News: Washington Guard Non-commissioned officer logs leadership on the roll
Story by Master Sgt. Michael Smith
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – For Army Command Sgt. Maj. David Windham from the Washington Army National Guard, the leadership of a non-commissioned officer can be marked in the miles and missions his more than 1,100 citizen-soldiers drive from here for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Windham is the senior enlisted leader of the 81st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment. The regiment provides convoy security missions in Iraq and has logged more than 500,000 miles since their arrival here last October.
"These guys do an awesome job with the mission," said Windham, 47, who has 26 years of service with the Washington Guard.
If the Army's "Year of the Non-commissioned Officer" is meant to highlight the accomplishments of its NCOs, then Windham said his best enlisted leaders include staff sergeants who are managing operations outside the wire and driving the Army's latest uparmored equipment over thousands of miles to protect the fuel, food and supplies of Iraq.
The guard members provide the lead security for convoys, acting as a defense from improvised explosive devices and ambushes. "We do [several] missions a night," he said.
It's a challenging mission that's constantly changing, he said. Most recently, they are sharing more public road space with Iraq's citizenry; a sign, he said, of recent progress.
"We are sharing the road and trying to integrate traffic," he said.
The operational change on the open highways of a combat zone requires the strict objectivity of his junior NCOs to make it work safely, he said.
"It's pushed down to the NCO to run the fight, and they do a superb job night after night," he said. "Our guys also really like counter insurgency type work, which the battalion did last time it was here."
During their 2004 -'05 OIF deployment, the battalion conducted counter-insurgency missions. So convoy security was something they retrained to for this deployment, he said. "It was a whole new mission for us."
But Windham said their pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, Wis., prepared them well.
Now with many, many miles under their seatbelts, his Guard NCOs are training their up and coming enlisted leaders on the roads. That training will carry home with them later this year.
"This [place] is just a temporary rest stop," he said. "Someone else is going to have to take my position, and that filters down through all of us, all the way down to the bottom. Even from the E-5s ... they are training guys to take their place."
It can get boring out there on the highway riding mile after mile, he said. But, then again, the dangers are constant. "We might have an IED [improvised explosive device] attack or a grenade attack, and it's punctuated by those key moments," he said. "But these guys are ready for it; they have done a very good job."