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Hawaii soldiers prepare for Afghanistan mission

HONOLULU — As the United States weighs further troop reductions in a waning Afghanistan War, Schofield Barracks is preparing for two major deployments there sometime next year.

Both the 2nd Stryker Brigade and 3rd Bronco Brigade are prepping for duty in an evolving overseas mission that could see up to 2,000 soldiers from each unit deploy just a few months apart as part of two separate security force assistance brigades, officials said.

The nine-month deployments are being planned as the United States and NATO look to end combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 — more than 13 years after the war began.

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The Pentagon hasn't yet officially announced the deployments of the Schofield units, but the soldiers have been told and are training for the upcoming mission.

Rather than the entire brigades deploying, it is more likely that contingents of fewer than 2,000 soldiers will be selected from each of the two, officials said.

The 3rd Brigade's nearly 4,000 soldiers spent a grueling year in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar provinces in eastern Afghanistan through much of 2011, returning to Hawaii in March and April.

Twenty soldiers were killed and 260 were wounded in action, according to the brigade.

More than 4,000 soldiers are part of the 2nd Stryker Brigade, so-called because it operates several hundred Stryker armored vehicles.

In June 2010, the 2nd Brigade deployed to Salah ad Din, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces in Iraq, where it conducted stability operations and security force assistance operations.

About 2,600 Schofield soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade have finished a yearlong deployment flying Black Hawk, Chinook and Kiowa Warrior helicopters in southern Afghanistan, and are in the process of returning home.

The Army Times reported that eight security force assistance brigades would replace an equal number of larger regular Army brigades across the east and south of Afghanistan by spring.

About 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.

The new assistance brigades comprise 10- to 20-person teams that focus on training Afghan security forces.

About 140 soldiers from the Hawaii Army National Guard and an additional 60 soldiers from Guam and Arizona are part of 16 teams currently in southern Afghanistan.

The teams include infantry, special weapons, explosive ordnance disposal, communications and logistics experts.

One Hawaii Guard team, nicknamed Shaka 27, partnered with Afghan border police, National Army and Civil Order Police Dec. 10 to 12 on a mission near Shor Bak, arriving in four CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

"The mission was the first of its kind that involved (a) strictly independent ground operation by Afghan National Security Forces," Maj. Paul Agena, the team's commander, said in a news story produced by the National Guard.

The Hawaii team supervised the mission but didn't participate, officials said.

"Normally, coalition forces are on the ground with the Afghans," Agena said. "However, this time, the (Afghan security forces) conducted the operations all by themselves."

Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said in August that the brigades enjoy greater cohesion.

"These brigades are organized together," Allen said. "They are trained together in their pre-deployment training cycle. When they arrive in theater, they prepare together. When the time comes, their security force assistance teams deploy from a central location tied into the brigade headquarters with communications, so there is constant coherence within that security force assistance brigade."

In late November and through the middle of December, 40 Schofield soldiers with the 3rd Brigade traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., to take part in a mission rehearsal exercise that included acting as a security force assistance brigade in a training simulation involving Afghan security forces.

Leaders of the 2nd Brigade participated in late November in a 3-D simulation of the July 13, 2008, Battle of Wanat in eastern Afghanistan, an overwhelming attack by enemy forces on a rudimentary outpost that resulted in the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers. One of the soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade killed that day was 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24, of Aiea.
 

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