By the time the 950th Engineer Company left for Afghanistan late last year, the unit had spent 15 months of drill and a three-month deployment train-up preparing to clear improvised explosive devices and other hazards from the country’s roads.
As a route clearance company, the Superior, Wisconsin-based unit expected to secure the key travel corridors that coalition forces use every day to move critical supplies, equipment and personnel throughout the region, and while part of the unit has conducted a route clearance mission, more than half of the unit is engaged in other missions.
Since arriving in Afghanistan, more than half of the nearly 100-Soldier unit was detached from its headquarters and conducting security operations in Kabul and Kandahar. One of the groups spends six days a week providing security for U.S. Air Force personnel and contractors training the Afghan Air Force. The other, in Kabul, provides round-the-clock force protection for their forward operating base and additional security for contractors and the Air Force. Both teams simultaneously provide frequent support on training flights, missions within Kabul and advising support alongside their Air Force brethren, according to Capt. Andrew Redd, the unit’s commander.
Meanwhile, one of the 950th’s platoons remains engaged with its original route clearance mission. With more than 100 missions already completed, more than 4000 kilometers of roads cleared and more than 4500 interrogations of vulnerable areas, the 950th is making a lasting impact in Afghanistan. That platoon conducts an average of three-to-five missions per week. The 950th is also in charge of an active duty route clearance platoon.
That operations tempo on top of a typical day that sees two teams on patrol in the area around Bagram Air Field, a security team in Kandahar and another in Kabul demonstrates the unit’s impact and versatility. Change has been the constant. Even the route clearance mission, which the 950th originally expected was to clear for convoys throughout all of Afghanistan as part of the drawdown of coalition forces in the region, morphed into support for training and patrols that keep coalition bases safe.
Redd was extremely proud of the way his unit has adapted to all of the changes it has faced since arriving. He noted that the unit spent nearly all of its pre-deployment training preparing for a route clearance mission but was nonetheless excelling with its other assigned missions.
"It basically falls within the general duties of all combat Soldiers," he said of the force protection mission. "Those two security detachments have had no issues performing their duties."
"My detachments in Kabul and Kandahar have for the most part been self-sufficient, and it is due to their leadership and ability to capably handle their mission without much guidance or supervision that we’ve been able to accomplish so much in Bagram and as a company," Redd said. "I truly am grateful to have a flexible and professional company of Soldiers."
He said the unit has implemented vast improvements in how route clearance is conducted within the unit’s area of operations that he hopes will leave a lasting impact for future units that have the same mission. Likewise, he said, the detachments assigned to force protection have been hard at work developing new processes that have improved the overall security of their respective areas of responsibility.
The Soldiers are taking all of the mission changes in stride.
Spc. Matthew Ringlien is on one of the force protection teams at an Afghan airfield.
"Even though the mission is not what we would have liked, adapting to it has forced me to grow," he said. "Also, I have met a lot of people and made a lot of connections that will stick with me for the rest of my life."
Pfc. Aaron Johnson, a combat engineer by trade, has spent the deployment providing armed over watch for civilian contractors teaching the Afghan Air Force how to maintain different types of aircraft.
"I am with a good group of guys, and I feel very lucky to be serving with them," he said. "We have all performed our duties well and have adapted to our new mission well."
He said June has ushered in triple-digit temperatures but the accommodations and gym facilities have exceeded expectations. He is also enjoying interacting with Afghan Air Force personnel and learning basic words and terms in their language.
Spc. Andrew Hutton, a platoon medic, spends his days providing for the care and general well-being of the Soldiers in his platoon. While on route clearance missions, he often lends a helping hand by looking for potential trigger men or signs of IEDs from his medevac vehicle as the unit conducts patrols.
Hutton has been amazed by the support he and his fellow Soldiers have received from home.
"On the home front I have had plenty of support from friends and family, but what surprised me is how much mail I received from people I don’t even know and the support I have got from others," he said. "It really is a humbling feeling."
"We’re drowning in care packages," Redd confirmed. "The support from home has been tremendous and consistent."
The 950th has worked regularly with active duty Army units, other services and with coalition forces from the Czech Republic and Georgia during their deployment on partnered operations.
Spc. Andrew Chammings, a driver, noted that working with the foreign soldiers has been a highlight of his time in Afghanistan. He said the sound of jets taking off every few hours, the threat of indirect fire and being away from family and friends has been the most challenging part of his deployment, but he knows that the life experiences and lessons he has learned along the way will only help him in his military career and in everyday life when he returns.
The 950th left Wisconsin in October 2014 en route to Fort Bliss, Texas, where it conducted its pre-mobilization training. The unit deployed to Afghanistan in late 2014 and is expected to return to the United States sometime this fall.