FORWARD OPERATING BASE OQAB, Afghanistan — More than 50 Soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 950th Engineer Company have taken on a new assignment — providing security for Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air, a U.S. Air Force effort to train the Afghan Air Force.
The 950th Engineer Company Soldiers conduct base security, personnel protective details and provide quick reaction response forces at two Afghan Air bases within the country — a task they perform under pressure, every day where lives are at risk.
They recently responded to a shooting at one of the Afghan airbases, securing the area and helping prevent any further violence. Simultaneously, these Soldiers provided combat lifesaving care to one victim and transferred him to a hospital, saving his life.
Though they're well-trained response exhibited clear heroics on that day, it is the unit's everyday actions that allow for the TAAC-Air mission to be successful.
"We provide security for a safe training environment," said Spc. Peter Erickson, 950th Engineer Company, TAAC-Air protective service detail. "We ensure the advisors are able to do their job while focusing on advising instead of security."
The 950th Engineer Company deployed to Afghanistan to clear routes of explosive devices for coalition forces, and completed a year of training for this mission. Recently at Bagram Air Field, a 950th convoy escort team joined forces with Soldiers from the 4th Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade and civilian explosive ordnance disposal and ammunition technicians from the Joint Munitions Destruct-Afghanistan Team to safely dipose of approximately 6,000 pounds of out-of-date explosives. The 950th Soldiers established perimeter security as the munitions were unloaded and prepared for demolition.
However, an insurgent attack this past summer on the Air Advisors' forward operating base made the need for increased security evident, and part of the 950th Engineer Company was retasked to provide base security.
"It is an interesting job to get used to," said Spc. Michael Leckel, 950th Engineer Company, TAAC-Air base security. "We were training for route clearance, but were asked to provide base security. The advisors' number one priority cannot be securing the base, running towers or the ECP. They specialize in training pilots. We are tasked with base security and we do that so they can focus on training an air force."
In addition to base security at FOB Oqab, this mission includes what is termed Guardian Angels. In this role, these Soldiers provide personnel security
for advisors while they are out training on the Afghan Airbase. This allows advisors to focus on growing their Afghan partner's skills and abilities in a safer environment.
"We do this so when the coalition leaves, the Afghans can sustain their own means of protection," Erickson said. "It's one of the first steps of being able to run their own country and provide people confidence in their government."
The advisors, who previously performed some base security functions themselves, appreciate the 950th Engineer Company's hard work and professionalism.
"The men and women of the Wisconsin Army National Guard are some of TAAC-Air's most valuable teammates. These Wisconsin professionals work tirelessly to ensure our safety and security 24/7," said Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, TAAC-Air commanding general. "I sleep soundly knowing they are at work providing a watchful eye over our compound.
"What is most remarkable is the fact that they are doing a mission they were initially not expecting to do, but they have adapted well," Rothstein continued. "Despite a year of training to conduct route clearance operations, their willingness to accept a completely different mission highlights their selfless devotion to duty and their professionalism, reflecting tremendous honor on the great state of Wisconsin and the United States Army. The Soldiers of the 950th Engineering Company will proudly say they played a vital role in building a professional, capable, and sustainable Afghan Air Force."
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bridson of the 4th Sustainment Brigade contributed to this report.