News: Army leaders survey battlefield and thank troops for service
Story by Lt. Jeffrey Gray
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Army’s second highest ranking civilian and military leaders met with American and NATO leadership at Regional Commands, hospitals, forward operating bases, and support units throughout eastern and southern Afghanistan, and thanked service members, civilians, and contractors for their hard work and sacrifice during a three day visit here Nov. 20 – 23.
Joseph W. Westphal, undersecretary of the Army, and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, vice chief of staff of the Army, came to Afghanistan to acquire first-hand knowledge of the conditions and status of the gradual withdrawal of troops and equipment, recognize and award exceptional soldiers and civilians, and thank them for their hard work and the sacrifice, and wish them a happy Thanksgiving.
“Managing the enterprise from the Pentagon is one thing”, said Westphal. “You have to get out into the field in order to understand what’s going on, how things are shaping-up, and where things are moving. Talking to the troops, both military and civilians, who are on the ground you get a better sense of what is happening.”
Westphal continued, “Additionally, it’s Thanksgiving and we have thousands of soldiers and civilians throughout Afghanistan who are going to spend Thanksgiving away from the families and friends. We need to come out here and tell them how much we appreciate what they do every day.”
While in International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Regional Command, Capital in Kabul, both Westphal and Austin met with leadership at the International Joint Command, spoke to troops about the future of the Army at ISAF’s headquarters; learned about the successes of developing and increasing the capacity of the Afghan National Security Force at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan; and, learned about the lawful work of Special Operations Joint Command to track down the bad guys in Afghanistan.
At ISAF’s Regional Command, East in Bagram, Westphal and Austin met with doctors, nurses, and staff at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and learned that 90 percent of combat injured patients who come through the hospital return to duty; met with leadership and command staff from Regional Command East; and, inspected and learned about the processes of the retrograde facilities of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade and retrosort yard of the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
While visiting troops in Regional Command, East, on Forward Operating Base Sharana, home of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Westphal awarded Pfc. Ashley M. Beltinck with the Combat Medic Badge for providing medical care under fire.
At ISAF’s Regional Command, South in Kandahar, Westphal and Austin visited with leaders and command staff at Regional Command South; toured Role III Hospital and learned about innovative web-based communications between military doctors and their military patients; and, shared Thanksgiving meals and visted with troops at smaller bases and posts at Zangabad, Degobad, Siah Choy, Sanjeray and Pasab.
During their visit to Zangabad, with Combat Outpost Sperwan Ghar, Austin had the honor of awarding the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third highest military decoration for valor, to Army Capt. Brian Kitching of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 64th Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, from Lincoln, Neb. Kitching was awarded the Silver Star for actions taken while leading platoon operations during rough fighting with the enemy where the unit sustained heavy casualties.
“Being awarded the Silver Star by Gen. Austin was a humbling and bitter sweet experience”, said Kitching. “Bitter sweet in the sense that we sustained some casualties during that operation, but humbling in the sense that Gen. Austin is a role model of mine and it was truly an honor to have him present me with the medal.”
Speaking to soldiers gathered for an awards and re-enlistment ceremony at Pasab, Gen. Austin said, “Any time you are recognized is special, especially when it’s in front of your peers that make it more special. Being recognized in front of your peers in a combat zone is a tremendous complement.”
“There is no greater honor, in my mind, for a soldier to be recognized by other soldiers, because you know who working hard and who is not working hard, and who is going above and beyond the call of duty. For us to call someone out to say thanks for re-enlisting or thanks for doing a great job is powerful”, said Austin.
Austin continued, “We are thrilled to be here and spend Thanksgiving Day with you. We are grateful for all of the things you continue to do for our country. You do important work, you do critical work, and you are making a tremendous difference for this region of the world, for this country, and that difference will remain forever.”