Carson troops head home, reflect on 'insider' threat
The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette/MCT
Charmaine Yniguez knew the drill.
As soon as her husband, Staff Sgt. Richard Yniguez, stepped on the plane for Afghanistan, Charmaine said she stopped watching national news channels. She had learned during Richard's previous two deployments to keep a careful eye on the television channels their children flipped to every day.
"They were in the danger zone," Charmaine Yniguez said.
On Thursday, Richard Yniguez and 101 other members of Fort Carson's 110th Military Police Company stepped onto friendlier soil after six months training Afghan soldiers and Afghan police.
In a ceremony at the post's Special Events Center, hundreds of family members and friends gathered to welcome the company -- a homecoming that came three months earlier than expected after the company's soldiers trained 1,500 Afghan soldiers and police, said Capt. Terence Staples, company commander.
"I was crying yesterday already and he wasn't even back yet," said Charmaine Yniguez, smiling before the ceremony.
Thirty-eight of the company's soldiers stayed behind, in part to help provide security for Gen. John Allen, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Staples said.
The soldiers' mission had carried unexpected risks, as the news out of Afghanistan grew increasingly grim as the months ticked by.
On Thursday, Fort Carson officials plan to host a memorial for two Fort Carson soldiers killed when an Afghan policeman turned his gun on the forces training him.
The soldiers, Sgt. Christopher J. Birdwell, 25, of Windsor, Colo., and Spc. Mabry J. Anders, 21, of Baker City, Ore., were assigned to a unit that replaced the 110th Military Police Company as it prepared to return stateside.
Such "green on blue" attacks spiked last month. At least 12 attacks left 15 coalition troops dead in August, pushing the number of coalition deaths from "insider" attacks to 45 this year.
The attacks spurred U.S. officials to halt the training of about 1,000 of Afghanistan's security forces, a move announced Sunday in the wake of the attack. The country boasts 350,000 soldiers and police officers.
Later this week, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said hundreds of Afghan soldiers were forced from the military's ranks due to incomplete or forged documents.
About a quarter of "green on blue" attacks since 2007 involved the Taliban, coalition authorities said. The spokesman didn't say whether the fired soldiers had ties to the Taliban.
The 110th Military Police Company was not targeted during its deployment, Staples said, but he added that soldiers always remained aware of the threat.
"You're always thinking about it," said 1st Lt. Michael McCanney, leader of 3rd Platoon. "But my guys, I never felt unsafe with them. They always had my back.
"I was always able to talk to the Afghan leadership. And we were the most vulnerable ones there and my guys kept us safe -- my platoon and the guys we were training."
To help build trust between his soldiers and their Afghan counterparts, Staples met once a week for hours-long talks with the commander of the Afghan forces his soldiers trained. The company handed off control of a joint operation outpost and two district centers to Afghan soldiers and police during its deployment, Staples said.
"We want to protect ourselves but we can't be overly aggressive because that will counteract what we're doing over there," Staples said.
Now back home, the soldiers changed their focus to plans put on hold by the deployment.
McCanney -- who proposed to his fiancee, Emily Clark shortly before he left -- planned to start helping prepare for their June wedding near Buffalo, N.Y.
Richard Yniguez thought first of devouring pot roast, Spanish rice and cherry cream cheese treats with his family.
"I got to do a lot of family catch-up," Richard Yniguez said.