Adm. Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations, is mapping out a potential Afghanistan war plan that would replace thousands of U.S. troops with small special operations teams paired with Afghans to help an inexperienced Afghan force withstand a Taliban onslaught as U.S. troops withdraw.
While the overall campaign would still be led by conventional military, the handfuls of special operators would become the leading force to help Afghans secure the large tracts of territory won in more than a decade of U.S. combat. They would give the Afghans practical advice on how to repel attacks, intelligence to help spot the enemy and communications to help call for U.S. air support if overwhelmed by a superior force.
Wow this seems like such a cutting-edge and new idea….NOT. This was the model we had in Afghanistan from 2002-2007. During that time we had only one active duty brigade combat team in Afghanistan to conduct kinetic operations. There was also this little group called Task Force Phoenix which was filled with National Guard members whom were charged with “pairing with Afghans to help train an inexperienced Afghan Force”. They were called ETT members which stands for Embedded Training Team. It is also what US Army Special Forces have had as a main mission for years, but there will be more on that later.
The difference being back then they were truly inexperienced as compared to now where the Afghans have been working with, fighting with, receiving medical support from, receiving logistics support from and receiving close air support from American and Coalition forces for 10 years.
This “high-speed” special operations war plan is what the National Guard soldiers of TF Phoenix did for years and did with much success, until TF Phoenix was dissolved in 2009. We always said when I was there that we performed a Special Forces mission without Special Forces resources. This is what the mission is, a Special Forces mission. It is not a Special Ops mission, or Navy Seal Mission or anything like that. It is called FID, or Foreign Internal Defense. This has been the classic SF mission since SF was established. It calls for partnering with local national defense forces, training them, mentoring them and providing assistance during combat operations when needed.
So there is nothing “new” or “shiny” or “cutting-edge” about this new war plan, it is a war plan that we have had and executed very well for years.
Prior to 9/11 the National Guard was looked down upon by Active Duty forces. Since I served half my career in both both services I can tell you some of that was earned and some was just ignorance by active duty forces. When I was active duty we never took the National Guard (or as we sometimes called them “Nasty Guard, “No-Gos”, or “Nasty Girls” ) seriously. They never trained as hard as us, had as good equipment as us, or were as disciplined and professional soldiers as us.
However that was while I was active and I only had limited visibility of the National Guard and well, that visibility was not always good. Once I came into the National Guard I found there were many professional and technically expert soldiers who called the National Guard home. I have served with some awesome and highly motivated soldiers in the National Guard and I have also seen some pieces of crap (both soldiers and leaders). However I had also sen plenty of bad soldiers when I was active duty too.
After 9/11 the game changed, the “weekend warrior” was dead once our op-tempo kicked into high gear overseas while we also took on many new unforseen homeland security responsibilities. In 2003 my company deployed to NYC 3 times with two times having less than 12 hours notice. Think about that for a second. One day my soldiers left their campuses, cubicles, work-places, etc. thinking they were going home for the night and would be back the next day only to get a phone call telling them to bring any gear they had from home and report to the armory. I remember being on a bus to NYC handing my cell phone to soldiers so they could tell their bosses they would not be in to work and were not sure when they would be back. In addition to those homeland deployments, we also went to Germany for 3 weeks to help train up an active duty Brigade for an Iraq deployment and we were alerted 4-5 times ourselves for deployment. The last alert in November of 2003 finally came to fruition and most of the company deployed in January 2004. Continue reading →
Little did I know on Sunday afternoon, while boating around the Niagara river with my boys celebrating Father’s Day, that earlier that morning one of my old NCOs, now an officer, LT Postle was helping rescue a stuck Park Police boat. The whole rescue of the four teenage boys before they went over the Falls was pretty big news in Western New York, so many people knew about it.
But I wonder how many know about this story and how some National Guard soldiers (and Dad’s) came in to work because it was the right thing to do.
NIAGARA FALLS— New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. James Lentz planned to spend Father’s Day morning, June 19, sleeping in before spending the day with his wife JoAnne and four young kids.
But early Father’s Day morning, the six foot, four inch tall, Hamlin, N.Y. resident was hanging upside down out of a CH-47 helicopter with his head two feet above the raging Niagara River, just 1,000 feet upstream from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, trying to get a hook on a stuck motorboat.
Lentz’s Father’s Day flight got its genesis more than 24 hours earlier when four teenagers went boating in the Niagara River. Their motor failed and they were swept downstream towards Horseshoe Falls (the name of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) where the boat grounded. New York State Park Police were able to rescue the teens.
But after retrieving the teens’ vessel the Park Police boat ran aground too. The two-man crew was airlifted off by a Canadian helicopter, but the boat was stuck just above the falls.
New York State Office of Parks and Recreation officials worried that the boat would be swept over the falls, damaging the natural wonder and interfering with navigation. A private salvage company wanted more than $100,000 to retrieve the steel-hulled motor boat, so state officials turned to the New York Army National Guard.
Planning for the mission began when Col. Mark Burke, the State Aviation Officer called instructor pilot Capt. Eric Fritz, a veteran pilot with Detachment 1 of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation. The unit flies CH-47 Chinooks out of the New York Army National Guard’s Rochester flight facility.
Fritz, a Webster, N.Y. resident who grew up Amherst, N.Y. was in his old hometown that Saturday for a social engagement. He immediately drove out to Goat Island, the New York State Park that straddles Niagara Falls, for a look at the problem.
When he got there Fritz called Lentz, a veteran flight engineer for the unit, and the two began planning the mission.
Their challenge was to get a helicopter above the stuck boat and get a hook onto hoisting points installed on the bow and stern of the Park Police vessel. Then they would either tow or lift the boat onto Goat Island.
Once the two decided the mission was doable, Fritz called Burke, who got final approval from the Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy.
It was a good mission, said Brig. Gen. Renwick Payne, the New York National Guard’s Director of Joint Staff. The Guard could save New York money and help another state agency while getting valuable training for its aviation Soldiers, he explained.
The mission had to be done early when water flow over the falls is reduced. During the night water is diverted from the river into hydroelectric reservoirs and canals on both sides of the falls.
So at 4:30 a.m. on Father’s Day, Lentz, Fritz and four other crewmen -Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas Zimmerman, an instructor pilot; Sgt. 1st Class John Bobeck, flight engineer; Staff Sgt. Stanley Bagrowski, crew chief and 1st Lt. Benjamin Postle, a pilot slated to act as the eyes on the ground -were at the Rochester flight facility.
The team arrived at Goat Island just before 7 a.m. and after dropping off Postle-to watch the maneuver from the ground-they went into action.
Col. Mark Stryker, the commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade and a New York State Police helicopter pilot in civilian life, was in the area in his State Police helicopter providing an aerial set of eyes as well.
Fritz and Zimmerman flew the helicopter just above the stuck boat and then went into a hover….
The 27th is my old brigade that and the home to many friends, old Army buddies and soldiers whom I used to lead but are now leaders themselves. It is the Brigade my son deployed with in 2008-2009. Now here it is 2011 and they are going again. Boy we ask a lot of our citizen-soldiers.
DOD Identifies Units for Upcoming Afghanistan and Kuwait Rotation
The Department of Defense announced today the alert of two units to deploy as part of upcoming rotations of forces operating in Afghanistan and Kuwait. The scheduled rotation for these replacement forces will begin in early 2012.
The announcement involves two Army National Guard brigade combat teams totaling approximately 7,520 personnel.
27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York National Guard
55th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Pennsylvania National Guard
The 27th IBCT is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan to perform security force assistance, and the 55th HBCT is scheduled to deploy to Kuwait to provide force protection and convoy security.
Soldiers from Troop A, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain)conducted an air assault and captured an important insurgent leader in amountain cave in Parwan Province June 30.
“Two platoons of Troop A Soldiers used vehicles to cordon the area where theinsurgent leader was suspected, and another platoon inserted into the area byhelicopter to conduct the assault,” said U.S. Army Capt. James J. Armstrong,commander Troop A 1-172nd Cavalry Squadron. The Soldiers tracked the target north as he fled from the village and into themountainous area.
“We trained to deal with the mountainous terrain and rehearsed pursuit and capture scenarios, so we were prepared to track him,” said Armstrong, a NorthFerrisburg, Vt., resident.
The assault platoon pursued the target for approximately two and halfkilometers into the mountains. At about 7400 feet, two Soldiers, Sgt. 1st ClassTodd E. Gagnon, an Alexandria, N.H., resident, and Spc. Chaz S. Shepard, aMontgomery, Vt., resident; spotted the target in a small cave where he was apprehended.
Gagnon, who was an instructor at the Army Mountain Warfare School at the EthanAllen Firing Range in Jericho, Vt., led the pursuit of the insurgent into themountains.
“It was physically difficult tracking him up the mountains because of theincline and loose soil, but my adrenaline was pumping so we just kept going,”said Shepard, who is a gunner for Troop A. “I followed Sergeant Gagnon, whomade it look easy to get up the mountain.”
Once they found the insurgent in the cave, he was cooperative with Afghan andCoalition Forces as they took him into custody.
U.S. Army Spc. Chaz S. Shepard, a gunner for TroopA, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team(Mountain) stands near a vehicle at Bagram Airfield July 13. Shepard, aMontgomery, Vt., resident, was part of the assault platoon that captured asuspected insurgent in a small mountain cave June 30 in Parwan Province. (Photoby U.S. Army Sgt. Charles P. Espie, Task Force Wolverine Public Affairs, 86thInfantry Brigade Combat Team [Mountain])
37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Ohio Army National Guard
45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Okla. Army National Guard
The units will replace redeploying units, with no increase in overall force levels. They are currently scheduled to begin their deployment in the summer of 2011 and are receiving alert orders now in order to provide the maximum time to complete preparations. It also provides a greater measure of predictability for family members and flexibility for employers to plan for military service of their employees.
The 37th and 45th IBCTs will deploy to Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces.
DoD will continue to announce major unit deployments as they are identified and those units are alerted. For information on the supporting units for this deployment, please contact Oklahoma National Guard Public Affairs at 405-228-5212 or Ohio National Guard Public Affairs at 614-336-7174.
A good story over at Military.com by Christian Lowe about the struggles that the Army and Air National Guard are going though to transition missions and to keep up the Operational Tempo of so many years of deployments.
Instead, the Air Guard is evolving to better reflect the active-duty force, with RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drone pilots replacing F-16 drivers. There will also be a greater emphasis on cyber security operations and space, said McKinley, a career fighter pilot.
For the Army National Guard, it’s not so much a switch in its core mission as an increase in overseas deployments, he added, which is as big an adjustment as seeing the plane you used to fly retired for a UAV. The Army Guard has maintained about 60,000 Soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for the last four years, McKinley says.
I have updated the post below after reading some of the comments, giving it some more thought and doing some research. I think I had some facts wrong and I think I threw in some emotion of my own that did not need to be in the posting as it added nothing to it. The updates I typed in are in pink, the items I retracted are struck out. The bottom line of the posting is this. Two men were murdered, one man got away with it (in my opinion) and another man will never be able to demonstrate his leadership abilities to this entire country. I am not convinced it is as a result of the murder, but someone seems to think so. That is her opinion and freedom to believe that. Let me again express my condolences to all who were personally affected by these tragedies.
In 2005 a 1LT Louis Allen (HHC, 42nd Division Executive Officer) and CPT Phillip Esposito (HHC, 42nd Division Company Commander) were murdered (fragged) while in Iraq with the New York National Guard’s 42nd Division. It was a very sad and tragic thing indeed. What was also tragic was that the prime suspect in the case, a SSG Alberto Martinez who was the Supply Sergeant for that company was tried and either because he was not guilty or because the prosecution did not do its job properly, was found not-guilty.
I don’t know SSG Martinez personally, nor did I know Esposito or Allen personally, but I know enough people that do and were very close to this case who are adamant that Martinez was guilty and had performed this act.
Someone I do know personally is The Adjutant General of New York, Major General Joe Taluto. MG Taluto was the Commander of the 42nd Division when it went to Iraq and when this tragedy happened. Before Martinez’s trial was over MG Taluto was selected as the next Director of the National Guard. This was a 3-star position, which is very hard for a National Guard officer to achieve as there are now only 3 total 3-star positions ( I believe) that National Guard Generals can be in.
Right after the verdict was passed down on Martinez, the widow of CPT Esposito lashed out in anger and demanded an investigation into MG Taluto saying he was at fault and that because of his leadership at the Division level, her husband was killed by one of his own soldiers. Now anyone that knows military ranks and levels of leadership know that blaming the Division Commander is like blaming the President for something that a TSA agent does at an airport. Those two positions (Division Commander and Company Commander) are so far apart and disconnected, it isn’t even funny. It is asinine, idiotic and downright stupid to hold a CG accountable for something like a fragging within a company.
However Mrs. Esposito, out of an act of desperation and anger to hold someone accountable went after MG Taluto. Because of her failure to understandmisunderstanding ofthe Army rank systems, her frustration with the Army not doing its job on the prosecution, and her unfortunate position as the poor widow she got and maintained attention on the matter. long enough to stall the confirmation of MG Taluto for the NG Director position and his 3rd star. After the process dragged on for 9 months, last Thursday MG Taluto announced his retirement and his request to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to remove him from the confirmation process.
Many in the New York National Guard were shocked and saddened by MG Taluto’s announcement. He has proved himself a great and inspirational leader among the men and women of the National Guard of New York and he would have carried on those traits to all the men and women of he our entire National Guard across all states and territories. It was the latest tragedy in this chain of events. This country is being robbed of a great leader and who knows how many good things would have happened with him at the helm. Now we will never know, because of the desperate actions of one widow who was going to hold someone accountable for her husband’s murder, regardless of who it was.
To make matters worse, Siobnan Esposito released a Press Release last Friday herself to announce how “happy” she was that MG Taluto is retiring and that it was a result of her complaint and investigation that she pushed for.
Initially this blog posting gave credit to Mrs. Esposito and her investigation as to why MG Taluto’s confirmation was delayed. However after some more research and probing, I am not sure that is the case. I think a large part of the delay was based on the Congress being saturated with Town Hall hearings, and a lot of time spent on Health Care and the Financial Crisis. Yes I am sure the approving authority could have knocked out the approval really quick, but I am not too sure now that her inquiry was that instrumental in the whole delay. I could be wrong there also, but I am not sure we will ever know. Had her inquiry been taken more seriously I am sure we would have seen several hearings on the hill into the fragging incident and the bungled case against Martinez. So I struck out in this blog the references to Mrs. Esposito being the sole cause of the delay.
Well no thanks to you Ms. Esposito, our country as a whole will never be able to enjoy the leadership of MG Taluto. I am not sure what that will do to bring your husband back or punish those who blew the claymore mine that killed him, but I guess in some sick, twisted way it makes sense to you.
Bouhammer Note- Being a National Guard 1SG myself, this story hits close to home. Not only do I feel for 1SG Blairâ€™s family, I also really feel for his men.
Rest in Peace Top. Rest in Peaceâ€¦..
The gunnerâ€™s weapon was blazing over Staff Sgt. Timothy Bellingerâ€™s head. He jumped from window to window of his armored vehicle, trying to make out the battle that 1st Sgt. John Blair was fighting in the gunnerâ€™s position above him.
Bellinger felt the strike of a rocket-propelled grenade as it tore through the turret. He heard Blairâ€™s gun cease firing. He saw the body of a man who always pushed his guys to do it right, slump lifelessly in the belt.
Bouhammer Note- I along with several others who are smart and familiar about Afghanistan say this same thing. The National Guard, whom is leading the fight in Task Force Phoenix with the training, mentoring and leading of the Afghan Army and Police is the true â€œtip of the spearâ€ and the real path to the end of the war.
Gen. Craig R. McKinley hears it all the time, how vital his troops are.
Before Gen. Stanley McChrystal had even taken over in Afghanistan, he made a call to McKinley, leader of the U.S. National Guard. He told him that contributions from the Guard would be crucial to the U.S. mission there.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command, has already suggested they could use more of the agribusiness development teams â€” manned by National Guardsmen from rural areas â€” that train Afghans in modern farming techniques. Thirteen already are in place.
And thatâ€™s just the start for McKinley.
The head of Africa Command recently chatted with him about adding Kenya to the growing list of nations in the Guardâ€™s State Partnership Program. And McKinley also sees opportunities for more collaborations in the European Command territory.
All this activity, however, raises a question: Between home-state obligations, frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and a growing list of training partnerships with foreign nations, when does the National Guard reach its breaking point?
"All I can say is, we are not there yet," said McKinley, who was in Stuttgart last week for a conference with stateside Guard leaders and EUCOM officials. "And as long as we can keep the balance … we should be OK for the foreseeable future."
As of 2008, the Guard represented 7 percent of the force in Iraq and 15 percent in Afghanistan.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 700,000 Reserve soldiers have been called to active duty in support of the war efforts. And as of last week, there were 142,221 Guard and Reserve soldiers currently serving on active duty, according to the Defense Department.
But McKinley, who in 2008 became the first four-star general to lead the Guard, said he believes it still is able to meet its domestic obligations.
"We canâ€™t go too far," he acknowledged. "But right now, I havenâ€™t had anyone come to me from the States saying youâ€™ve pushed us too far."
Some of his commanders on the ground agree.
"I donâ€™t feel we are stretched too thin, yet," said Lt. Col. Gary Thurman of the Georgia National Guardâ€™s 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment of the 48th Brigade Combat Team.
Thurman recently arrived in eastern Afghanistan with his battalion to assume command of Camp Clark, a base for teams training and mentoring the Afghan army. "Iâ€™d say at least 90 percent of the guys in this battalion wanted to come here."
But U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said little has changed in his state since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast at a time when half of the stateâ€™s National Guard force was deployed to Iraq.
The remaining soldiers had to be augmented by guardsmen from throughout the country.
Now, about half of the Mississippi National Guard is again deploying to Iraq, he said. He is concerned whether the state has the equipment it needs for emergencies. During the response to Katrina, the Guard had to pay a "horrible premium" to get the type of equipment that it had left in Iraq, he said.
"My engineering unit, thank goodness, once again, theyâ€™re home." Taylor said. "But they just came back from Iraq and my hunch is they left everything behind again."
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an adjunct professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Military Academy, said the National Guard is under-resourced in both troops and equipment to deal with disasters at home.
"On a given day, the active [Army] is probably 540,000, but weâ€™ll have more than 700,000 in our ranks on active duty, which tells me that the National Guard and Reserve, instead of being an emergency force, has become a steady-state active-duty part of the countryâ€™s warfighting capabilities," he said. "We want an extremely well-resourced and structured engineer, medical, communication, civil affairs, military police, light infantry just for the homeland security mission."
And the National Guardâ€™s overseas commitments arenâ€™t limited to war zones. Without the Guard, commands such as EUCOM would be unable to meet their strategic training objectives.
The State Partnership Program â€” which pairs U.S. states with ally nations for training â€” has continued to evolve since its inception in 1993. In all, 61 countries are enrolled in the state-to-country partnership effort, including 21 each in EUCOM and in Southern Command, seven in AFRICOM territory â€” with more on the way â€” and six countries each in Pacific Command and Central Command.
Programs are tailored to the needs of a given region, whether itâ€™s counternarcotics training in Kyrgyzstan, lessons in crop rotation in Afghanistan or noncommissioned officer training in the Philippines.
For EUCOM, the State Partnership Program has become increasingly important as force levels decline in Europe and those units that remain are repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those factors have put limits on EUCOMâ€™s ability to man training missions.
Currently, the SPP accounts for more than 40 percent of all military-to-military engagements, according to EUCOM.
Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart, adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard, said all those challenges were brought into focus last summer.
The Illinois Guard had a brigade in training for a deployment to Afghanistan when the Mississippi River flooded and guardsmen were needed to protect levees.
"We were really stretched thin," said Enyart. "What weâ€™ve had to do is be more efficient."
The Illinois Guard has teamed with Poland since the start of the State Partnership Program 16 years ago.
Polandâ€™s ability to deploy in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is a testament the value of finding ways to do it all, according to Enyart.
"I believe that has been a tremendous long-term strategic success," Enyart said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Jeff Schogol and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report.
The Bouhammer [boo-ham-er] blog is owned by a 22-year Retired Army First Sergeant. It is now one of the leading and award-winning blogs written primarily on operations in Afghanistan and other military related topics. This blog also focuses on foreign policy, national security and politics. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy what you see. Click Here to Contact Bouhammer
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