‘Iron Knights’ secure the Arghandab, one ‘partnered’ patrol at a time
The soldier walks with his squad in a single-file line; his eyes scanning the road ahead, weapon at the ready. In the distance, a young Afghan girl peeks out from behind a mud-wall.
The soldier calls his squad to a halt, kneels down on one knee and reaches into his cargo pocket with a grin. He pulls out a handful of candy and holds it out to the little girl, who lets out a giggle as she emerges from behind the wall with five other children and runs to collect the treat.
This is a daily scene for the soldiers of 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who were conducting a foot patrols with their Afghan partners through Arghandab district Jan. 31, to secure the orchards around their combat outpost and build rapport with the area’s residents.
“Building rapport with the local population is our main objective when we are out conducting joint foot-patrols,” said Spc. Nicholas Francioso, armored crewman, assigned to Co. C, 1st BN, 66th AR, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div.
“If the people see the ANA out with us, smiling, passing out candy and doing the same things we do, then they will start believing that their army is not only ready, but actually able to maintain their safety and security when we’re gone,” said Francioso.
“The most essential part of our mission here is to develop and train the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Capt. Walter Reed, commander, Co. C, 1st BN, 66th AR, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div. “We have developed an aggressive training program for the ANA, which ranges from training in individual soldiering skills, to collective squad and platoon training.”
Part of that training program is conducting joint foot-patrols throughout the district, which allow the soldiers of “Charlie” Company to mentor and train the ANA while they are out in sector.
“It’s my hope that we can mentor and train the ANSF to the point where they can conduct independent, synchronized operations to secure the region without our support,” said Reed.
Reed has a metaphor he often uses to explain to the ANSF leadership and village elders why it is so important for them all to work together. He calls it his ‘table’ metaphor, and it’s become quite popular at village meetings, or shuras, in the area.
There are four legs to the table, said Reed. They include: the ANA, the Afghan National Police, International Security Assistance Forces and the population. Without each leg being the same size and the same strength, the table can’t support its weight; but with each leg working together, the table can withstand any weight that might be placed on it.
One look around the company’s area of operation, and it’s obvious how much effort they are putting into helping the ANSF build that table.
Walk through any orchard in the area and you are sure to see evidence of the “Iron Knights” reconstruction efforts. The “Knights” have built bridges throughout the region to allow farmers freedom of movement; they’ve even helped restore a local mosque so the people have a safe place to pray close to home.
“I’ve seen a big difference in the way residents treat us now, as opposed to when we first arrived,” said Francioso. “I believe they know we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe so they can work their orchards and conduct their business without fear of the Taliban.”
Francioso said he doesn’t mind having to navigate some of the most difficult terrain Afghanistan has to offer during his squad’s efforts to secure the region. Squeezing through densely populated orchards, climbing mud walls and scaling 30-foot-cliffs is all just part of the job he came out here to do.
Clearing the orchards is a big reason for the success we’ve seen since we arrived in this area, said Reed. The district’s local economy is agriculture based and the farmers know we have the equipment and ability to find improvised explosive devices hidden in mud walls and orchards.
Reed said finding and destroying IEDs has allowed freedom of movement for the farmers and his patrols, which has helped the farmers have one of the most profitable seasons ever last year.
We have built bridges, foot trails and irrigation canals to help the farming community become more profitable, said Reed. Our reconstruction efforts have allowed the farmers to get their crops to the market much quicker, which translates to fresher crops and more money.
The soldiers of “Charlie” company have made great gains when it comes to the securing the population in the region. It’s not just the constant patrols and mine sweeps that have made them successful; it’s the little things that are making the biggest difference.
“We have built playgrounds in the area that have allowed the children a safe place to play,” said Reed. “If they have a safe place to play; they aren’t out in the orchards running into insurgent planted IEDs.”
All these reconstruction efforts are just a part of what ‘Charlie’ company are doing to not only complete their mission, but to expand it.
“When all is said and done, we’ll have completed over 3,000 dismounted patrols,” said Reed.
Reed said he has been amazed that his soldiers have not only maintained an impressive tempo of operations in the Arghandab, but insisted on putting even more pressure on the enemy to provide security to the population.
“I can’t be prouder of what our soldiers are accomplishing out here,” said Reed. “There isn’t a word to describe how proud I am off their commitment and dedication to our mission.”
Article by Spc. Breanne Pye, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs