Army handover in Afghanistan comes with instructions
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan — It’s the beginning of the end for the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment are shadowing their counterparts from Vicenza, Italy, and will soon take over the missions that those from The Rock have been performing for the last year.
The Army commonly refers to such hand-over periods as left-seat, right-seat rides, with the new troops first sitting in the right seat of a Humvee and watching the exiting troops go about their tasks. The two groups then switch sides before the change.
In areas of Zabul Province where 2-503’s Company B operates — such as this five- month-old forward operating base in a river valley surrounded by mountains — those hand- overs could more properly be termed left- boot, right-boot.
That’s because 3rd Platoon walks everywhere it goes.
That included a visit Wednesday to the nearby village of Akhtar, where elders from surrounding communities gathered to meet the new troops.
Second Lt. Ian Dietz introduced his counterpart, 1st Lt. Ryan Edwards, to a semicircle of men sitting in a dirt field outside the village: “He’s a very good leader and his guys are good and dedicated to keep doing the things we have going here,” Dietz said. “All he wants is to keep Akhtar safe and peaceful.”
Squads from the two platoons, together with a squad of Afghan National Army troops, then walked through Akhtar and a neighboring village, passing over a slender walking bridge over the Arghandab River along the way. Next to that is part of a bigger bridge that was started by U.S. forces but left unfinished.
The local elders told the two officers that they want that bridge to be completed. They said the village also needs a school, health clinic and a better road.
Edwards and his troops would be kept busy trying to get all those projects going while maintaining security in the area. Before taking on any tasks, though, they needed information about the local territory. So the two units spent much of their first day together talking about 3rd Platoon’s experiences in the area.
The 1st Platoon had just flown in to the base on helicopters. Since the two units only had about three days together, they started exchanging information quickly.
Squad leaders got a tour of the small facility and were shown how the equipment works. The two lieutenants and the two platoon sergeants talked. Soldiers exchanged tips and strategies. Stockpiles of materials were inventoried and turned over.
On the second day of the transition, incoming troops from the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade took aim on the firing range adjacent to the base. Then the two sides went on a patrol through Akhtar. A longer patrol was planned for the third day.
Edwards said he expects his platoon to take over where his 173rd Airborne Brigade counterparts left off.
“I think they’ve set us up for success with the local people,” he said.
Still, he said he expects his troops will see some increased activity from the Taliban in the spring and his platoon will combat it aggressively.
In the meantime, they have a few ideas on how to build up the base. And there’s that bridge to finish.
Words to live by ...
What words of wisdom do soldiers pass along to newcomers to Afghanistan?
The following comments were overheard during meetings between the outgoing 3rd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment and incoming 1st Platoon, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment:
“These people know how to ambush. They’re not [expletive] stupid. Just because they don’t have electricity and cable television, don’t underestimate them.”
“They grow their opium. They grow their hash. They just want to be happy. They’re just like hippies back in the States.”
“You’re going to want to slack off (when tired). You can’t do that here.”
“If they’re enemy, you’re going to know it. Because they’ll shoot at you. Other than that, they’re friendly people.”
“You’re going to get dysentery. Just expect it.”
“If you’re helping the people here … they’re going to help you out.”
“Whoever’s on top of the mountain is the bad guy. They know they’re not supposed to be on top of the mountains.”
“You have to micromanage your [interpreter]. He’s like your sister’s kids.”
— Kent Harris