PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan- Soldiers from the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade, 121st Light Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Echo Company, Distribution Platoon from Winder, Ga., convoyed from their home Forward Operating Base Lightning in Paktya province, Afghanistan, to Combat Outpost Herrera, also in Paktya, March 17.
What made this mission special was the platoon also conducted it with their replacements, the Vermont National Guard's 172nd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, Echo Company, Distribution Platoon.
This hallmarked the near completion of the unit's tour in Afghanistan. The Georgia Guard Soldiers will leave FOB Lightning in the next few days and begin their journey home.
The Soldiers in the unit say that the most important things they will take with them from their time in Afghanistan are the strong bonds they formed with their Afghan National Army counterparts and each other.
"It will be sad to see everyone go their separate ways, but at the same time we know we can always rely on each other. We can call each other in the middle of the night if we ever need help. We're battle buddies for life," said the distribution platoon sergeant, U.S Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Mauro of Jackson, Ga., Mauro added the platoon is so close-knit because of what they accomplished and went through together.
Echo Co. drove more miles than any other company in the 48th Brigade. They delivered construction supplies, food and anything else that the units they supported needed. They drove through all seven provinces in the 48th's area of operation and through every type of terrain imaginable, Mauro said.
There is one specific mission that the members of the platoon point to as an event that changed the direction of their deployment. The unit embarked on a mission to deliver supplies to several nearby FOBs in early November.
However, not only did the scheduled week-long operation turn into a mettle testing 24-day ordeal due to poor weather and other factors, but the unit also encountered a complex ambush on the second day of the mission.
"The first time we got hit was a turning point. We became more serious about our mission and it brought us closer together. It turned us into one cohesive team. You couldn't separate us after that. We had to count on each other for everything...That bond will never go away. We went through this together and we came out of it together," said U.S. Army Sgt. Greg S. Wallace, of Atlanta, a medic with the platoon.
Another positive during the 24-day mission was the strengthening of the relationship between the Soldiers in the Distribution Platoon and their ANA counterparts.
"During those 24 days, we had some down time waiting to go from place to place and it made us really work with the ANA a lot... We spent a lot of time planning things with their staff and we built some good personal relationships with them," said the unit platoon leader, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jerry M. Garner, of Dearing, Ga. "Those 24 days really solidified our relationship with the ANA."
Garner also discussed the development of the partnership between his unit and the ANA, as well as the important role the ANA played in his unit's mission.
"We started working with them back in October, especially with their [non-commissioned officers]. We made it a point to pair our NCOs with their NCOs...The trust factor has gone way up between our unit and their unit.
"Whenever we roll out we do our best to take them with us, and when they roll out they do the same for us...We use them on the cultural side of things, assisting with the population...We're assisting their army and defending their country from people who want to do them harm. The ANA helps to get the message across," Garner said.
After travelling across thousands of miles of eastern Afghanistan and surviving enemy attacks, the Soldiers of the Distribution Platoon can't wait to get home. They are rightfully proud of all they have accomplished in the last year, but are proudest of one single accomplishment.
"We took 31 guys over here and 31 are going back," Mauro said.