National Guard preps to support drawdown in Afghanistan

177th Armored Brigade
Story by Spc. Karen Sampson

Date: 10.01.2013
Posted: 10.17.2013 12:41
News ID: 115291
National Guard preps to support drawdown in Afghanistan

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - National Guard soldiers hailing from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts recently completed a culminating training exercise in preparation for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan to close or convert military sites for other uses by the Afghan Security Forces and local communities.

"The focus on 133rd Engineer Battalion's responsibility for a retrograde mission in Afghanistan is an integral part of planning battalion's CTE," said Capt. Rodrico P. Vargas, a scenario scripter and planner with 2nd Battalion, 410th Field Artillery, 177th Armored Brigade.

Observer/controller trainers assigned to 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East designed the CTE for the 133rd Engineer Battalion to specifically test not only their individual and collective warfighting and survivability skills, but their specific deployment mission.

The assistance of the engineers is essential to the scheduled end of Operation Enduring Freedom by January 2015, Vargas said.

"U.S. forces created an infrastructure of forward operating bases and contingency operating locations, and these must be deconstructed," said Vargas.

"The mission is an effort to minimize the impact that the existence of these bases had on the environment in order to responsibly reduce U.S. forces," said Vargas.

Vargas said the soldiers of the 133rd are performing above standard in construction projects planned around Camp Shelby during the CTE.

"The 133rd Engineer Battalion are well-equipped on the knowledge of vertical and horizontal engineering," said Vargas. "Therefore, the primary objective of the CTE is providing the soldiers tactical challenges in the planned scenarios."

"A major part of the retrograde mission is convoy movement to and from the forward operating base to construction sites as well as movement to various locations," said Vargas. "The CTE planning provides them tactical scenarios to exercise what they should do in battle drill situations."

The soldiers responded well to the mounted tactical and security scenarios and improved their unit cohesion and communication quickly, he said.

"We are glad the cumulative training exercise is very detailed and mission specific," said Sgt. 1st Class Kameel N. Farag, native of Oakland, Maine, and operations noncommissioned officer in charge of the 133rd Engineer Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "You can never mimic what you don't know."

"In theater, details in the mission change on a daily basis, and the CTE provides that situational awareness," he said. "I feel that overall there is a strong effort from the planners here to make the cumulative training as realistic as possible."

The 133rd Engineer Battalion soldiers are embracing the warrior-skill-driven concept around what they are tasked to accomplish, said Farag.

"One of the best points is the soldiers can identify their weaknesses during the training and have assistance working towards improving their readiness," said Farag. "There is no shame in that game. It is better to identify and work towards improvement in this environment than three months from now in theater."

Army National Guard engineering companies from New Jersey, Mississippi and Alabama will attach to the 133rd Engineer Battalion for the upcoming mission providing construction support said Capt. Kelly S. LaPierre, native of Gorham, Maine, and executive officer of the 133rd Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company.

"The FSC mission is to provide logistical and sustainment support to the vertical and horizontal engineering companies in theater," said LaPierre.

Information provided from the current unit the 133rd Engineer Battalion will be replacing predicts extensive use of convoy operations in theater, said LaPierre.

"Our biggest challenge we anticipate in theater is the convoy operations performed by our distribution platoon," said La Pierre. "The platoon will be involved in three to 10 day convoys delivering supplies, fuel, vehicles, anything that needs to move."

"We are all looking forward to getting our boots on ground in theater and accomplish the mission," he said.

The upcoming retrograde mission will be the 133rd Engineer Battalion's third deployment, the first to Afghanistan. Previous deployments were to Iraq in 2004 to 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and serving deployment to Bosnia prior to that.