With another deployment underway, Fort Stewart’s top general made no bones about what his soldiers face in Afghanistan - even in an advisory capacity.
“It’s a very dangerous place for all military members serving in Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, who is among 250 soldiers from 3rd ID headquarters headed to that country to “advise, assist and support” Afghan security forces and U.S. troops.
That’s been underscored since Quintas spoke to local media prior to Friday’s ceremony marking the deployment, which is expected to last less than a year. You only have to use Google.
CNN and other news agencies reported late Monday the Russians could be arming the Taliban. There also were reports Monday that 23 Afghanistan government workers were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul, and a Friday story by The Guardian claimed U.S. friendly fire killed 12 Afghan policemen.
The Global War on Terror, now in its 16th year, grinds on and on.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing, is only one of a number of groups launching attacks agasint the U.S.-led NATO coalition and current Afghanistan government. There’s also an ISIS branch to be wary of - “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province” or ISIS-K, for short.
That group alone offers what Quintas called “a significant threat,” in Afghanistan. It’s better to face them there than at home, he said.
“There are 20 some odd terrorist groups that operate in Afghanistan,” Quintas said. “Part of what we’re doing is fighting the away game, taking the fight to them in Afghanistan so they are suppressed, so they don’t ever have the opportunity to come here.”
3rd ID’s mission
There are approximately 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the 3rd ID’s role is largely one of support. The division’s soldiers will be concentrated at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in the country.
Quintas, as 3rd ID’s commander, will take over leadership of Bagram Airfield from the 1st Calvary Division.
“Bagram Airfield, that’s my first duty,” he said, noting he’ll be responsible for base operations, safety and protection.
Quintas also will serve as a deputy commander for support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
“We’ll be providing food, fuel, ammo, life support and equipment for the entire operation in Afghanistan for the NATO coalition,” he said.
The 3rd ID headquarters will also serve as a support element for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and as “contingency headquarters for any contingency operation that might occur in Afghanistan.”
Two of Quintas’ deputy commanders — Brigadier Gen. John Richardson and Brigadier Gen. David Hamilton — are also deploying and will serve as advisors with two Afghan National Army corps, the 201st and 203rd.
Another portion of the 3rd ID soldiers will be stationed in Kuwait and Quatar.
Some are already in place in Afghanistan, others will leave soon. Quintas said he expects the entire headquarters element to be in the region by the end of August.
Top enlisted soldier
Among those deploying is Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex, who recently returned from a tour in the country with Combined Security Transition Command—Afghanistan.
Hendrex has been at Fort Stewart for about a month. but that’s more time than he got earlier in his career, he said.
“About 23-24 years ago I arrived at Fort Stewart as a young sergeant and, quickly, in about a week, I was deploying to Mogadishu in Somalia,” Hendrex said. “So I’m thankful to Gen. Quintas and the 3rd ID, because this time I got three or four weeks at home before deploying.”
This is Hendrex’s “fourth or fifth time,” in Afghanistan. He called the 3rd ID’s job “an interesting mission set. And I think we’re very well suited to this mission.”
The U.S. is working with the Afghan National Army, which numbers about 350,000 and includes its air force, police and other security forces.
Life goes on at home
Don’t expect life on Fort Stewart or in the surrounding community to change much with only about 250 of the 3rd ID’s more than 24,000 soldiers deploying, officials said.
Quintas said Task Force Marne, commanded by Col. Sean Bernabe and top enlisted advisor Command Sgt. Major John Johnson, will keep the division on the rails.
Bernabe said his priorities are those established by Quintas.
“First is readiness in all its factors,” Bernabe said. “No. 2 is that Fort Stewart remain the best installation in our Army. And third is to maintain, strengthen and enhance the already great relationships we have with the local communities around Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.”
Among the upcoming missions for 3rd ID at home are training up the 1st Brigade Armored Combat Team for a trip to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in October; continuing the conversation of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from infantry to armor; helping the 48th Brigade prepare for a trip to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.; training the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade at Fort Benning; and celebrating the 3rd ID’s 100th birthday in November.
Not all of the 250 soldiers on the deployment will stay throughout the mission and some could rotate home and others take their place. But both Quintas and Hendrex said the mission won’t impact local communities as some have in the past, most memorably Desert Storm. Then, as soldiers deployed, families went home.
“Now, for the most part when our soldiers go on a mission their families are here, they stay here, their children go to school, their spouses work and life goes on. And then the soldier goes back home and we start building readiness for our next rotational mission,” Quintas said, noting that local support is still important.
“Tell our local community we need them more than ever when our soldiers deploy. They’ve always been a great assistance and great neighbors to our families as we do our nation’s business.”
Hendrex, who is married, said the deployment might even be a boost to the local economy.
“I will tell you when I came back from deployment I found some very interesting things in my house that I don’t know we would have bought when I was here,” he said. “New furniture, new lamps. And it was great.”