Combat engineers return from Afghanistan

Guard members of the 857th Engineer Company based out of Picayune, Miss., listen to their welcome brief from the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group building, May 19. The unit will be at Fort Bliss for two weeks conducting demobilization before returning home. Photos by Claudia R. Kennedy, DoMaD Public Affairs.

Guard members of the 857th Engineer Company based out of Picayune, Miss., listen to their welcome brief from the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group building, May 19. The unit will be at Fort Bliss for two weeks conducting demobilization before returning home. Photos by Claudia R. Kennedy, DoMaD Public Affairs.

Claudia R. Kennedy, DoMaD Public Affairs:

More than 400 Army National Guard combat engineers returned from Afghanistan to Fort Bliss May 19 for demobilization.

The 178th Engineer Battalion, based out of Rock Hill, S.C., the 857th Engineer Company based out of Picayune, Miss., and the 258th Engineer Company, based out of Florence, Ariz., completed a nine-month tour in Afghanistan where they performed critical horizontal and vertical engineer missions.

All three units arrived to Fort Bliss last July for mobilization processing with the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment, training with 5th Armored Brigade and validation with the 402nd Field Artillery before flying out to Afghanistan in August.

While in theater, all three units remained connected to each other. The 178th and the 857th fell under the same brigade, and the 857th were just two hours north of where the 178th was. The 178th worked with the 258th on two big projects deconstructing combat outposts in dangerous locations in the mountains of the Pakistan border.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Bills, a heavy equipment operator with the 258th Engineer Company, Arizona National Guard, is reunited with his family at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group at East Fort Bliss May 19 after serving a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. Photos by Claudia R. Kennedy, DoMaD Public Affairs.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Bills, a heavy equipment operator with the 258th Engineer Company, Arizona National Guard, is reunited with his family at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group at East Fort Bliss May 19 after serving a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. Photos by Claudia R. Kennedy, DoMaD Public Affairs.

Soldiers developed creative ways to maintain safety and security. They modified one clearance vehicle with a fork-like mechanism used to locate bombs. They installed what they call a “spork,” allowing it to dig dirt and scoop it up instead of just clawing at it. Lt. Col. Coral Dobson, 178th commander, says the Army is looking to adapt it Army-wide.

“The unit was attacked with an average of about five rounds of indirect fire every week,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Medlin, 178th command sergeant major. Some of his Soldiers were wounded but have fully recovered. There were no Soldiers killed in action.

“Our Soldiers did really well integrating with the local population,” said Dobson. They placed counter improvised explosive device leaflets inside back packs and distributed them out to local kids. The leaflets explained how to report any counter IED problems. They called the program ‘Operation Trojan Horse,’ and it was a huge success,” explained Dobson.

With President Obama’s plan to drawdown the troops from Afghanistan, the units work toward that goal by continuing to train the Afghan army.

“The Afghan army has grown to 385,000. As they grow, there’s less need for us to be there,” said Medlin. “Once our leaders tell us that it’s time to go – and we’re getting real close to it – they’ll be ready to stand on their own.”

The 178th, 857th and 258th will conduct demobilization processing on Fort Bliss through DoMaD for two weeks before returning home to their family.

 

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