By U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kurt Carlson
2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment
FORWARD OPERATING BASE BORIS, Afghanistan - Throughout the Army’s history, it has served the interests of the United States to send small groups of soldiers to advise and assist foreign forces. It’s a tradition that the Army inherited in its infancy when such famous leaders as Baron von Steuben, Marquis de Montcalm, and Baron de Kalb traveled from their respective countries to help America’s fledgling militia transform into a professional fighting force. This tradition continued in Greece and Vietnam, where American soldiers fought and bled alongside their counterparts to help staunch the spread of Communism.
Today, in Paktika Province, a small group of advisors from 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment are continuing this tradition as they advise and fight alongside the “Redlegs” of the Artillery Tolai, 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps, Afghan National Army.
The soldiers of this Advisory Team, called Red 1 are faced with a unique set of challenges. Whereas other advisers in the 2nd Security Force Advisory Brigade, 10th Mountain Division are primarily focused on the Afghan battalion staffs, these soldiers operate primarily at the platoon and section level. Day in and day out they work alongside ANA soldiers and help them develop their ability to engage the enemy with timely and accurate fires. It’s a daunting task, but one that they were amply prepared for.
Months before deployment, the members of Red 1 were hand-selected from the Battery’s of 2-15 FA and tasked with the advisory mission. The first focus for their training was on basic advisory skills.
Over the course of two weeks at Fort Polk, La., they followed in the footsteps of their predecessors from Vietnam, by studying their host nation on the grounds of the Adviser Academy called “Tigerland”.
While at the course they studied Dari, analyzed different advisory methods, and created unit standard operating procedures as they worked alongside role players. The team continued to refine their skill set by training non-Artillery personnel to fire howitzers while at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.
Their culminating training event before deploying was a rotation at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany. There they became the first 10th Mountain Soldiers to ever attend the JMRC D-30 course. Using guns from Croatia and other post-Soviet countries, the team trained on the weapon systems they would advise on in combat.
Since arriving in Afghanistan, the team has had ample opportunity to put their training to the test. Split between several locations they have taken the D-30 Battery from a unit primarily focused on training into an operational firing unit.
On a weekly basis, the people of Orgun and Bermal District hear the Afghan howitzers thundering as they support Afghan Army patrols, police checkpoints, and disrupt the insurgents’ ability to maneuver in the area.
Although adviser roles are not a traditional field artillery mission, it is definitely rewarding.
“I feel an incredible attachment to the ANA soldiers” said U.S. Army Sgt. Donny Bretzinger, a fire direction Sgt. in Red 1, “they are their own unit, but they are our soldiers just the same.”
The Afghan artillery platoons continue to grow by every day and eventually will reach total independence.
“Only time will tell if we’re successful,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kurt Carlson, the team’s leader, “once Coalition Forces leave Afghanistan. It will be up to these soldiers to keep the guns firing and the Taliban at bay.”
Until American soldiers leave, however, the Red 1 advisers will continue their work to provide the Afghan artillery battery with professional advice and quality assistance.