News: Small unit with a big mission
By U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Wendland
2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, “Allons” deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, in early January. The “Allons” Battalion is the organic artillery battalion under the 2nd Brigade Combat Team “Commandos” (2/10 SFAB), 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.
Current deployments to Afghanistan require most brigades to restrict their manning significantly, deploying only 50 percent of their assigned personnel, as a means to limit a brigade to only the forces required for advising and assisting Afghan National Security Forces and retrograding equipment as part of the U.S. military plan to reduce the posture of forces within Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The “Allons” Battalion contributed to the required personnel reductions by only deploying one-third of the battalion. However, this did not detract from the artillery mission despite being the battalion with the least-deployed personnel in the “Commando” Brigade.
“Each member of the Allons team was hand-picked,” said Maj. Frank Buchheit, Task Force Allons’ executive officer. “Their ability to accomplish every mission across the four lines of effort is essential to our success.”
The bulk of TF “Allons” is directly involved with firing artillery, both the M119A2 (105mm) and the M777A2 (155mm) howitzers.
The TF was the first unit within the brigade to directly engage enemy insurgent forces by providing timely and accurate artillery counter-fire against enemy indirect fires within the initial days after arrival in Afghanistan.
Another element of TF “Allons” works with the Afghan National Army. The Green 4 Security Force Advisory Team advises the 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Afghan National Army Corps on the proper employment and sustainment of three brigade enablers: a reconnaissance tolei, an engineer tolei, and an artillery battery. The TF developed three teams to focus on advising the 4th kandak headquarters as well as each of the subordinate tolei’s both in preparation for and during combat operations. Tolei is the ANA term for a company-sized unit and a kandak is comparable in size to a battalion.
The TF headquarters is minimally manned, yet thrives. Most of the headquarters staff sections are comprised of only two people; small enough to require everyone to work very closely together to accomplish each assigned mission.
“There are no ‘one trick ponies,’” said Buchheit.
Spc. Kyle Donagan-Moore said, that “being put in a position where you can effect change and be a part of the decision-making process has been a huge culture shock for us specialists occupying officer and senior NCO positions. We have been taught over our whole career to execute. Now we are making decisions that affect a battalion and success is measured by our hard work and dedication to the mission.”
The headquarters provides oversight and sustainment to each of the three howitzer firing platoons located at three different Forward Operating Bases. Three adviser training teams are also located at three separate FOBs and serve as the garrison command of FOB Sharana, one of the largest logistical FOBs in Afghanistan.
2/10 SFAB augmented TF “Allons” with a U.S. Army infantry company, a Jordanian Armed Forces company, and a private Afghan contracted security company to assist with FOB Sharana’s daily force protection requirements.
For the mayor cell functions, 2/10 SFAB provided a portion of a cavalry troop, military police, and a fully-staffed fire department. These assets assist with the protection and well being of FOB Sharana’s five thousand tenants, comprised of soldiers, U.S. contractors, and foreign nationals.
“Running the mayor cell on such a large FOB is a challenging mission for soldiers normally trained to conduct combat operations at a troop level,” said 1st Sgt. Mark McDonough, the 1st Sgt. of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, attached to TF “Allons.”
In addition to the above missions, the TF also synchronizes the FOB’s eventual closure or transfer to the Afghans. Capt. Joshua Howard and 1st Sgt. Travis Fisher, the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery command team, lead the FOB Sharana closure command post in synchronizing the FOB’s deconstruction.
“We had many challenges when we began,” said Howard, “as we had to implement our systems from scratch and integrate agencies not accustomed to working together. However, upon establishing systems to achieve mission command, and agency synchronization, we made leaps and bounds of progress demolishing buildings, clearing storage areas, and moving equipment from FOB Sharana back to the U.S.”
The TF Headquarters works with each of the tenant units moving soldiers and civilians away from areas slated for deconstruction while coordinating with communication network engineers, deconstruction engineers and power, sewage, water, and fire experts to ensure the safe deconstruction of more than one-thousand buildings and structures prior to redeployment.
Although the work is challenging, soldiers remain enthusiastic about their mission and are honored to be contributing to our Nation’s mission in Afghanistan. The soldiers continue to see progress every day, while providing artillery support, advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces and deconstructing a mini-city. All this, while assisting and protecting more than five-thousand Soldiers and civilians residing on FOB Sharana. TF “Allons” might have the smallest presence within the 2/10 SFAB, but it definitely doesn’t have a small mission.