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Face of Defense: Washington Guard NCO Takes Leadership on the Road

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq, March 25, 2009 – For one Washington Army National Guard soldier, the leadership of a noncommissioned officer can be measured in the miles and missions his more than 1,100 citizen-soldiers drive from here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Command Sgt. Maj. David Windham of the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade is deployed at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Windham overseas a convoy security brigade of 1,100 Guard soldiers who have logged more than 500,000 miles protecting convoys from roadside bombs and ambushes. National Guard photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. David Windham is the senior enlisted leader of the 81st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment. The regiment provides convoy security missions in Iraq and has logged more than 500,000 miles since their arrival here last October.

“These guys do an awesome job with the mission,” said Windham, 47, who has 26 years of service with the Washington Guard.

Windham said his best enlisted leaders include staff sergeants who are managing operations outside the wire and driving the Army’s latest up-armored equipment over thousands of miles to protect the fuel, food and supplies of Iraq.

The Guardsmen provide lead security for convoys, acting as a defense from improvised explosive devices and ambushes. “We do [several] missions a night,” he said.

It’s a challenging mission that’s constantly changing, he noted. Most recently, they are sharing more public road space with Iraqi civilians -- a sign, he said, of progress.

“We are sharing the road and trying to integrate traffic,” he said.

The operational change on the open highways of a combat zone requires the strict objectivity of his junior NCOs to make it work safely, he said.

“It’s pushed down to the NCO to run the fight, and they do a superb job night after night,” he said. “Our guys also really like counter-insurgency type work, which the battalion did last time it was here.”

During their 2004 to 2005 OIF deployment, the battalion conducted counter-insurgency missions. Convoy security was something they trained to do for this deployment, he said. “It was a whole new mission for us.”

Windham said their pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, Wis., prepared them well.

Now, with many, many miles under their seatbelts, his Guard NCOs are training the up-and-coming enlisted leaders on the roads. That training will carry home with them later this year.

“This [place] is just a temporary rest stop,” he said. “Someone else is going to have to take my position, and that filters down through all of us, all the way down to the bottom. Even from the E-5s … they are training guys to take their place.”

It can get boring out there on the highway riding mile after mile, he said. But then again, the dangers are constant. “We might have an IED attack or a grenade attack, and it’s punctuated by those key moments,” he said. “But these guys are ready for it; they have done a very good job.”

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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