CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan – A number of SDSU graduates with the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade of Sioux Falls. The 196th recently assumed command of the Kabul Base Cluster in the capital of Kabul on June 26 and at a time when strong leadership and direction is needed to ensure future success in the war effort.
Alumni from South Dakota State University, along with graduates of the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program, have provided their fare share of Soldiers who have deployed to Afghanistan in the nearly decade-long war.
Active duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from SDSU and the university’s Army and Air Force ROTC programs, have unequivocally answered the called to deploy and serve time and time again.
That call has once again been answered by a number of SDSU graduates with the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade of Sioux Falls. The 196th recently assumed command of the Kabul Base Cluster in the capital of Kabul on June 26 and at a time when strong leadership and direction is needed to ensure future success in the war effort.
The mission of the unit – to serve as an installation management command – responsible for providing policy, guidance and sustainment support for nearly 9,000 U.S. and coalition forces stationed at 11 military bases throughout the capital region.
Many SDSU graduates and ROTC alumni serve in key leadership positions for the 196th command. Known as Task Force Rushmore, the 196th directs everything from garrison command support, force protection and security, information management systems, logistics sustainment, resource management and public works projects.
As the SDSU saying goes; you truly can go anywhere from here. The deputy commander for TF Rushmore, and a 1985 SDSU graduate, Col. Terry Ommen has seen firsthand just how important the 196th's role is in providing the Afghan people with an opportunity for a better life.
“Task Force Rushmore has a number of SDSU graduates currently serving in critical-leadership positions at both the officer and enlisted ranks. Everyday their skills and ability to overcome adversity is put to the test,” said Ommen, of Rapid City. “Without question, their education and experience gained while attending SDSU, coupled with decades of civilian work experience, has proved to be invaluable in Afghanistan.”
In recent years of the Afghan war, many of the bases within the Kabul area were operating independently and had varying levels of support. The new KBC command was initiated as recently as April – under the helm of the 38th Infantry Division from the Indiana Army National Guard – with the purpose of providing a centralized command structure for the KBC to provide the best and most efficient services needed for base life support.
“Right now the best thing we can do to help win this war is to support those fighting it,” said Brig. Gen. Theodore Johnson, TF Rushmore and 196th commander. “If our service members don’t have the proper security, training, equipment and facilities, they can’t be successful.”
Much like its name, the cluster of bases brings its own unique set of challenges and requirements: varying in size, numbers of forces, infrastructure development and operational control. What makes the National Guard well suited for such an undertaking is the number of civilian skill sets it brings to the KBC mission to support Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors stationed throughout Kabul.
Within the 196th, the unit has 20 SDSU graduates that make up its ranks of approximately 190 Soldiers. With degrees or civilian employment as city administrators, civil engineers and government, the 196th brings practical experience in operating cities or other governmental agencies back home – which is an advantage in operating bases that function much in the same way.
“The base camps need services that you find in cities; emergency services for firefighting; public works for adequate living and working spaces; resource management for new construction and maintenance projects,” said Maj. Jason Kettwig, a city administrator in Milbank and a 1998 SDSU graduate. “We have a lot of people in the unit with the kind of experience needed for this mission.”
Kettwig, a logistics officer for the 196th, says planning is critical to ensuring synergy amongst the different bases.
“The bases, as with many municipalities, rely on detailed master plans that provide a road map for ensuring essential services are well thought out, and can handle any expansion or growth improvements,” said Kettwig. “Directorates need coordination and prioritization so they do not hinder the objectives of other departments.”
To support the war’s counterinsurgency strategy, the increase of troops coming into Afghanistan is expected to peak while the 196th is in the middle of their tour, giving these Jackrabbits a chance to help set the conditions for future success for service members stationed in the Kabul area.
“In the end – regardless of the task or mission at hand – it’s all about making a difference in the quality of life for those, not only stationed here in Afghanistan, but more importantly, for those who call it home,” said Ommen. “Rest assured, TF Rushmore and our SDSU alumni are serving with pride. Go Jackrabbits!”