News: Task Force Steel’s adaptability an asset to RC-South
Story by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Healthy eucalyptus trees, roses and various other exotic flowers in the courtyard of the 1st Kandak, Afghan National Police headquarters in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, provided the setting for Lt. Col. Eric Johnson’s last key leader engagement with 1st Kandak’s commander, Lt. Col. Abdul Samieh, August 12, 2014.
During the meeting Johnson gave Samieh a certificate of appreciation to thank him for all of the ANP’s dealings with Task Force Steel, or 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Division, commanded by Johnson.
Since early spring, the task force has executed a multi-faceted and ever changing mission in Regional Command-South.
“Our initial purpose was to provide indirect fire with our five M777 howitzers with our firing platoons in five different Forward Operating Bases throughout RC-South,” said Sgt. 1st Class Malquer Manzueta, a native of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, who serves as a platoon sergeant of a personal security detail for TF Steel. “We have the last howitzers in RC-South.”
Although howitzers are their organic tools to operate in a deployed environment, the artillerymen haven’t had many fire missions due to the improved security in the region.
“We haven’t fired a lot of field artillery munitions, which is a good thing and is a reflection of the overall security situation in RC-South,” Johnson said. “But when we have fired missions we’ve been able to deliver the killing blows that commanders have needed. I think we’ve fired 11 missions over the past five months, and we’ve had pretty good success.”
While on FOB Walton, TF Steel served RC-South’s mission in various ways, from providing security for several Security Forces Advise and Assist Teams, training the Afghan National Police, performing FOB deconstruction operations, all while performing their inherent role as artilleryman, Johnson explained.
“Our battalion was the main support element in Kandahar City, and our mission there was to provide support for all of the police kandaks of the entire city,” Manzueta said. “We also served as escorts for the SFAAT’s in Kandahar City, to supply their key leader engagements with security.”
Johnson also explained that as operations have been taken over by the ANP, TF Steel has had an advisory mission as well. Through KLEs they see how the ANP’s operations are going, and look where they can offer advice.
The road hasn’t been without bumps along the way. On July 9, FOB Walton was nearing its closure and TF Steel was providing security at the Provincial Security Meeting at the governor’s palace. Suddenly and simultaneously there were two attacks at the provincial police headquarters (connected to FOB Walton), and the governor’s palace in Kandahar City.
“We had one platoon from the battalion that was downtown at the governor’s palace and the rest of the battalion was at FOB Walton. After about three and a half hours of fighting, we defeated the enemy, maintained the integrity the provincial governor’s palace, and denied the enemy the ability to penetrate the Afghan police headquarters and FOB Walton itself,” Johnson said.
“Our Soldiers, chief among them sergeant first class Manzueta and other junior enlisted, performed beyond any of our wildest expectations,” Johnson said. “Manzueta earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with valor.”
“My sentiment that I had at the time was to just protect everyone that was around me, and to enable our Afghan partners to do what they needed to do in the attack,” Manzueta said.
Early in their deployment the battalion knew that the U.S. and coalition presence would be downsizing, but not how it would be done.
“We came to Afghanistan in March knowing we were coming to Forward Operating Base Walton. We weren’t certain if we were going to close the FOB or transfer it over to the Afghans,” said Johnson, a native of Port Huron, Mich. “About a good month into the deployment we found out that we were indeed going to close it.”
Johnson explained that the closure of FOB Walton is the task force’s biggest accomplishment since they’ve been in country. As they left the area July 17, it was their focus to make sure that their Afghan partners knew that although they were withdrawing their direct presence, they weren’t withdrawing their support.
“We made it absolutely clear to our Afghan counterparts that we are still committed to their security and their people, and the furthering of governance within the city,” Johnson said.
Almost a month later, TF Steel continues their mission. Their knowledge of the layout of Kandahar City and the relationships they’ve developed with the ANP has been an asset to RC-South. However, as other FOBs close and personnel withdraw from remote areas of RC-South, they are transitioning again to a mission to protect U.S. and coalition forces on Kandahar Airfield.