said.
Lt. Col. Hinson said the Centurions’ ability to solve problems at a moment’s notice — whether due to changing weather conditions or a broken-down vehicle — has the added benefit of providing the soldiers with “graduate-level logistics” training that will have applications once their time in the Army is over.
“What they do over here in supporting this brigade definitely prepares them for when they are going to get out of the Army for employment,” Hinson said.
While the Centurions might be the best friends of soldiers in need of food and supplies, they’re also serving to bridge the divide between American forces and the Afghan public through their medical work. Morrison described a recent event during which a young child was injured by ordnance in town. The child was admitted to the base hospital, where he was able to receive medical care.
Hinson said that whenever an Afghan civilian is cared for by the military, it can only help the Army’s image in the Asian country.
“I think it definitely does,” he said. “They see us as medical providers and helpers, and I think…the second- and third-order effect of doing something like that is going to pay dividends way down the road.”
Morrison said one of the most gratifying things he’s experienced since arriving in Afghanistan is the ability to work with Afghan security forces. One of Task Force Spartan’s primary goals is to enable the Afghans to take over their own governance and security, and Morrison said he’s found that the local soldiers are no different than those from the U.S.
“They are no different than we are,” he said. “They are soldiers and they want what’s best for their country.”
Getting positive feedback from his fellow soldiers, Morrison said, is one of the best parts of the job.
“That’s always reassuring to us that it’s taken on a positive impact on everybody,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]