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Texas Guard unit provides security for Afghanistan-bound reconstruction teams

By David Bruce Staff Sgt., Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

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EDINBURGH, Indiana (January 24, 2012) — The notion of security for Americans may entail locking our homes and cars, questioning whether our children are safe or if our bank accounts have been hacked. For an Afghan, that notion could be expanded to include stumbling upon a roadside bomb or militants with hostile intent. For the people of Afghanistan and the troops deployed there, security takes on added dimensions and is a serious concern.

Providing security for the next rotation of provincial reconstruction teams falls to 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry (Airborne), which is composed of soldiers from the Alaska, Rhode Island and Texas Army National Guard.

The mission of the security force is to allow the PRTs to be successful in their mission, said Lt. Col. Shawn McGrath, of Lacoste, Texas, and commander of the 1st Battalion 143rd Infantry (Airborne). The security elements provide the tactical expertise to allow the specialists of the PRTs to oversee various projects in the reconstruction efforts under way in their assigned province, he said.

By providing freedom of movement for the PRTs and Afghan people, the security force enables the PRT to meet their goals.

“Each of the PRTs have a tactical advisor embedded with them to assist with decisions involving security and force protection,” said McGrath.

The PRTs are joint service units drawn from the Air Force, Army (both active and reserve components), Navy and National Guard. Each PRT is assigned to a specific province in Afghanistan with the function to act as a bridge between the Afghan government and the people.

Working with the other branches can pose challenges as the Navy and Air Force have their own way of doing things, but McGrath says it has been a positive experience working with the other branches.

“They have a wide variety of command experiences,” said McGrath. “There are ship commanders, F16 and F18 pilots; a lot of different backgrounds. We try to help the PRT commanders develop their own command environment to ensure they have a successful mission.”

To prepare the battalion for their mission of providing security for the PRTs, McGrath said his troops were receiving updated counterinsurgency training, cultural training, running operations, convoy security and patrols.

“We receive constant updates from units in Afghanistan, so we can focus on what is current there,” he said. “Normally, the train-up for a deployment is 45 days. We have 70 days to maximize and refine our training for Afghanistan.”

2nd Lt. Timothy Manges, of Killeen, Texas, platoon leader with the Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry (Airborne), said that his non-commissioned officers are a key factor to his platoon’s strength.

“We couldn’t do this without the experience of our non-commissioned officers, some of them have had three or four mobilizations,” said Manges. “We have a pretty good team. The experienced non-commissioned officers help facilitate the training and help the younger soldiers learn and know what to expect downrange.”

Manges said his platoon would be operating in the Kabul area.

“This is truly a counterinsurgency operation,” he said. “We will be interacting with people around the forward operating base and establishing friendships, but at the same time we have to be able to respond quickly to threats.”

McGrath says developing these relationships are key to building stability in Afghanistan.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to have a successful Afghanistan,” said McGrath. “The important thing is to give them a system that is sustainable. If we give them things that they cannot maintain, then those tools are ineffective. We want to give them systems that can carry Afghanistan into the future and at least return them to prosperity that existed in the early 70s before the Soviets.”

To provide the security necessary for the PRTs to accomplish their mission, Manges said that the battalion has been split up.

“Each PRT has a rifle platoon assigned to it from the battalion’s line companies,” he said.

To fulfill their mission of providing security to the PRTs, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry (Airborne), received training on patrols, both in vehicles and on foot, improvised explosive devices, first-aid, using biometric devices, weapons training, counterinsurgency doctrine, cultural understanding and language training, said Manges.

With the world marking the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan on their respective calendars, that far-off event doesn‟t change the mission for the Soldiers of the 1st, 143rd Infantry (Airborne).

“We are going to continue our mission,” said Manges. “In any conflict you have a political and military aspect. My goal is keep my guys focused on the mission and let the powers-that-be worry about the rest. I’m going to do everything I can to get my guys home safe.”