For 300 cavalry troops in Afghanistan, the mission has begun

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 13, 2017

Just three days after the Army announced that soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team would be deploying to Afghanistan, a unit from the brigade unfurled its colors in Kabul.

The 3rd Squadron of the 73rd Cavalry Regiment has about 300 soldiers in the country, most of whom are based at New Kabul Compound in the Afghan capital city.

The soldiers deployed in mid-April, weeks before the Army announced that a total of 1,500 Devil Brigade paratroopers would be serving in Afghanistan by the end of the summer.

In Kabul, the Thunderbolt Squadron is serving as the American component of the Kabul Security Force.

In that role, the paratroopers are responsible for site security, escorting advisors on foot through parts of the city, liaising with police commanders and responding to incidents within the city.

Above all, according to officials in Afghanistan, the soldiers stand ready to risk their lives to protect the lives of others.

Like the rest of the Devil Brigade, the Thunderbolt Squadron has been preparing for its mission in Afghanistan since last year.

It has conducted increasingly complex exercises, culminating with training meant to mimic the environment in which it is now operating.

On Fort Bragg’s training land, the soldiers repeatedly conducted mock meetings between key leaders and advisors under the watchful eye of experts. They also escorted those leaders through dangerous terrain.

Each iteration of the training was different, with several nuances meant to show the soldiers how seemingly small actions can have bigger consequences for the safety of those the troops are tasked with protecting.

But while the training was not unusual, in other ways the preparation for the deployment has been anything but typical for 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment.

The unit was assigned a new commander in early April, at the same time some of the squadron’s members were arriving in Afghanistan and the bulk of the troops were less than 10 days away from leaving their families behind.

That commander, Lt. Col. Stephen G. Dobbins, wasn’t expecting to take the reins of a battalion until next year, but was thrust into his position due to the injury of the former squadron commander, Lt. Col. Adlai B. Wood.

Wood broke his leg during an airborne operation earlier this year. Col. Tobin A. Magsig, the 1st Brigade commander, said it was one of the worst drop zone injuries he had seen in his career.

Magsig oversaw the change of command between Wood and Dobbins on April 4 at the 82nd Airborne Division’s Hall of Heroes.

Instead of a traditional ceremony on Stang Field, the squadron changed command indoors to accommodate Wood’s injuries.

He attended the ceremony on crutches, hopping into position and finding his way back to his seat with the help of Magsig.

“Sometimes life happens,” Magsig said by way of explanation. “Each command is different. It has its own challenges and ends on its own terms.”

While not able to deploy himself, Magsig said Wood set the conditions for success for the squadron, leading it on numerous training exercises, including to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and during Swift Response ‘16 in Europe last year.

During Wood’s 18 months in command, the squadron developed a reputation for being well-trained and disciplined, Magsig said.

But above all, Wood led by example, Magsig said.

Wood said he wished the timing of his injury was different, but said he still considered himself the luckiest man alive for his experiences with the squadron. He praised the unit’s noncommissioned officers, troop commanders and squadron staff for their work in preparing for the Afghanistan mission.

“You have given blood and sweat but never tears,” he said.

Wood will remain at Fort Bragg, where he will serve as the 1st Brigade’s deputy commander, caring for the more than 2,400 paratroopers from the unit not currently scheduled to deploy.

Dobbins, meanwhile, made it to Fort Bragg roughly 30 days after being informed that he would take command. Previously, he was serving as part of the Joint Staff in Washington.

His wife was excited about the move, Dobbins said. She started packing before he returned home from work the day he received the news.

Dobbins has previously served in the 82nd Airborne Division and said the unit’s paratroopers are a special breed.

In taking command, Dobbins said the paratroopers will need to excel in their core soldier skills — the “blocking and tackling.” But in the busy capital, the paratroopers also will need to show restraint.

On April 30, Dobbins helped unfurl the squadron’s colors in Kabul.

U.K. Brigadier Nicholas Pond, the commander of the Kabul Security Force, said the mission may not have been what many expected when they learned they were to deploy.

“But its importance cannot be underestimated,” he said.

“Ours is a tactical mission with strategic implications,” Pond said in welcoming the squadron to Afghanistan. And soldiers must be willing to put themselves in harm’s way, if needed, to protect others.


©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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