COL. DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations): Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening to you gents in Afghanistan.
I'd like welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Colonel Willard Burleson, the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. As part of Regional Command North, Colonel Burleson's 300 -- I'm sorry -- 3,500-soldier brigade deployed to Afghanistan in March of last year. The brigade has operational responsibility of Balkh, Kunduz and Faryab provinces. Colonel Burleson also has battalion task forces serving in Kandahar with units in Regional Command South. He last briefed us here in November.
Joining us for the first time with him is Army Colonel Daniel Williams, commander of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. Colonel Williams's also 3,500-strong soldier brigade provides full-spectrum aviation operations to Regional Command North in partnership with aviation forces from Afghanistan, Germany, and Norway.
The two colonels join us today from Camp Marmal in Mazar-e Sharif. They'll provide you a brief update on their current operations and then we'll take your questions.
And with that, gentlemen, I'll kick it to you.
COL. BURLESON: Thanks to all of you for providing me the opportunity to give you a brief update on our operations here in Regional Command North. I'd like to share some updates on the progress that has been achieved here. And as you know, our unit has spent about the last 11 months conducting operations with Afghan National Security Forces.
The brigade currently has soldiers deployed in many areas throughout Afghanistan to include our 1-71 Calvary Squadron in the Dand district of Kandahar, as well as our 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry who have just redeployed last month after a successful year of training Afghan National Army as part of the NATO training mission.
Over this past year, soldiers of this brigade, along with 16 other contributing nations in Regional Command North, who I'll refer to as the Combined Team North, have expanded the capabilities and improved Afghan security forces through shoulder-to-shoulder partnering, operations and training. These efforts have provided increased security in a number of formally contested areas. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of both Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], security has improved significantly.
Just under a year ago, the brigade arrived in northern Afghanistan as part of the troop uplift. And during our tenure, the brigade has improved the Afghan security force's access to the population through the establishment of over 16 joint combat outposts where both ISAF and Afghan forces live and work side by side, day in and day out. These outposts have allowed our soldiers to live, train and operate with Afghan uniformed police and Afghan national border police on a continuous basis.
With the arrival of 4th Combat Aviation Brigade late last spring, operational capabilities and mission effectiveness were greatly enhanced by the entire -- for the entire combined team north. The increased capability that 4th CAB brings in the form of attack weapons teams, lift support, has allowed ISAF and Afghan security forces access into areas which were previously contested. The 4th CAB has assisted in -- by delivering precision aerial fires, supplies to our troops in remote outposts and, most importantly, they've saved lives through the rapid medical evacuation of Afghan, ISAF and civilian casualties.
During this year-long partnership with Afghan security forces, we've continued to conduct continuous security operations on key terrain to neutralize insurgent forces, and enable the government of Afghanistan to improve security, governance, and economic development. And Combined Team North has greatly reduced its urgency, presence, and activities in a number of locations, such as Baghlan and Kunduz provinces, which have been mostly cleared by the combined team. And these areas are now held by Afghan security forces and ISAF.
Equally important are the efforts of U.S. special operation forces who are developing and training Afghan Local Police to reinforce these security gains. I've also got elements of our brigade special troops battalion along the -- along with Afghan Border Police, who've established a joint combat outpost just outside the border city of Hairatain, near the Uzbekistan border. Here, the Afghan Border Police have greatly improved their ability to not only secure their border but also to establish effective -- an effective border-crossing point along the strategic northern trade route.
As I said before, both Afghan security forces and ISAF continue to secure numerous areas in Kunduz and Baghlan. Afghan uniformed police currently hold areas in Kunduz and Baghlan, and cleared roads of countless improvised explosion devices that were formally held by insurgents. This has given the people a much greater opportunity to travel safely throughout the area, and improved governance and development.
For over a month now, cell phone service in the city of Kunduz has been 24 hours a day, whereas before it was limited. And access to markets and government services have improved due to the great reduction in insurgent influence.
In Faryab province, soldiers from our 3-6 Field Artillery, in conjunction with Afghan security forces, have worked hard to improve the capability of police, and have recently had several successful small-scale operations which will improve security and advance the western completion of the Ring Road.
I'd like to add, before I pass to Colonel Williams, over the last 11 months our commanders have prudently used the Commanders Emergency Response Program to enhance stability of this region and connect the population to their district and provincial governments. To date the brigade has completed more than 200 projects and has spent over $16 million, primarily on roads, education and water and sanitation.
One major project recently completed provided local government officials in Balkh province civic support vehicles, which allowed them to gain greater access to remote population centers, providing additional construction projects and improvements of numerous school facilities, along with extending current government services and influence. Additionally, over 300 street lights have been added to Maimana, Faryab, creating better security and increased opportunities for commerce.
There's still work to be done, and these security gains are not irreversible. However, I'm convinced that our Afghan partners, with ISAF assistance, are up to the task. Clear progress has been made in security, but some of these gains must still be solidified, and momentum must be maintained so that the insurgency is unable to find its way back into these cleared areas.
Now I'd like to pass to Colonel Williams, the commander of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade. Dan?
COL. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Bill. And thank you for those kind words.
It is my honor to have the opportunity tonight to address and discuss combat aviation operations as it relates to the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade and my operations with Bill, who you just heard from.
As you know, the 4th CAB deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, in June of 2010. It was selected to participate in the presidential surge of forces last year. As we now approach our eighth month of combat operations, it has become evident that what we brought to this fight has indeed made a tremendous difference to the ground commanders, allies, Special Forces, and most importantly to the Afghans and their nation. We have been called a game changer.
The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade is a heavy combat aviation brigade in this organization; as a reminder, two battalions of Apache helicopters, a general support battalion, an assault battalion and an aviation maintenance battalion. Further, we're allowed to deploy an additional National Guard medevac company for 30 medevac total. Nearly 130 helicopters have been operating largely in austere conditions, initial entry conditions, along with our infantry brothers. Currently the battalions are tasked, organized and distributed in 19 locations throughout Afghanistan, predominantly in RC North, RC West, and with contingents in the east and also in the south in Kandahar.
Our deployment marks the first time in history that a U.S. combat aviation brigade and the majority of its assets were dedicated to RC North and RC West, an area, as you know, which is half of the size of Afghanistan and is currently commanded and controlled by our NATO allies.
Our pilots and our soldiers have aggressively been bringing our capabilities to isolated areas and areas of extreme terrain which previously were controlled by insurgents and simply not reachable. The other 20 percent of our assets, I have mentioned, are augmenting U.S. forces in the south.
To date, the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade has flown nearly 40,000 hours in direct support of ground forces. Eighty-five percent of those missions have been partnered with our Afghan National Security Forces. Fourth CAB has conducted over 500 medic -- medevac missions, getting critical wounded U.S., allied and Afghan soldiers and civilians to prompt medical care within minutes.
We have aggressively pursued the enemy, killing well over 350 insurgents to date with lethal fires from our AH-64 Apaches. We have moved 61,000 passengers, the vast majority of whom were Afghan and allied, also commandos in complex air assaults in mountainous terrain. Fourth CAB was instrumental in support for last year's elections, with both security and transportation of critical ballots and sensitive election materials.
As U.S. infantry and German forces in the north and Italian forces in the west gained ground throughout this region this past year, 4th CAB helicopters protected the outposts, resupplied the outposts and conducted combat operations in support of our ground brothers. Fourth CAB has also been a close partner with U.S. allied special forces, conducting nightly and daily kinetic strikes without a single substantiated rules-of-engagement violation. Many of these missions also partnered with our Afghan partners.
Our assets continue to assist Afghan leadership by moving them to key areas for engagement with their own population. We have also partnered with the 209th Afghan Corps and the Afghan Air Force and routinely fly alongside Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters now piloted by Afghan pilots. We assist in the training of their crew chiefs, maintenance and medical training.
Fourth CAB has also been directly involved with economic sustainability operations by flying key Afghan government officials throughout RC North to conduct on-site visits of minerals mines and oil reserves in order to quickly follow gains in security with gains in economic growth.
Fourth CAB has provided humanitarian relief in the west, providing critical supplies to dozens of villages cut off by flood waters, and has carried tons of firewood this winter and other supplies to mountain villages in RC North.
Fourth CAB female soldiers have also received special training, along with Bill's, and have volunteered to participate in female engagement training with local female leaders and officials. We also assist the Commanders Emergency Response Program when asked, CERP projects, as Bill has mentioned.
In summary, the introduction of 4th CAB helicopters and the capability it represents has indeed been a game changer in these past eight months. We have enabled the ground commanders of both U.S., allied and Afghan units to conduct operations, training and governance. We have seen great strides, as Bill mentioned, made this year and have participated in a long summer and now winter offensive, and stand fully ready to meet the challenges of the spring that we know will come, and we'll be part of the daily improving Afghan situation.
Thank you. I believe now we'll take questions.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Thanks, gents.
Q: All right. Thank you. Colonel Williams, this is Phil Ewing with Politico Morning Defense. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us for a little while today.
I wanted to ask if I could draw you out about your cooperation with the Afghan aviation forces that your soldiers are working with. Can you give us a more detailed assessment of where they are right now, how you work with them, and as American forces get ready to pull out of Afghanistan, how will they be able to do with -- flying helicopters and doing what they need to do with fewer Americans around to assist them?
COL. WILLIAMS: Yes, sir. Thank you. I've got the question.
Sir, right now the Afghans have aircraft that in some cases are 60 years old. However, very shortly, on the training side -- the U.S. Air Force has predominance on this mission -- they'll receive 56 new Russian-designed helicopters, Russian because they're familiar with those aircraft. So the U.S. Air Force has the mission actually training them how to fly, and they are flying.
What the U.S. Army is doing, sir, is training them how to maintain those aircraft, how to train their medics in the back - good procedures. What they're also doing is flying with us, watching our operations on a daily basis, and over time, sir, they'll conduct kinetic operations as well as air assault and humanitarian relief operations with their helicopters. A good example, sir, is the elections that I mentioned. This past year they were in fact also flying extreme numbers of hours with sensitive ballot materials at the same time 4th CAB was lending assistance.
So they are out there. It is a process that takes time, like any aviation force, but they are strong, they are motivated and well-equipped, and will be even better equipped shortly.
COL. LAPAN: Anna.
Q: Hi. Yes, Colonel, this is Anna Mulrine with the Christian Science Monitor. And President Karzai recently, this morning, expressed his desire for the Afghan government to take over the work of some of the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams and do it in relatively short order. And I was just wondering how that would affect your operations there, to in any way, you know, limit the work of U.S. PRTs.
COL. BURLESON: Well, ma'am, thank you for the question. You know, in Regional Command North, we have a Norwegian PRT, a Swedish PRT, two German PRTs and a Hungarian PRT. They're the ones out there that are making a difference every day, assisting security, governance, and development. We don't have any U.S. PRTs up here, so I'm not sure how that would affect the other members of our combined team up here.
Q: Could we call it PRTs generally, then, and --
COL. LAPAN: Okay -- (audio break).
COL. BURLESON: I'm sorry. Could you repeat the last part of the question, please?
COL. LAPAN: Sir, just taking it away from the idea of U.S. PRTs and how you think other PRTs might be affected by this transition.
Q: And particularly how -- (off mic).
COL. BURLESON: You know what? I'll tell you, each one of the national PRTs that are here in Regional Command North work along the security, governance, and development lines. They each have their own unique national capabilities that they bring to it. And I think it's -- each one is different in and of itself, and it -- they compare in name to a U.S. PRT more than of the others, the regional commands, but up here, I'm not sure how it would be affected by what you referenced this morning in the news.
Q: Colonel Burleson, it's Marc Heller at the Watertown Daily Times. How are you?
COL. BURLESON: I'm good, Marc. It's good to hear from you, thanks.
Q: If you could expand a little bit on the security situation, maybe in a hands-on kind of way, can you contrast a little bit what your life, your working life, is like now versus what it was like 11 months ago, that somehow might reflect on what the security situation is like?
COL. BURLESON: Yeah, that is a fantastic question. I don't even need to go back 11 months ago. This morning, I was in a district called Gor Tepa, which is northwest of Kunduz. It's a -- one month ago or two months ago, I could have not gone into that area where I was today, period, without having to fight every inch of the way.
As a result of combined team operations, really we're talking our 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry; a German airborne battalion, Afghan police and Afghan army -- operations that were conducted there that began last December and kind of finished up in mid-January. That area has now been eliminated of insurgents. I walked down the street today, had tea with one of the elders in a small village called Larkhabi, and got invited in for rice.
It would have been unconscionable a month ago, two months ago or even greater. And all of this -- like I said, all of this has been possible, you know, the aviation team up here, as well as the entire combined team, has gotten active in that area. And as I said, it was denied terrain previously, and it's not anymore.
And with the absence of those insurgents that have either been killed, captured or left, now it's brought about opportunities in Kunduz. You know, the markets are increasing -- you know, people were using a road out there today that they had not been able to use in two and a half years. That -- the road had been heavily IED'd [improvised explosive device] and mined. They told me three years ago is when the Taliban came in and mined this thing. So they've literally not had access to Kunduz City other than through remote trails. And now they can. They drive up and down the road; it takes them five minutes to get into the city. So they get all the things that you now get with going to the city: access to health care, access to markets.
So a pretty significant difference. And that's just -- that's the Gor Tepa area. Same thing has happened in southern Chahar Dara as a result of primarily the German airborne battalion's operations there.
Same thing has happened in Baghlan as well. Areas last summer in Shahabuddin and in Dahanah-e Ghori, which were -- if you went literally just a little bit off the road, you were in heavy contact -- are now you can drive around at will.
But although these are great security gains, I'll tell you, they have not fully solidified yet. I mean, you've got to pay attention to what you do. And we've got to maintain the momentum. We can't let up. We've got to get governance and development in there.
Q: Colonel Burleson, can you tell us, please, what have been your casualties during the deployment?
And also, sir, you mentioned that there were no U.S. PRTs in your area. Have you requested them from the State Department? Is it a problem of lack of resources? What might be the reason for that, sir?
COL. BURLESON: Well, unfortunately, there are 12 men from this brigade that perished while over here. And then, you know, numbers of wounded, I'm not going to get into the specifics of that.
But, you know, been a tough fight down there in Dand, Kandahar, as well as up here in Kunduz and Faryab. You know, just yesterday, I mean -- day before yesterday, we had a couple more get wounded. So, I mean, that stuff happens. But I think what it shows you is the undying commitment that these American soldiers have while they do operations here side by side with their Afghans.
I mean, the Afghans sacrifice as well for their security. And I say this -- although it is figurative, it literally is -- it is literal when I say that the blood of Afghan soldiers and police as well as that of, you know, German, American, Swedish, Norwegian up here, is mixed, because these guys fight side by side. And their commitment to each other, just like you would expect it to be amongst American forces, is there.
I mean, I had a sergeant about a couple months ago there in a firefight with Afghan police. And an Afghan policemen fell in a field under a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. And that sergeant moved his vehicle and then got out of his truck, moved under fire and -- to haul the Afghan policeman back to what would have been certain death, and while doing so received two gunshot wounds to his leg.
And of course, you know, he was shot. Now, the good news is both of them made it, but it's that sort of commitment to each other that you see here. I mean, make no doubt that our soldiers are in this to win and so are the Afghans.
In response to your PRT question. I think that what's got to be important now to be understood, in the north, the paradigm is a little bit different than what you'd be used to in RC South or RC East. As I mentioned, the west is the Norwegian PRT. It does have some USAID and USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] assistance, and the same with the Swedish PRT in the center, the German PRT in Kunduz and Fayzabad and Hungarian PRT in Baghlan.
Those were the ones who have kind of overall responsibility for those provinces in terms of the governance and development and security. Our forces kind of go in and augment or work specifically, as I said, with the police or border police. I hope that helps.
Q: Colonel, hi, this is Andrew Tilghman with Army Times.
I feel compelled to apologize for this question up front, but do you have any plans or expectations to conduct any "don't ask, don't tell" training while you're still on deployment?
COL. WILLIAMS: Sir, we'll of course respect and honor the Army policy. I think we're anticipating that decision, as you know, has been made. We've been informed that that has been made and we're just waiting for the rules and regulations to be written. And like any other policies here, when it's issued, we'll follow it. And certainly, I anticipate based on what we hear from Washington that to happen at least while I'm deployed - I think Bill will be redeployed - and we'll certainly conduct that training here.
I think it'll have very minimal impact, however.
Q: Dan Wasserbly with Jane's. For Colonel Williams, sir, can you identify any specific aviation assets within your CAB that are in particularly high demand? And again, maybe if this varies in the different regional commands?
COL. WILLIAMS: Yes, sir, I can tell you honestly that Army aviation is in high demand everywhere here, and as you know, we have an ongoing commitment in Iraq. Aviation is probably for what we call enablers in the Army, the number one used enabler. Our organization, for example, was back for about a year from Iraq before we came here, and proud to do so. While here, sir, there's never enough. I can tell you that failure for me is never have to say no to a guy like Bill, which we don't do.
The number one aircraft used for the altitudes is the Chinook. We use that on complex air assaults, Special Forces and also to resupply our Afghan partners. That is the number one aircraft I used for a partnered air assault with Afghan commandos. However, on the kinetic side, the number one requested aircraft is the Apache and our air weapons teams has two Apaches, which we maintain out here in RC West and RC North, a 24 hour CAB, night and day, good weather and bad weather.
Certainly, command and control. The UH-60s are used for both governance, General Daud recently as today up here, as well as our medevacs. Again, the number of medevacs that this one CAB has brought with it for the surge is equivalent to all the medevacs that were in this country for a period of years, at the beginning of the war. So it's quite a capability.
So the short answer is, all of them are needed all of the time, but that's kind of how it plays out, depending on what the effects you're looking for.
COL. LAPAN: Anna.
Q: It's Anna Mulrine again with The Monitor. I was just wondering if you both could paint a quick picture of securities since your deployment there began. There has been some concern that operations in the south have adversely impacted security in the north. I'm just wondering if you've seen any of it and what that picture looks like.
COL. BURLESON: Ma'am, if I think I understand your question, you're asking us to kind of discuss gains in security in the north since we originally arrived, and have operations in the south affected it. Is that correct?
COL. BURLESON: Well, ma'am, as I mentioned, we got here in March of last year, you know. We had, you know, the volcanic ash, as well as the political unrest in Uzbekistan -- or Kyrgyzstan, which affected our deployment. And so we really got here in April, which is the time where traditionally -- the start of what I call the fighting season, although, you know, for us, now, we've just got to stay after it.
As I said before, you know, the Kunduz-Baghlan corridor, a lot of terrain there was very much denied or not -- freedom of movement didn't exist with the heavily insurgent presence.
Operations there, you know, over the past probably six months by everybody in the combined team have largely reduced the insurgency to a point where it really is not effective. Those lines of communication, those main highways that bring a lot of commerce in from both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are open and largely uninterrupted at this point in time.
Balkh province, where we're also at, continues to thrive and prosper; a significant amount of development here. And then, as you look westward, in the operations by the Norwegian PRT out there in conjunction with our forces continues to stay after that seem -- you know, there's pockets of insurgency that do remain in western Faryab province as well as eastern Badghis province. Those pockets of resistance will need to be taken care of, you know, here before long.
But what I will tell you is that the uplift of forces, all the enabling forces that have come here, not just the CAB but, you know, we've also had an increase in German infantry on the ground, another -- a lot of the other contributing nations -- have all resulted in a sort of synergy and the ability to mass and conduct operations in areas; as I said, really neutralize the insurgency.
So I -- again, I think they're significantly improved in a large number of areas, but these gains are still not completely solid. It's going to require all of us to maintain the momentum and have some unwavering commitment to keep it secure.
Q: And just a quick follow-up. Are there any regions that they feel like are ready for turnover to Afghan control?
COL. BURLESON: Well, ma'am, you know, I've seen portions of the plan that call for these different tranches as they do the transition. But, you know, that's really a decision for the government of Afghanistan, so that it's not something that I ponder. But I -- like I said, I am optimistic that security has improved, but it's also important for governance and development to improve. And ultimately, this will be a decision made by the government of Afghanistan.
Dan, anything you want to add?
COL. WILLIAMS: No, I would just add, ma'am, to your other question, there's a certain hydraulic effect the -- again, I spent a lot of time on the ground with Bill in the areas that we support, but I also have a unique perspective in that I'm in all four RCs. So I -- my forces have -- firsthand have fought in Kandahar, for example. And their progress in those two sectors, RC East and RC South, is legendary. There's a certain hydraulic effect, though, of the porous borders, nighttime, that a certain amount of those enemy certainly come up here. And when they have, we've been able to capture or kill them.
But what I will say, ma'am, when we got here, our aircraft were taking bullets -- that's bullets flying through the aircraft, bullet holes -- 18 percent of the time; roughly the same that it was in Arghandab province, for example, Arghandab Valley down in Kandahar, Helmand province area. So they were -- we were very surprised. And again, you don't know what you have until you go out and fly it. I can tell you, that's not the case now. Just as Bill was on the ground earlier today, I was in the air last night for about three and a half hours about 30 miles from here. And for the first time, I was able to turn on lights in my aircraft. I didn't see a single tracer round.
And as Bill said, and I would like to reemphasize, we've made a lot of progress. It's also wintertime here. We are realists; and while I think things have gone very, very well, we're also cautiously optimistic. I am preparing for anything that comes back over the mountain in the springtime, as well as Bill.
COL. LAPAN: Courtney.
Q: This is Courtney Kube, from NBC News. Colonel, could you just explain what you -- the statistic you just mentioned, the bullets going through your aircraft 18 percent of the time? Where was that, and what was the time frame for that, please?
COL. WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am. Well, as Bill said, when we first got here for the surge, obviously we came to areas that had never seen U.S. aircraft, certainly not U.S. aircraft to the altitudes or the beehive that we went into. And so 18 percent of the time -- so out of, you know, every time you fly, say, a hundred hours, 18 of those hours you would come back with bullet holes in your aircraft -- tail boom, rotor blades, through the cockpit. That is quite an experience for different folks who hadn't seen that before. That is not the case today. That stopped about the time we started seeing ground operations and supporting ground operations several months ago, particularly around the election time period and the time after that.
Q: And if I could just ask one more, Colonel, you also mentioned that you're preparing for whatever -- whoever's going to come back over the mountains as the weather warms up. Do you have any estimates, rough as they may be, of how many fighters, insurgents, you may anticipate coming back from safe havens or whatever over the winter and you may be facing as the weather warms up there?
COL. WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am. Certainly there are a lot of estimates out there and, you know, for operational reasons I can't -- I can't go into it. But I will tell you, as a realist, we've made a lot of tactical gains, and that's what Bill and I represent today to you, is tactical commanders in the fight with tactical gains.
The question is, has that had a strategic or operational effect, that's the question any time you go through this type of -- We've had a relatively mild winter, so we're encouraged that we haven't had more fighters stick around longer. But I would expect some kind of resurgence, albeit smaller.
And I agree with Bill. We keep the pressure on. We keep the ground guys on the ground, aviation overhead; our allies are out there. We have increased COPs [combat outpost] and FOBs [forward operating base]. So I think even if they do come back, the numbers, in my opinion, will be smaller, and they won't have the success they had prior to our arrival here.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. All right, gentlemen. We've come to the end of our time and exhausted the questions, so I will send it back to you for any closing remarks you'd like to make.
COL. BURLESON: Well, again, I'll be very brief. I do think -- and we've said this throughout. I mean, there has been progress made. And -- it's not without some sacrifice that young men and women have made here on the Afghan soil. But I know that the Afghans are committed, and I know that the Combined Team North here, you know, all 16 countries, will continue to stay after.
We've got to solidify these gains. As I said, some may be a little bit fragile, but I think we've got momentum. And as we get improved governance and development, we'll continue to see things move in the right direction.
Lastly, I'd like to thank the American people for all that they do for our soldiers that are deployed over here. The support that I've seen here during this deployment is probably the greatest that I've seen in my 22 years in the Army. I'd like to thank the local communities, business leaders and individual citizens who offer such great support for our men and women that are over here.
I'd especially like to thank the North Country, the area around Fort Drum, New York. We certainly appreciate all the support that they give to our soldiers and their families. And the support that they give allows us to come over here and do our job, do our mission and take care of one another with the peace of mind knowing that our needs of our families and our loved ones are taken care of.
So, again, thank you all for your support, and certainly thank you all for the opportunity to speak to you today.
COL. WILLIAMS: Thanks, Bill. I will definitely echo Bill's comments and I think the comments of all of our soldiers deployed in harm's way tonight over here. I'd like to thank the American people. As we approach a decade of war, you're looking at two war veterans. And we command war veterans, and it's not without your support. And as Bill mentioned, he lost 12 soldiers, and we stand shoulder to shoulder when we lose those soldiers and send them home to a grateful nation.
So I thank the families of those service men and women for their sacrifice in being alone over the holidays, over the year that Bill has been gone, the eight months we've been gone. Without their support, their soldier would not continue to do this in harm's way.
We also ask these families and our local communities for their continued support for us in this ongoing mission. I can honestly tell you we are making a difference, a tangible difference. I believe we are turning the tide, and we will keep up the fire.
COL. LAPAN: All right. Thank you all.