By Sgt. Amber Robinson
Task Force Spartan
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division have left their home station at Fort Drum, N.Y., and are now moving into position for operations in Regional Command - East, Afghanistan.
Task Force Spartan will serve under Combined Joint Task Force - 101 as a unit in NATO's International Security Assistance Force and be responsible for the provinces of Wardak and Logar in RC East. The area has been sparsely occupied most recently by units from the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
The brigade is the first element of its size to deploy exclusively into these two provinces, increasing the U.S. presence there by thousands. All forward operating bases throughout these provinces will be reinforced to accommodate the influx of troops.
Soldiers began to fly out of Fort Drum as early as mid-November. Task Force Spartan, originally slated to deploy to Iraq, was officially re-routed to Afghanistan in early September. The brigade is the first substantial illustration of the new military focus in Afghanistan.
The brigade's mission has been called expeditionary, given how undeveloped their new area of operations is by U.S. military forces.
"Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Casey called us an expeditionary force," said Col. David B. Haight, Task Force Spartan commander. "The term basically means that we are a very flexible force. We can get a mission in an austere part of the world, and if you give us the right equipment and the right amount of personnel we can quickly come up with a solution, deploy to that area from our home base of Fort Drum, New York, and begin effective operations in a short period of time."
Flexibility was a key word for the brigade as they prepared for their current deployment.
"We spent well over a year preparing to deploy into the region of East Baghdad," said Haight. "Once we found out we were being re-routed, we very quickly replicated our training for Afghanistan."
Although much of the brigade's last year of training for Iraq can still be applied to combat and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, there is obvious diversity between the two. The brigade staff and Soldiers quickly adjusted fire and integrated new key training objectives for Afghanistan.
"Some may say that a counterinsurgency is a counterinsurgency no matter where you are in the world, but there are obvious differences we had to prepare for," said Haight. "The infrastructure in Iraq is much more advanced than what we are dealing with here in Afghanistan, as is the overall terrain. Language and terrain issues are obviously vastly different in Iraq than they are in Afghanistan."
In the past, only a battalion-sized element occupied the two provinces which now belong to Task Force Spartan. Basics such as sleeping arrangements, chow hall capacity, showers and phone and Internet connectivity are the current main concerns of the brigade.
Pfc. MaryPearl Parnell, an information analyst who deployed early and has been in Afghanistan for the last month, noted the progress the brigade has made since they began to arrive in their area of operations.
"When we first got here, our tactical operations center was only a bunch of wires and lots of wood," said Parnell, who is on her second deployment to Afghanistan with the brigade. "We really had to organize our priorities once we got here. Things were different this time around, so once we arrived, we had to establish connectivity in our headquarters and make sure each room had the correct lines run for the personnel that would need them. These basics were already established for the brigade last time, so that was a challenge."
Aside from the challenges, Parnell and others have focused on some of the positives.
"I was impressed with the FOB, it was much more than what I expected. I also notice that personnel have a lot more patience. They understand that this is a slow process, but it is a necessary process towards progress."
Parnell is one of many Soldiers who have deployed with the Spartan Brigade before.
"About to 30 to 35 percent of the brigade are veterans of the last deployment," said Haight. "That adds an advantage to our current mission due to the fact that they already possess the cultural sensitivity, awareness of the terrain and are more aware of the tribal dynamics."
"We learned a lot of critical lessons last time we were here," said Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers, command sergeant major for TF Spartan. "We learned how to operate efficiently in this [counterinsurgency] environment and what are the best ways to interact with the people to include the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. We'll lend a lot of effort and focus to working with and helping to train the local Afghan security forces this time around."
Although the brigade is now focused on building adequate living and operational bases to conduct missions from, very soon they will begin to move out into Wardak and Logar and build important relationships with the local populace.
"Our first steps are to get forces out into these more populated areas and begin to interact with the people," said Haight. "Knowing the human terrain is as important as knowing the mountainous terrain surrounding our forward operating bases."
"We cannot accomplish our mission without the support of the people," said Maj. James Baker, information operations officer for the brigade.
"We establish these relationships so we can understand the locals' viewpoint, position and better help them in our efforts to work towards the overall security of Afghanistan. We base these relationships on trust, which is vital to our joint efforts over the next year."
The focus of the brigade for the next year will be to help improve security in Wardak and Logar and help bring the local populace into a position of strengthened governance and infrastructure.
Key members of the brigade have already begun to meet and greet with leaders of Wardak and Logar, a small start to the large efforts the brigade hopes to make during their year in Afghanistan. There are many factors which will lend to victory in Afghanistan, but only one key will open the door to a more secure future.
"We have to get the local populace to take some ownership of their government," said Haight. "Afghans themselves are obviously the key to this victory."