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Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox is the commander of the 173rd Support Battalion. The Afghanistan mission is the first deployment in a combat zone for the battalion since it was deactivated in the early 1970s.

Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox is the commander of the 173rd Support Battalion. The Afghanistan mission is the first deployment in a combat zone for the battalion since it was deactivated in the early 1970s. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox is the commander of the 173rd Support Battalion. The Afghanistan mission is the first deployment in a combat zone for the battalion since it was deactivated in the early 1970s.

Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox is the commander of the 173rd Support Battalion. The Afghanistan mission is the first deployment in a combat zone for the battalion since it was deactivated in the early 1970s. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

The sign for the 173rd Support Battalion (Airborne) at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan.

The sign for the 173rd Support Battalion (Airborne) at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment is in Paktika province, hours away from Kandahar airfield. The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment isn’t much closer, with much of its forces at Forward Operating Base Langham.

But the 173rd Airborne Brigade does have one of its battalions based at Kandahar: the 173rd Support Battalion.

“We provide logistic support for Kandahar and for the entire (Regional Command) South,” said Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox, the battalion commander.

The Afghanistan mission is the first deployment in a combat zone for the battalion since it was deactivated in the early 1970s. Its rebirth started July 1, when Fox and 14 other soldiers from the deactivating 51st Maintenance Battalion from Mannheim, Germany, arrived in Vicenza, Italy.

They were joined by about 140 members of the 501st Forward Support Company to form a provisional battalion. The 501st was already a part of the 173rd.

From July 27 to Sept. 4, the battalion stood up four companies. Platoon A (supply), Platoon B (maintenance) and Platoon C (medical) from the 501st became companies. Add in a headquarters company and Fox commands about 325 troops.

Training exercises in Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr, Germany, quickly followed the company stand-ups. Getting and moving into office space at Italy’s cramped Caserma Ederle was a challenge. Then the battalion had to pack and ship its equipment away for its upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. In the meantime, dozens of troops came to Vicenza to join the battalion.

Fox said a busy seven months came to an end when the battalion officially shrugged off its provisional status on March 16. A week later, the first of the battalion’s soldiers arrived in Afghanistan.

Capt. Charles Diggs, who commanded a platoon in the 501st, said he thinks the battalion is more efficient than the company was.

“We all provided the same support as we do now,” he said. “But with more people in the battalion, obviously you have more to pool from.”

Diggs said that doesn’t necessarily mean shorter days. But work — and paperwork — flows smoother than it did before.

Another soldier from the 501st, Spc. Daniel Radding — who, like Diggs, served with the 173rd in Iraq — sums it up simply: “We’re a lot more organized.”

Sgt. Lamar Adams, a newcomer to Vicenza, is a medical squad leader. He said he likes working with members of the other companies that have different specialties. Having them all fall under one commander usually means good teamwork, he said.

“I really feel like you’re in a team being in the 173rd,” Fox said. “It’s a good group of people.”

Diggs admits he’s happy with a bit more status. The next time the brigade forms up on the parade ground in Vicenza, the support battalion will line up next to the two infantry battalions.

“We’re not the other guys at the end of the field now,” he said with a smile.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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