Last 25th ID Unit in Afghanistan Prepares to Redeploy to Hawaii
By Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, May. 25, 2005 After a year in Afghanistan, the soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, Combined Task Force Thunder are preparing to redeploy to Hawaii.
Army Col. Gary H. Cheek, commander of Combined Task Force Thunder (center), and Command Sgt. Maj. Edmund Murrell, CTF Thunder command sergeant major (right), walk with Capt. John Sego, commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, and a member of the Afghan National Army during a foot patrol Nov. 5, 2004, in Sehla, Afghanistan, in Paktika Province. The last Combined Task Force Thunder unit will relinquish control of its sector in Afghanistan June 1 as the unit redeploys to Hawaii. Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The headquarters is currently conducting a "relief in place" with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, and will relinquish control of eastern Afghanistan during a transfer-of-authority ceremony scheduled for June 1.
Initially, the headquarters wasn't even slated to deploy. While nearly the entire 25th Infantry Division (Light) received deployment orders to either Iraq or Afghanistan in late 2003, HHB was left out.
That changed when a decision was made to stand up a new brigade in Afghanistan, and Division Artillery was tabbed as the headquarters. More than 100 people from the headquarters deployed to Afghanistan last June, and since then, it has run one of the largest and most diverse commands in Afghanistan.
For the last year, CTF Thunder oversaw Regional Command East, which covers 16 provinces in eastern Afghanistan along the country's border with Pakistan.
The task force included infantry battalions from the active-duty Army and Marine Corps, and Army National Guard. It also included eight provincial reconstruction teams, with a ninth currently being stood up.
Sgt. Roger Amposta, a fire direction specialist for CTF Thunder, is one of the soldiers who will return to Hawaii in the beginning of June after a year in Afghanistan.
The 26-year-old native of Cavite, in the Philippines, spent the deployment working in the brigade headquarters at Forward Operating Base Salerno. In addition to tracking the brigade's artillery assets, he's also helped to track air support.
Before deploying, Amposta was strictly artillery, but now can call for close air support. He said the whole deployment was a good learning experience, particularly when it came to doing things he hadn't done before and working with other units and services.
"Even though sometimes you might get into an argument, but when it comes to the job, people always come together," he said
This was the first deployment for Amposta, who had spent the previous two-plus years in Korea and volunteered to move to Hawaii so he could deploy.
"I was in Korea for two and a half years and I was ready to deploy, and I said, 'Yeah, I'll go to Hawaii. It doesn't matter to me that they're deploying,'" he said
Calling the deployment an "eye opener," Sgt. Allison Urbatsch, a human-resource specialist for CTF Thunder, said it taught her to be grateful for what she has.
The 23-year-old Rock Springs, Wyo., native said one of the highlights of the deployment was going out on five combat patrols with the infantry. During these patrols, she would guard and search Afghan women since the local culture prohibits male soldiers from doing so.
"It was fun," she said. "It was a different world out there, different from staying at camp."
Urbatsch said that before deploying she hoped she would get the opportunity to do something like that, but she never thought she actually would.
"Overall, I'm glad it's over with, but it was a good experience, and it made me realize we should be grateful for what we have," she said.
For Capt. Eric Johnson, commander of HHB, the deployment involved several different aspects. He arrived in country on April 25, 2004, as the commander of Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, then became a brigade plans officer at CTF Thunder for three months before assuming command of HHB.
He spent a month in Ghazni, two months in Tarin Kowt, two months at Bagram Air Base and the rest of the time at FOB Salerno.
Johnson, 31, a native of Port Huron, Mich., said that although it was an exciting year, he's ready to head back.
"As with anything that lasts this long, you're sad to see it end, but you're happy to see it over," he said. "We're excited to go home, but we're excited to finish the mission strong and hand the mission over to the 82nd better than we found it."
More than 5,500 25th ID soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, including the division headquarters and 3rd Brigade, but DIVARTY is the last division unit to remain in the country.
For Urbatcsh, watching the rest of her fellow "Tropic Lightning" soldiers leave helped her to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"It was nice to see them leaving because I knew it was a step in the right direction for us that we were on our way out too," she said
Johnson said it's a special honor to be the last unit from the 25th ID in Afghanistan, especially considering the complexity of the mission it had to perform here.
"This unit was notified late of its deployment after most of the division had either been deployed or was in the midst of deploying, and to bring it back after doing what we've done here is a great honor," he said.
After a year performing a unique role in Afghanistan, DIVARTY will soon reach the end of the road in more than one sense. The unit will be deactivated within weeks of returning to Hawaii.
As the 25th ID moves toward a more deployable, brigade-centric unit, DIVARTY, along with the 25th Field Artillery Detachment and Battery F, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, will be deactivated June 15 during a ceremony at Schofield Barracks.
"As is appropriate for an artillery unit, we're definitely going out with a big bang," Johnson said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen is assigned to Combined Task Force Thunder.)