Reserves Wrap Up at Fort Campbell as Active Forces Return
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 24, 2004 For soldiers of the Army Reserve's 3397th Garrison Support Unit, the war on terror begins about 150 miles from their unit headquarters in Chattanooga, Tenn. at the front gates of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Reservists from the 3397th Garrison Support Unit help ensure safe operations at the Fort Campbell, Ky., railhead as the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) unloads equipment from Iraq. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That's where the unit's 235 soldiers mobilized beginning just two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to carry out two critical missions in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
The unit provided command and control for 8,000 Reserve and Guard units processing through Fort Campbell for deployments to Southwest Asia. And when the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) deployed in early 2003, unit members filled the void left behind by the division's deployed chaplains, military police and judge advocate general and inspector general staff.
In addition, although it was not specifically part of the unit's mission, the reservists helped the 101st "Screaming Eagles" move out 18,000 troops, 5,000 vehicles, 1,500 shipping containers and 264 helicopters in the fastest deployment in the division's history.
Army Col. Malcolm Atkins, commander of the 3397th Garrison Support Unit, said his soldiers tapped into the unit's longstanding relationship with Fort Campbell to support the post and its deploying troops, all on short notice.
"We got here less than two weeks before the first group of mobilizing reserve component units got here," said Atkins. "At the same time, the division was getting closer to getting out the door, and much of the staff was caught up in that."
When the unit's main body arrived at Fort Campbell in January 2003, its military police, chaplains and judge advocate general staff has already been called to active duty to support operations at the post.
Sgt. 1st Class Tim Miller was in the first wave of call-ups, in late September 2001. He and his fellow military police soldiers helped augment Fort Campbell's staff manning the gates, providing traffic control, conducting road patrols, investigating accidents and incidents, registering vehicles and helping staff the Force Protection Operations Center, among other military police missions.
As Fort Campbell's three military police companies deployed to Kuwait, Miller said the 3397th's 40 military police assumed full responsibility for those missions.
"The simple fact is that we were filling the gap left behind, knowing that nobody else could have," said Miller. "It was a lot of long hours and hard work, but we did the job and did it well."
Meanwhile, other members of the 3397th's main body focused on processing other Reserve and Guard units for their overseas deployments. Atkins said they ensured that the troops' pay, emergency data, insurance, medical and other records were in order, that they received critical predeployment training and that their unit equipment and vehicles were properly shipped.
Sgt. James Patrick helped oversee operations at Fort Campbell's railhead, and said he wasn't surprised that his unit was called to active duty. "After Sept. 11, I knew that something was going to happen," he said.
At the height of the 101st Airborne Division's deployment, Patrick said he and his fellow 3397th soldiers were pulling 24-hour shifts to keep the division's equipment moving. Similarly, when the division redeployed after a year in Iraq, the reservists stepped in to support them.
"I feel like we're helping a lot," he said. "If it wasn't for us, stuff wouldn't be getting where it needs to go."
After the 101st arrived in Mosul, the division's Iraqi base from April until last month, the 3397th helped the division's rear detachment at Fort Campbell process replacement troops as well, Atkins said.
Now that the division has returned home and is wrapping up the block leave all units received following their deployment, members of the 3397th are starting to see the end of the tunnel of their mobilization at Fort Campbell.
Atkins said the 135 unit members still on active duty will remain at Fort Campbell through June, helping about 900 reserve component soldiers in nine units go through the demobilization process. A small cell will stay even longer, until the last unit's equipment returns to Fort Campbell, he said.
Most of the soldiers will have served 18 months of active duty and some have served two and a half years.
When they leave Fort Campbell, unit members say, they will take with them a genuine sense of pride in the role they played supporting the war on terror. Many say they hope to return to active duty or work as civilian employees at Fort Campbell.
"There's a lot of pride in what we accomplished," said Miller.
Atkins said his unit feels "tremendous pride in being the best at what we do especially because what we do is take care of soldiers who are preparing to go into harm's way or returning, and treating them like the heroes they are."