Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno visited with leaders and soldiers deployed to Regional Command (South), Afghanistan, at Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Azzizullah, Aug. 7.
Odierno met with senior leaders and received updates from Combined Joint Task Force-4 on current operations in Afghanistan which focused on training, equipment and ongoing partnerships with Afghan National Security Forces.
“Whenever I come to Afghanistan, it’s to get a sense of what is going on— to meet with the leaders, to meet with the soldiers, and get an understanding of where we are in the campaign,” said Odierno. “There has really been a fundamental change during this visit. All of the units are in train and advise roles, where before we were still conducting operations with the Afghan Army; but now, we’re clearly advising them and helping them as they conduct operations independently. And they are doing a very good job.”
During his visit, Odierno had breakfast with 24 junior enlisted soldiers ranging in rank from private to sergeant.
“I really enjoyed General Odierno's visit. I could tell that he's a very passionate person and he sincerely cares for the welfare of troops, which makes me happy,” said Sgt. Phyllis Thompson, a public affairs specialist, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division. “When troops asked him questions, he didn't give us political answers he gave us truthful answers while looking each and every one of us in the eyes. I'm truly honored I got a chance to meet him.”
At FOB Azzizullah, he received a transition operations brief from 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The transition operations include movement of equipment and materials from a forward operating base to a central location, as well as the handover of facilities and equipment to the Afghan National Security Forces.
Following the briefing, Odierno presented awards to several soldiers, including five Purple Heart Medals, four Bronze Star Medals with valor device, eight Army Commendation Medals, three Combat Infantryman Badges, two Combat Medic Badges and two Combat Action Badges. After the presentations, he was able to speak directly to soldiers.
“Having the opportunity to present awards is one of my favorite things to do. It confirms what I already know about our Army,” said Odierno. “I had the chance to present several Purple Hearts, several Bronze Star medals with valor and Army Commendation medals with valor. This tells me we have men and women who are committed, professional and continue to show courage under fire.
“I also had the opportunity to present the Combat Action Badge, Combat Medic Badge and the Combat Infantryman Badge. This means they are capable of operating under fire as they do their missions,” said Odierno.
Spc. Richard Abalos, a soldier with 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who received a Combat Infantryman Badge, said that it was an honor and privilege to have the chief of staff of pin on his badge. He thanked his family and leadership for their support during his tour.
“That’s who we are and what we are about - young men and women who are willing to sacrifice for each other and willing to sacrifice anything to accomplish the mission,” said Odierno.
Odierno took a moment after the soldier discussion to talk about his outlook on the Afghan National Security Forces.
“You are seeing the Afghan forces take over full responsibility of security and fighting the fight bravely. There is no doubt in my mind that they are capable of securing this nation,” he said. “There are still some things we may have to help them with post-2014, but they are well on their way and have the ability to secure the people of Afghanistan.”
Odierno also discussed several issues currently affecting the military, like sexual assaults.
“I call sexual assaults an insider threat to the Army,” he said. “We have people inside the Army who are taking away from the professionalism and the effectiveness of our Army. There are many things that we have to do; this is everyone’s problem, and we need everyone to help us solve this problem.”
Odierno touched on how, the Army needs to take care of it’s victims and make sure it has the capabilities to do so.
“We have to change our culture -- the culture that is foundational to the Army: one of trust: and every time we have an incident of sexual assault it impacts that trust,” said Odierno. “Finally we have to hold people accountable. We have to hold leaders accountable for creating the right environment and ensure that they are reporting and acting on incidents.
Before leaving Azzizullah, Odierno recognized the efforts that these men and women have accomplished while serving in Afghanistan.
“I’m incredibly proud of our Army and the young men and women who continue to serve our Army,” said Odierno. “They are committed and competent in everything that they do, they continue to adapt and be flexible with any mission they are given, including the one here in Afghanistan. As we move forward we will continue to have the best Army in the world, and that’s because of the people and that’s the most important thing.”