News: 'There’s no place like home': Kansas unit wraps up Afghanistan tour
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Hartman
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan––It’s mid-day at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and while many soldiers with Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, haul their duffel bags, or as they call it the “bag-drag,” to temporary housing where they’ll await a flight home, their commander, U.S. Army Col. James Davis, looks over the remaining awards and evaluations needing his signature before he can pack his own gear.
Davis also takes time to reflect on a year away from home – the missions his troops have accomplished and what comes next for the “Big Red One” unit.
“I’m very proud of what the soldiers have done,” Davis said. “I’m amazed at what our NCOs (noncommissioned officers) and leadership have accomplished.”
After nearly a year stationed at Bagram Airfield, 1st Infantry Division is passing the baton to incoming 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). With the baton comes the responsibility of a region on the cusp of transition from coalition forces to Afghan control.
The division headquarters battalion, Task Force Defender, was the life support and central nervous system for 1st Infantry Division and the Regional Command East headquarters.
“Our mission is to support the Commanding General and his staff so they can focus on the strategic process,” said Davis. “We provide the logistical backbone to support the headquarters.”
Task Force Defender was responsible for the administrative, logistical and legal support for the RC-East headquarters, as well as security operations throughout eastern Afghanistan. With less than 700 soldiers, the battalion supported nearly 1,900 military members and civilian contractors from the U.S., as well as South Korea, New Zealand, Malaysia, Poland and France.
Davis’ right-hand-man, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Chaplin, said this may have been the first deployment for many of the soldiers but they accomplished their mission and grew through the experience.
“I think the troops performed outstanding,” Chaplin said. “The volunteer soldier is something different than your average civilian. As the Battalion CSM, I enjoy seeing their training, their bonding, and the mentorship.”
It may be a first for some of the troops, but this isn’t the first time this battalion has helped close down a combat zone. In 2011, during their deployment in support of United States Division South in Basra, Iraq, the 1st Infantry Division, Headquarter Battalion, played a key role in coordinating the final transfer of security and responsibility to Iraqi Security Forces.
“This time around, they played a very similar role for the Afghan National Security Forces,” Davis said.
“Having the Afghans understand that we were no longer ‘shoulder to shoulder’ but that we had pushed them into the lead,” said Davis. “It took a couple weeks for their mind-set to shift. They’ve done an amazing job.”
Beyond the support of division headquarters and the security mission, Task Force Defender worked on 15 major projects such as a new hospital and a hydroelectric dam impacting more than one million people living in eastern Afghanistan.
“The quality of life, the quality of health care and the quality of education has increased the average Afghan’s lifespan and that’s because of the soldier making that big difference,” Davis said.
Chaplin agreed their soldiers played a big role in improving the lives of the local Afghans. The Command Sgt. Maj., with more than 23 years in army boots, is always looking ahead and planning the next step for his Big Red One troops.
“Next is to get back home, give the soldiers some downtime, some R&R (rest and relaxation), reset and continue to prepare for whatever is next,” said Chaplin. “In this expeditionary time that we face, you never know what’s next. You just need to continue to train and prepare the soldiers for whatever may come.”
Davis looks forward to the final steps in the long journey home but knows his unit has left a lasting footprint in Afghanistan.
“Anytime someone tastes freedom or democracy it changes the world, it changes the person and it changes their family,” Davis said. “It’s an amazing event. So that’s why we’re here, to give them a chance at security, stability, freedom and a better life.”