Kentucky National Guardsmen reflect on successful tour

March 25, 2014 | By kentuckyguard
Story by Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell, ISAF Regional Command North [caption id="" align="alignright" width="350"]140307-N-XQ805-003 Sgt. Dana Stringer prepares to leave Afghanistan. (Photo by Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell) CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan – Two dozen troops from the Kentucky National Guard 1103rd Military Police Detachment recently finished their tour supporting Regional Command North. Soldiers normally deploy to war with their focus clearly set on defeating the enemy.  And the soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard 1103rd Military Police Detachment have plenty of experience in that field. With most members touting several combat tours in Iraq, the detachment arrived here in northern Afghanistan well prepared for the mental and physical rigors of a deployment. But things are different here this time. First, the Afghan National Security Forces are taking the lead in the fight against the insurgency. No longer are Americans and their coalition partners on point in the struggle to vanquish the enemies of a free and prosperous Afghanistan. And then there’s geography. Northern Afghanistan has long enjoyed relative security compared to the restive regions in the south and east of the country. The war began here where enemies of the Taliban collaborated with American forces to topple the government that harbored Osama bin Laden. Finally, while their past missions have more focused on training or combat support, the Bluegrass State troops this deployment were tasked with maintaining law and order on this sprawling complex sandwiched between the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains and the city of Mazar-e Sharif. These factors allowed the troops to spend time getting to know Afghans rather than fighting them, and forge unique bonds with coalition partners who hail for 16 countries. “That’s been the biggest difference for me,” said Staff Sgt. Bradford K. Stone. “I’ve gotten to learn a lot more about the average Afghan and understand their lives.” The 36-year-old Carlisle, Ky., guardsman said the cultural differences do not separate a common thread between Afghans and Americans. “They want to live in security, work hard to take care of their families and come back the next day to do it all over again,” he said. Regional Command North is arguably one of the most diverse fighting coalitions in modern warfare. Seventeen nations collaborate daily to support the training of the Afghan National Security Forces. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="350"]140307-N-XQ805-001 Sgt. Tyler Offutt prepares to depart Afghanistan. (Photo by Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell) Along the way, troops from vastly different background form bonds common to any workplace. Lt. Col. Marcus D. Ray, 48, of Elizabethtown, Ky., who served as the Provost Marshall, said his team approached enthusiastically the opportunity to serve and protect with six other military police units. “We came here with an open mind and we met everyone here with that mindset, keeping an open mind and mutual respect,” Ray said. “As our coalition grew stronger over time, we were able to do things as a team. Not the American way, or the European way. We found a coalition way here.” Sgt. Dana A. Stringer, 25, of Bowling Green, Ky., said the nine-month tour helped her mature. “Before I got here, I had never had to pull someone over before. It was all just training,” she said. “I remember the first time I had to do it here and you think ‘Ok, I’m the enforcer now. I need to be professional’.” Sgt. 1st Class Walter A. Carter Jr., 56, of Houstonville, Ky., said watching troops like Stringer grow into their roles was the highlight of his tour. “To being apprehensive on their first traffic stop to now where it’s just a matter of fact,” Carter said. “They were gaining respect on post because they treated people the way they would like to be treated. That’s what I will take away from this experience. And knowing how much better they will all be next time because of this experience.” Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Adkins Jr., 34, of Bowling Green, Ky., who in a past tour trained the Iraqi police, has two colorful accomplishments he will recollect on fondly many years from now. He served as the personal security detail as well as escort for a group of mixed martial artists who spent a week touring Regional Command North in January and then performed the same role for a visit by the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders. “It was the kind of work you could never expect but was very rewarding,” he said. “All of the visitors were so respectful and wanted to learn as much as possible about the soldiers and our work.” The Miami Dolphins cheerleaders arrived hours ahead of a massive winter storm. Blinding wind, inches upon inches of snow and icy pavement slowed the base to a crawl and tortured troops not accustomed to cold weather operations. “(The cheerleaders) never complained once, and it was some nasty weather we fought through,” he said. “They just kept smiling and wanting to get out with the troops.” Sgt. Tyler D. Offutt, 30, of Brandenburg, Ky., also enjoyed a memorable moment here. “You can try to come up with the most outlandish request for how you are going to do your re-enlistment ceremony. So I just threw out there that I wanted to do mine with (U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake) aboard a Black Hawk, not thinking it could ever happen,” he said. But Timberlake, a Kentucky native who serves as the deputy commander for Regional Command North, wanted to thank Offutt for his work as the personal security detail when Timberlake left the installation and obliged. “That was a great moment for me, and something I’ll never forget,” he said. Timberlake expressed his appreciation for the unit’s service. “Kentuckians are most appreciative of all the efforts of her sons and daughters but especially those that serve wearing the cloth of our nation,” Timberlake said. “The 1103rd served this command with honor and distinction. They are a professional outfit and their performance has been superb. Equally important, Offutt said, was the unit’s philanthropic work. In October, a handful of the guardsmen delivered donated winter clothes to an Afghan orphanage. “Our unit took a lot of pride in that mission, and to know helped those children stay warm over the winter was very satisfying,” he said. All told, the Kentucky guardsmen served with distinction and return home knowing they made a positive impact in Afghanistan. “The people of Kentucky should be very proud of these soldiers and of their sacrifice,” Ray said. “We left this area better than we found it and these soldiers can return home with pride.”

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