Sgt. Javier Amador
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – On the morning of March 13, two CH-47 Chinook helicopters touched down in an open, barren field where the Spartan Soldiers of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, rapidly exited and assumed a defensive perimeter, lying low to the ground.
A cloud of sand, caused by the Chinook’s huge rotor blades, engulfed the Soldiers who lay in an area left untouched by American troops for more than a year.
The Soldiers rose to their feet and moved to their positions. While some of them occupied the towers near the entrance gates, others established a command post and started roving patrols. Together, B Troop had successfully established a comprehensive security presence on Forward Operating Base Muqar, an Afghan National Army facility that was undergoing construction. Roughly 40 ANA soldiers occupied the base.
The mission was to provide security for a team of U.S. military and civilian personnel who would conduct building inspections on the FOB to ensure they were being built to standard and the facilities would be ready by a predetermined completion date.
“We came to secure the Muqar compound for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their inspectors,” said 1st Lt. Jeffery Temple, a platoon leader with B Troop. “It’s a $48 million project that is being built for two Afghan kandaks and they came to see how they are doing on their timeline, so our job was to secure that area and make sure nothing happened.”
The compound will eventually become the home of two ANA battalions, known as kandaks. FOB Muqar had many open or isolated areas that presented serious security concerns for the Spartan Soldiers. With a multitude of other factors that also had to be taken into consideration, it was an extremely complex planning challenge to bring it all together.
“There are a lot of moving pieces you need to get on the same page,” Temple said. “There was my platoon, headquarters, other platoons from Bandit Troop, as well as civilians and their military liaisons, USACE and air weapons teams.”
Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Gangwer, B Troop’s first sergeant, kept an experienced eye on the operation as well as on his Soldiers. His focus was on getting his Soldiers where they needed to be as quickly and safely as possible. Once in position, he kept checking on them and he made sure his squad leaders knew what they had to do and had everything the Soldiers needed.
For Gangwer, it’s all in the details and the application of hard-earned experience.
“The biggest thing for me is the overall planning – from the conception to the execution,” Gangwer said. “But what I sweat the most is the unknown – the variables – planning for everything, which you can’t.”
Planning the mission also meant thinking of ways an adversary could compromise its accomplishment – a task that Temple approached holistically.
“The first thing I have to look at is what the mission will be and then what the enemy’s mission will be and what they would be doing in the area, and from there, look at all of the different aspects,” Temple said.
The amount of coverage he had to provide compared to the number of Soldiers he had to work with initially seemed improbable because of the compound’s size. Knowing this, Temple said he knew he would have to strike a balance between their safety and accomplishing the mission.
“For this mission, I mainly had to look at the terrain, because the compound was so big and my force was so small that I couldn’t secure it the way you would normally want to,” he said. “I had to look at what the mission was, where the enemy was and what the limitations were to mitigate as much of the risk as I could.”
Temple’s careful planning paid off as the Spartan Soldiers hit the ground running and moved out with the cohesion and coordination made possible with a well-briefed, close-knit team.
“The overall plan was executed to the numbers as far as the way it was rehearsed. What I was most impressed with today were the blocking positions and the quickness with which they got out there, set them up and maintained them,” Gangwer said.
Sustaining the sense of urgency of the mission also impressed Gangwer, who knows what can happen when things slow down and Soldiers losing their focus.
“When the mission starts, everybody is going to be ‘gung-ho’ – ready to go, but an hour or two into the mission, that’s when a Soldier might start slacking off because it’s not as exciting; I didn’t see that today,” Gangwer said.
Moving with a well-defined purpose and having the training to get the job done is what allowed Pfc. Stephen Waugaman, a cavalry scout, to keep control of a gate with confidence. His job during the mission was to man a tower as a machine gunner and a grenadier. Waugaman credited the training that he and his team received from the troop’s leadership.
“We have a good platoon; we have good leaders,” he said. “They trained us well, and they know what they are doing. I take my confidence from them.”
With the inspection team’s work complete, the Spartan Soldiers closed out their positions and assembled at the designated area. A couple of hours after midday, the sound of rotor blades cutting through air was heard and the call was made for everyone to line up in their groups. For the last time that day, everyone boarded their respective helicopters and moments later, began the hourlong flight that ultimately brought everyone home safely with another mission accomplished.