Friday, November 30, 2007

Letter to the editor of the Fort Knox Turret


By CAPT. ANTHONY WILSON/Fort Riley, Kan.

Sixteen Soldiers at Fort Riley, Kan., rose from their bunks at 5 a.m., donned their Army Combat Uniform, assisted one another putting on multiple pieces of body armor collectively weighing approximately 55 pounds, grabbed their weapons, and headed out of the barracks to conduct a tactical road march.

This type of training occurs across the United States on military installations from coast to coast, but it is not the reason I have chosen to write. The training event that morning involved a very unique group of Soldiers with a very important upcoming mission. These Soldiers are part of a military transition team that will deploy in December to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and I am honored to be serving as one of its members.

While attending counterinsurgency training one afternoon, the topic of accurate media coverage regarding the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan was discussed. Although not a very big surprise, most military members voiced frustration with the negative picture presented within media sources regarding the impact our military services have made and continue to make each day in both countries. The type of mission in which I am involved is proof of the increasingly positive headway we are making.

Unlike many of the conventional units that are engaged in combat operations overseas, the mission of a MiTT is unique. While many units within our military’s history have returned from conflicts overseas with a “war” story, our mission is to come home with a “peace” story. Our team is one of hundreds of transition teams that will deploy this year to Afghanistan to assist in the development and mentorship of the Afghanistan National Army.

Over the past few months the country has been focused on Gen. David Petraeus’ current assessments and military strategies for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. The recent media coverage has focused on the perceived slow pace of improvement and a surge in Taliban and Al Qaeda activity within Afghanistan.

A key component of the new strategy to defeat this insurgency is building the Afghanistan security forces composed primarily of the Afghanistan National Army and the local Afghanistan National Police.

Transition teams are the Army’s answer to improving the capability of the security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will live, eat, sleep, and fight with our Afghanistan counterparts to help them establish security in their country while simultaneously increasing the security of our own.

My team is composed of 16 talented Soldiers of different ranks and backgrounds. All but three members of our team have previously deployed to the Middle East, and all are experts in their field. The Soldiers come from a mix of combat arms, communications, logistics, maintenance, intelligence, and medical fields in the Army. We will complete our training, which has prepared us for our role as advisors, in a few weeks.

The training at Fort Riley, while not easy, was not the most challenging part of the curriculum. Weapons qualification, medical classes, training on infantry tactics, and physical training to get our team prepared to deploy were easy. As career Soldiers and Army leaders, we are used to this environment.

The most difficult part of the training was learning about the Afghanistan language and culture. Discovering how Islam is so completely absorbed in their society, the supreme importance of personal relationships, and reverence for extended family are all concepts that were incredibly interesting, but complicated at the same time and immensely important to the advisor mission.

In order to succeed in this mission, it is paramount that we understand intimately the insurgent enemy and the innocent indigenous population which, in this case, are the Afghanistan people.

Most of us are married with children and are intimately aware of the immense sacrifices it takes to wear this uniform, but continue to willingly do so. On some level each Soldier desires the same life story—to be part of something greater collectively—than we could ever achieve as individuals. This desire epitomizes the idea embodied within the Soldiers Creed.

I will not pretend to be an all-knowing politician or an armchair military philosopher. However, this is what I do know: After extensively studying the history, culture and current living conditions of the people of Afghanistan I am looking forward to the opportunity to be part of something greater than myself and provide a sense of hope to a group of people that has not been afforded even a glimpse of hope in a very long time.

I will, along with my brothers-in-arms, miss birthdays, holidays, ballgames, and bedtime stories. My spouse will once again be both mother and father to my boys during my absence. These are the sacrifices of today’s Soldier and military family, and this is my attempt to provide a Soldiers perspective on the situation in Afghanistan.

Over the next year I hope to send regular correspondence to adequately convey our team’s experiences and the status of your Army’s mission within the confines of a small area of the world in southern Afghanistan.

Capt. Anthony Wilson is a 1992 graduate of Kentucky’s Warren East High School and a 2000 graduate of Kansas State University, and 2006 graduate of Western Kentucky University. He can be reached at anthony.wilson4@us.army.mil.

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