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    Soldiers of 20th SFG look back on deployment to Afghanistan



    Story by Sgt. Katryn McCalment 

    NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan

    BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – As the incoming personnel for Special Operations Task Force – East arrive on Bagram Airfield, the outgoing command looks back at the accomplishments that have been achieved during their eight-month tour.

    Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, took the reins of SOTF-East in August 2010. As the largest SOTF in Afghanistan, the command is responsible for Special Operations in both the eastern region of the country, as well as a majority of the provinces in the North.

    But, for the unit home-based in Camp Blanding, Fla., and those from other branches of service that joined them in Afghanistan, they solidified themselves into one unit and took on the challenge.

    “I am most proud of the performance of each and every soldier, sailor, airmen and Marine under this command,” said Lt. Col. Don Lovelace, outgoing commander of SOTF-East. “Each day I witnessed personnel giving it their all and performing their particular role in this SOTF with dedication, professionalism and determination.”

    The expectations put on the SOTF were enormous, Lovelace continued, and couldn’t have been accomplished without the individual service members going above and beyond their assigned duties.

    “The combined effort of over 600 individuals resulted in an efficient output of steady progress by the SOTF,” he said.

    When Lovelace and the soldiers he commands arrived in Bagram, they had missions to achieve by rotations-end.

    First and foremost was building security bubbles within the village-level population in key terrain throughout the northern and eastern provinces.

    “When we arrived, there were two locations where Operational Detachment Alphas were contributing to these security bubbles,” said Lt. Col. John Pelleriti, operations director for SOTF-East. “We leave with 15 sites. These efforts contributed greatly to increased security and improved local governance and development in many key rural areas throughout our area of operations.”

    To accomplish this, Special Forces ODAs held more than 200 key-leader engagements, or shuras, with village elders, provincial and district leadership, and members of the population. These shuras built a level of trust between the Afghan population and the ODA s that enabled them to safely live in close proximity to the villages, and thereby benefiting both sides.

    “The ODAs provide security to the people who don’t want insurgents in their villages but are afraid or don’t have the means to defend themselves,” said a Special Forces soldier in one of these areas. “In return, the village elders agree that they won’t harbor insurgents in their villages and that allows us to bring humanitarian aid projects in.”

    With new water wells, roads and schools in the area, the villagers have more incentive to keep the insurgents out, continuing the stream of benefits.

    To ensure progress gained was also kept, more than 1,000 partnered patrols were conducted during the rotation.

    The second mission given to the SOTF was to train and employ Afghan partner forces.

    At the time of their redeployment, service members within the SOTF were partnered with four separate Afghan National Army Commando Kandaks, or Battalions, the Afghan Special Forces, and village-level Afghan Security Forces. In addition, they worked in conjunction with the Afghan National Police and Border Patrol.

    The partnership with the larger forces, like the ANA Commandos, was a success. It resulted in the capturing of 142 insurgents, 37 caches, and the destruction of tons of drugs and weapons.

    Immediately after 20th SFG (A)’s arrival, President Karzai approved the Afghan Local Police program, enabling Special Forces to support the local village elders and the Ministry of the Interior to recruiting, arming, training and employing local police forces in support of village security endeavors.

    The partnership with the village-level security forces helped empower the people to unite against the insurgents and protect their own communities. In the eight months during their rotation, the SOTF was able to help expand the program to 55 villages throughout Afghanistan and on numerous occasions the local security force chased insurgents out of their villages without the need of ODA involvement.

    “Afghans from rural villages will have a better life due to the efforts of SOTF-East personnel,” said Lovelace. “The rural population is being empowered to stand up for their village against insurgent intimidation, carrying on with their daily lives in an improved way through good governance, local development and layered security.”

    As the security bubbles expanded, the development grew. SOTF- East completed 79 projects including refurbishing two schools and building dozens of retaining walls, six miles of road in Paktika province that greatly increased commerce throughout the province, 29 water wells, 103,312 pounds of humanitarian aid and even supported the installation of a cell tower that reaches more than 15,000 Afghans who have never received coverage before.

    The efforts of SOTF-East didn’t stop at security, training, and humanitarian aid. The members of the SOTF also arranged for dozens of medical evacuations to local or provincial-level hospitals, many for Afghan civilians wounded by insurgent gunfire or improvised explosives devices. More than one thousand villagers were treated by Special Forces medics at the village clinics.

    The huge advances made within the SOTF also came at an incredibly steep price. On Dec. 5, 2010, Staff Sgt. Jason Reeves was killed in action in the vicinity of Gardez, Paktia province.

    “Staff Sgt. Jason Reeves provided his team with the quintessential depth of knowledge and information to afford untold thousands of Afghans an opportunity to live a life free of oppression and with self-worth,” said Lovelace. “Staff Sgt. Reeves paid the ultimate price and his memory will remain with us forever.”

    In addition, 16 soldiers within the SOTF were awarded purple hearts for wounds received in combat.

    The combined unit was also awarded 383 bronze star medals, six with valor, 189 Army accommodation medals, five with valor, and 85 Army achievement medals.

    But, the service members didn’t come to Afghanistan for the awards.

    “I’m here to do my part,” said an Airman under the SOTF-East command. “I’m here to help the people of Afghanistan in any way I can and leave a stronger foundation of security so they can hopefully, one day, live in peace.”

    This will be the last deployment to Afghanistan for the Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group in the foreseeable future, but they leave knowing the accomplishments during this rotation prepares the next group to continue building on that success.

    “A select few on this planet have an opportunity to make a tremendous impact on those less fortunate,” said Lovelace. “The sacrifices made by this select few are immeasurable, but the contributions to the stability of Afghanistan are profound.”



    Date Taken: 03.11.2011
    Date Posted: 03.11.2011 02:38
    Story ID: 66828
    Location: BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AF 

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