Commander of city’s adopted unit briefs council
Though members of the Brandenburg City Council and other citizens in the community attended the Duke Brigade’s farewell ceremony at Fort Knox on Dec. 9, the pomp and ceremony belied little of the hardships the 3,500 deploying soldiers will face in Afghanistan – and the concerns they have for the family members they’re leaving behind in Meade County.
The commander of one of the 3rd Infantry Brigade’s deploying unit’s – the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment – addressed the Brandenburg City Council at it’s December meeting. Brandenburg officially adopted the unit a year ago.
The brigade has an estimated 100 families living in Meade County, and 1-6 FA alone has 52 families and one single soldier here.
Mayor David Pace welcomed Lt. Col. James Vizzard. “Tonight it’s our honor to have Lt. Col. Vizzard with us again. Off and on throughout the year, we’ve had numerous times to meet and talk. Myself, Patsy (Lusk) and Carol got to go to their deployment ceremony and it was a very moving experience for me. I enjoyed it very much. But the tough part is when you’re sitting there looking at 3,400 people getting ready to leave Fort Knox it hits you,” said Pace.
Passing out briefing slides, Vizzard joked, “We are the United States Army, and we love our Power Points... Before I get started, I’d like to thank you all for your support over the past year. We have not done as much for the city of Brandenburg as we’d like, but we’ve done more than I think we anticipated when we started. We’ve used your parks for our organizational days, and we’ve provided the color guard for the Meade County Fair, several of you came for our deployment ceremony and the mayor came to one of our live-fires. We have enjoyed our relationship with the City of Brandenburg and Meade County and we appreciate all of the support.”
He described the unit’s composition and explained the Army’s post-2005 philosophy of having self-contained brigade combat teams that could be easily attached to any deployed headquarters. Brandenburg’s adopted unit “Task Force Centaur” is a fire support unit, providing 105mm artillery to the Duke brigade’s infantry units. It consists of one artillery battery, with four platoons, and an attached 105mm Howitzer battery from Fort Bragg, that will bring additional GPS guided fire support capabilities.
The unit’s artillery support will be based at Camp Salerno, the largest fire support base in Afghanistan.
“It is the largest base in Regional Command East, and it does get attacked quite frequently. If you go back and look in August about 40 fighters attacked it, and none lived to tell about it,” said Vizzard.
Vizzard also commiserated with Pace, as he will be the forward operating base (FOB) mayor for “a community of over 10,000 people.”
“Just hope you don’t have any weather storms,” joked Pace.
Vizzard said the recent history of the unit is important for the community, “to understand just who you have living here.”
“The unit was stationed for many, many years in Germany. They deployed to Iraq once in early 2000, returned to Germany, reflagged and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, and had about a year there. They deployed to Afghanistan, did a year there and came back in June of 2009. By October they had moved here, and we’ve had 14 months since then to get them ready to go back to Afghanistan,” he explained.
“It has been quite a ride. It has been fast and furious. That’s not an unheard of pace for units in the Army, but it’s on the speedy side. The soldiers you have out here have been put through the wringer, and that’s what I need you to understand. These families have been put through the wringer. This is their second combat deployment since 2008 in some cases, with a move in between, and that’s a lot.”
He then described in detail the unit’s large area of operation – RC East – which would stretch from Atlanta to the Virginia state line and well into Tennessee. The unit’s primary responsibility would include Khost, a provincial capital on the Pakistan border with 1,400 square miles, and Paktiya, which is 2,500 square miles – adding up to 4,000 square miles for the brigade’s 4,000 soldiers to cover.
“We are right on the Pakistan border, and we are the home province of the Akani family. If you spend much time listening to the news, you’ll know they want it back, so it’s a knife fight every day.”
Vizzard showed the council photos of the rugged, rough, terrain the infantry soldiers would be challenged by, and said the elevation starts at about 6,500 feet.
Questioned by councilmember Lusk about the unit’s transportation, Vizzard explained the Army’s new armor-protected vehicles with V-Hulls.
Later in the briefing, he went on to describe the fight.
“It is a highly kinetic fight right now, there are a lot of bombs being dropped and artillery being fired. I was there for five days in September and I was in direct fire contact three times in five days. We were shot at with artillery six times in five days – so there’s a lot of shooting going on,” Vizzard said.
“But, the bottom line is we cannot shoot our way out of this war. There is no way to kill our way out of Afghanistan. There’s more of them than there are of us, and they’ve been there for thousands of years,” Vizzard said. “They fought Alexander the Great, they fought Ginghis Kahn, they fought the Soviets, they fought the British, and they will fight us, and keep fighting us when we grow tired of it.”
Explaining the current doctrine of counterinsurgency, Vissard said it is vital to build a security force and government that will protect the populace.
“Most of the people there are farmers, their literacy rate is below 40 percent and below 12 percent among women. Some have electricity, most of them don’t. They all have cell phones, though,” he noted, prompting laughter. “But they don’t have much else and it’s very strange when you fly over it in a Blackhawk helicopter, because you think you’re looking at the 6th century beneath you. You are looking at something from the Crusades, even. It hasn’t changed much since then. They have Toyota pickup trucks and cell phones and satellite dishes, but otherwise a Crusader could walk in there and feel right at home. And they also have small arms, and they’re really good with small arms.”
He countered what may be a common view, perhaps propagated by American media.
“Most of them just want a better life. They are not all religious fanatics as some paint them. The problem is no one has provided them with what they need, except the Taliban,” he explained. “The average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 46 years. They’ve been at war for over 35. The average person in Afghanistan does not know peace. They’ve never known it in their entire life. The Taliban was the only organization that ever even provided them with security. They didn’t enjoy it, but if they were male, they could walk down the street without being abducted, killed, or robbed.”
He concluded that the goal had to be to help the Afghanistan government provide better security, better services, and a better future than the Taliban.
“I personally have only spent five days there, but I did three tours in Iraq and we had to convince them that their best bet for the future was the government of Iraq and that was tough to do. You all watch the news, so you know we have some tough challenges with corruption, with infrastructure, government capacity,” Vissard said.
He told the council that when he left their meeting, he would be talking with a state department representative about the challenges of governing.
“You all probably understand better than anyone that it is just like the governing body in any city or county jurisdiction....They have to build roads, they have to build schools, they have to provide police, that’s what they have to worry about and they have a hard time doing it because their leaders have a longstanding culture of corruption,” he explained. “That’s what we’ll be working on – economic development, infrastructure, and security. Our primary job will be helping to build the security they need and from what I saw in Iraq was that you know you’re winning when some guy on the street being extorted goes to the cops. When he goes to the police for help, you’re winning the war.”
Vizzard said that small flights would begin leaving for Afghanistan this week.