Top 3rd Infantry Division leaders said Friday they saw progress in Afghanistan during a recent nine-month deployment there.
Third ID commander Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas and division Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex participated in a media briefing prior to a ceremony marking the return of the division headquarters to Fort Stewart.
In all, about 250 Fort Stewart headquarters soldiers deployed in August to Afghanistan to provide support to U.S. and coalition forces.
“It’s been a very busy nine months. There’s been a lot of change, a lot of forward progress,” Quintas said. “I’m very optimistic about the campaign.”
Hendrex, who last deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013, called the change he saw in Afghan forces “dramatic.”
That change included the addition of an air force, more commandos, SWAT-team style forces for use in urban areas and a better political climate, he said.
“The Afghan National Security forces 100 percent own this mission. We DIVISION from 1
train, advise and assist, but they’re 100 percent in the lead now,” Hendrex said. “They have ownership of this fight, and that was not true when I was there in 2012.”
The U.S. has had forces in Afghanistan since 2001. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and its 3rd ID Sustainment Brigade are still in Afghanistan, where “they continue to perform amazingly in some of the most difficult conditions on our planet,” Quintas said.
Both he and Hendrex praised the work of 3rd ID soldiers during the deployment and those who stayed behind under the leadership of Task Force Marne commander Brig. Gen. Sean Bernabe and Command Sgt. Maj. John Johnson.
During that time, Bernabe said Task Force Marne deployed 3rd ID headquarters overseas, underwent four command post exercises, sent the first Armored Brigade Combat team to NTC and then to Korea and worked with the 48th Infantry Brigade as it went to Fort Polk, La., for training.
And then there was the weather. While the 3rd ID headquarters was away, Hurricane Irma forced the evacuation of Fort Stewart in September and Winter Storm Grayson brought the first real snow to Coastal Georgia in 18 years.
Bernabe quipped he learned as they were readying the post’s snowplows for the snowstorm that Stewart had a total of “zero,” snowplows to prepare.
He praised the willingness of his soldiers to work together and make up for whatever experience they lacked.
“What I learned is really what I knew already,” he said. “Dogface soldiers make it happen, they bond together and with the support of a great community they made it happen for nine months.”
Quintas said Friday’s ceremony, in which a number of soldiers and civilians were honored, was official “recognition that we’re back, and we’re excited to be back, optimistic about our future, and training and preparing for whatever our country asks of us.”
That led the general to issue a reminder that Memorial Day is fast approaching.
“I’d ask that we all be mindful of the sacrifices of our Dogface soldiers, past and present,” Quintas said, “And be mindful of the continued service of our Dogface soldiers still in Afghanistan and our soldiers in the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team in Korea.”