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Active or Reserve, There's No Difference -- They Must Depend on Each Other

Active or Reserve, There's No Difference -- They Must Depend on Each Other

By Linda D. Kozaryn, American Forces Press Service.

Washington D.C. -- (AFPS) June 14, 2002 -- Each American taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom in and around Afghanistan is combating terrorism in his or her own way. Their duties may vary, but their goal is the same: victory over evil.

U.S. soldiers prepare to move out on a "sites exploitation" mission outside an Afghan village near the Pakistani border. On these missions, the soldiers thoroughly comb former enemy lairs for anything of possible intelligence use that might have been overlooked by earlier searchers. The June 2, 2002, mission was part of Phase III of Operation Mountain Lion. The soldiers are from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Bragg, N.C.

Photo by Sgt. Ronald Mitchell, USA

One soldier, an Army Reserve colonel, recently talked about the way it is for the military men and women combating a shadowy enemy in a land light-years removed from hometown USA.

Army Col. Hughes Turner, deputy chief of staff for Army Reserve Affairs, serves at a coalition headquarters supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. The military brat, who calls Atlanta home, addressed a recent senior Army reserve officer conference here.

Even as the news shifts from the crisis in the Middle East to the tension between India and Pakistan and on to the need for homeland security, Turner said, the nation's men and women in uniform are focused on one mission -- eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Army Lt. Col. Dennis Linn gives candy to Afghan children at a school near Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Linn's civil affairs team visited the school, near Kabul, May 24, 2002. The teams help direct humanitarian projects aimed at improving the lives of Afghan citizens.

Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Arlo K. Abrahamson, USN.

Everyone involved knows that lives depend on their every action. Whether they're infantry or engineers, military police or medics, truck drivers or cooks, people stay mission-focused. They know everything is interlinked.

"The ability of that combat soldier to execute Operation Anaconda or Mountain Lion," Turner said, "is dependent on the ability of the system to support them -- getting the beans and bullets there, getting them patched up, getting helicopters to carry them back into battle. When people are that close to the fight, they understand the sense of urgency and what role they play in it."

At times, he said, people may feel frustrated by the bureaucratic wheels at higher headquarters. "Sometime you you think people aren't as responsive as they should be," he said. "At that moment, you'd like to take that person at the Pentagon, put them in Kandahar for three days to let them suffer through this, and then put them back and see if their perspective changes."

U.S. troops in Afghanistan are combing mountains and caves, searching for enemy fighters and evidence of the terrorists' lethal plans. They're living in tents, eating MREs and showering when they can. They're flying in supplies, munitions and equipment. They're manning security gates, standing guard, patrolling villages and destroying captured munitions.

They're also dealing with a culture and traditions unlike any they've seen back home. They see women shrouded in cloth, their faces and minds restricted by years of Taliban rule. They see beggars beaten and thieves punished by the loss of an ear. They see children -- boys and girls -- thrilled to be going to school, where an ink pen is a thing of wonder.

U.S. soldiers take time out for breakfast at one of the mess areas at Bagram Air Base, near Kabul, Afghanistan. The dining facilities give soldiers a break from eating Meal, Ready To Eat, rations. Hot cooked meals are a morale builder for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Arlo K. Abrahamson, USN

"In Kabul," Turner said, "school kids wave and smile. There's a genuine appreciation that they're able to do these things that they weren't able to do before."

When terrorists attacked America Sept. 11, Turner was in Egypt taking part in Exercise Bright Star. He said some soldiers were able to redeploy back to the states to "stand down and decompress" for a week or two before deploying to Afghanistan or Uzbekistan. Others, he said, redeployed immediately from Egypt to Operation Enduring Freedom and haven't been home since.

Reserve component personnel play a major role alongside their active duty counterparts, he noted. They work in transportation, medical, engineer, signal, military police intelligence commands, to name a few. Reservists and National Guardsman also serve with the special operations forces and make up the majority of the civil affairs teams in Afghanistan.

Reserve component personnel are a tremendous resource because of their connection to the community back home, Turner pointed out. Take the case of the Army Reserve's 1980th Forward Surgical Team from Salinas, Calif.

Since being deployed to Afghanistan, the unit's doctors and nurses have treated battle casualties and dealt with the results of accidental munitions explosions and friendly fire. They also treated an Afghan man they call "Sammy the Shepherd" after a land mine blast left the shepherd severely wounded and 20 sheep dead.

"Not only did they treat his injuries and nurse him back to health," Turner said, "but, at the same time, that little community of doctors and nurses collected enough money to buy 20 more sheep."

"These are some marvelous people," the colonel said. "The commander is an orthopedic surgeon in civilian life. His practice back in California donated $35,000 worth of surgical equipment to help the unit's efforts. These are the kinds of things you don't hear about."

For many reserve component troops, the transition from the United States to Afghanistan was swift and abrupt. "Some were students a few weeks ago, sitting in a classroom reading Chaucer or something," the colonel said. "All of a sudden, they're in a place called Kabul or Kandahar, where they have to worry about whether they'll get a hot meal today, where there are no shower points and where toilet paper is a luxury and every square counts."

A soldier directs traffic at Bagram Air Base, near Kabul, Afghanistan. The Army continues to work on base improvement projects that will make better living conditions for U.S. and soalition forces stationed in Afghanistan.

Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Arlo K. Abrahamson, USN

Even so, he said, the reservists were prepared to do their jobs and they're doing them well. Army Sgt. David Marck Jr. is a case in point.

Marck went from a university in Alabama to the heat of battle in the Shahi Khot Mountains in eastern Afghanistan. Mobilized as a photographer with the 314th Military Press Camp Headquarters, the reservist was with the 101st Airborne Division when it launched Operation Anaconda. When the dust settled, Time Magazine used one of Marck's photos on its cover along with the headline "The Valley of Death."

Within the first 24 hours of Operation Anaconda, two CH-47 helicopters were lost, Turner said. One U.S. squad was pinned down for 18 hours. It was obvious they were up against adversaries who had no intentions of surrendering. One troop described the enemy fighters he ran across as looking like they stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog with their parkas and other gear.

Turner also described an incident that highlighted a major cultural difference between the Muslim Afghan society and Western forces.

During the November 2001 riot at the Afghan prison near Mazar e-Sharif, he said, the Northern Alliance commander on the scene was on a radio pleading with the opponent al Qaeda-Taliban commander inside the prison to surrender. If he didn't, the Afghan commander warned, the terrorists would die in place.

At the same time, a U.S. Air Force forward observer nearby was on his radio talking with an AC-130 gunship lurking overhead placing rounds on the target. A woman -- the navigator -- could be heard over the airways confirming hits.

"Hearing a woman, the Northern Alliance commander was flabbergasted," Turner said. "Being a Muslim, in that culture -- such a thing was unheard of. He takes the mike with the al Qaeda on the other end and says, 'Listen to this!' He puts the Air Force mike with the female voice up against the other and he yells, 'They're sending their women to kill you!'"

To date, U.S. and coalition forces have launched several combat operations to rout out enemy forces, such as Anaconda, Snipe and Mountain Lion. Each time, Turner said, commanders and troops have had to adapt to both the harsh terrain and to their unconventional opponent.

"We train as we fight and we fight as we train," he said, "and I think that axiom still holds true, but not in all cases. We were fighting a nondoctrinal war with a nondoctrinal enemy. There was no order of battle most of us were familiar with." At first, commanders did not have a clear "mission picture," he said, but they knew they had to act quickly.

"What saved us is American ingenuity, the ability to adapt and just make things happen," Turner said. "It's amazing how things kind of come together. Despite friction points, ambiguity and lack of clarity, things start to take shape. The leadership and troops pull it all together and move out from there. It's a testament to the ability of soldiers, units and commanders to be flexible. The bottom line is, we still have the best trained, the best equipped Army in the world."

Even though the fighting has decreased substantially, Operation Mountain Lion continues in the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan. U.S. troops and coalition allies are searching former al Qaeda and Taliban caves and tunnels to prevent them from being reoccupied and to make sure earlier searches didn't miss any evidence.

The FBI, CIA and military intelligence communities are all "looking at what makes Al Qaeda tick," Turner said. "They're getting into that decision-making matrix by closely analyzing documents that are captured and found at some of the sites we've been able to take down."

One lesson Turner said he's learned in Operation Enduring Freedom is that the reserve components need to maximize their training time. "It's a come-as-you-are war," he said. "There was no ramp-up time."

Reserve forces officially drill one weekend a month and one 14-day annual training tour each year. This is not a lot of time, the colonel said. Troops and leaders alike frequently work on their own time to complete paperwork and other chores have to be done, but which take a back seat to training.

"Senior leaders really have to minimize 'distracters' so the commander and the soldier can focus on what they need to be able to do in times of crisis when the services are required," Turner said.

"What was really driven home here," he continued, "was that people needed to move and they needed to move quickly. This wasn't a Desert Shield-Desert Storm, where there was a gradual buildup to get to the objective force that you were going to use against the Iraqis."

Turner said the military men and women understand the challenges they face in the war against terrorism. "The end is nowhere in sight," he said. "This is going to be a long, drawn-out war. The secretary of defense has underscored that to the American public."

In the meantime, he concluded, even though a lot of them are anxious to get home, the troops are performing magnificently.

"There's a different feel to all of this," said Turner, who's also served in Somalia, the Persian Gulf and Bosnia. "People were directly impacted by what occurred on Sept. 11. People feel connected. There's a stick-to-itiveness and resolve because of that. We're literally taking the fight to the enemy."


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).