Christmas is just around the corner and 101st Airborne Division Commander, Major General James McConville is offering a few words on the season from his post as the Commander of Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
Greetings from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
The holiday season is a very special time of year, a time filled with joy and celebration, a time to gather with Family and friends and to share wonderful memories. And though it's a difficult time of year to be away from Family and friends, the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) is no stranger to spending Christmas deployed in combat. Answering the Nations call, serving on the front lines of freedom, and ensuring our citizens at home are able to celebrate this holiday season in peace is something we are proud to do.
Christmas 1944 was a difficult time for our Screaming Eagles holding Bastogne, Belgium. It came during the famous Battle of the Bulge, the last-ditch major German offensive during which the German High Command threw thousands of tanks and troops into what was perceived to be the weak point in the Allied lines, deep in the Ardennes region of northeastern France.
Christmas turned out to be one of the 101st's finest moments.
Today, our Division celebrates the holiday season with troops serving overseas again in defense of our Nation. Our Division Headquarters continues to serve as the command of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and Regional Command East. The 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Brigade, "Currahee" remains throughout RC-East to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces strengthening our efforts in developing their logistics, counter-IED and indirect fire capabilities.
On 28 November 2013, our 101st Sustainment Brigade, "Lifeliners," under COL Charles Hamilton and CSM Eugene Thomas achieved a new milestone in sustainment operations by becoming the single Sustainment Brigade in Afghanistan providing sustainment and retrograde operations. With the increase in mission, Task Force Lifeliner now has responsibility to provide world class support to Regional Commands South, Southwest and West in addition to the current support provided to Regional Command's East, North, and Capitol. They are making Operation Enduring Freedom history as they provide support to the largest number of forces by a single Sustainment Brigade. Despite snow and winter weather, the Lifeliners maintain their unwavering focus on the mission, taking to the roads support the critical task of retrograde and realignment of the force to support our advise and assist mission.
On the day prior, and on Thanksgiving Day, DCSM Alonzo Smith and I visited the troops at all thirteen of our Bases and Assistance Platforms. I let all of our troops know we are thankful for their service, and the service of their Families. We all know that we do not do this alone. The love and support of our Family and friends back home allow us to remain strong here and carry out our mission. I want to personally thank each and every Family member and friend back home for your support of our troops - we simply could not do what we do without you.
During the month of November and December, we were honored to have many distinguished visitors to our area. On Thanksgiving Day, I conducted an interview with C-SPAN's Washington Journal. Here is the link if you would like to watch it: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/316524-4. Also around Thanksgiving, we had a television crew, including Richard Engel, from NBC News. During one piece, we were able to talk with Mr. Engel about how the Afghans are on a positive glide path to securing their country and having a true opportunity for a positive future. Here is the link to that episode if you would like to watch: http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/53673356#53673356.
Earlier this month, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin E. Dempsey, and his USO holiday tour stopped in RC-East to visit with and entertain our troops, civilians and contractors. The chairman's group included: Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, Duck Dynasty cast members Willie Robertson and Jep Robertson, Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Bridget Kelly, former New England Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light, actor and comedian Thomas "Nephew Tommy" Miles and former correspondent for NBC's "The Voice" Alison Haislip. Also visiting were Mrs. Deanie Dempsey and Sgt. Maj. and Mrs. Bryan B. Battaglia, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman. We truly appreciated their visit and all they continue to do for the troops.
While the Division Headquarters, Lifeliners, and Currahee deployments are nearing an end, other Screaming Eagles are currently preparing to deploy.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, "Strike," under the command of COL Pete Benchoff and CSM Brandon Haywood will deploy in March and assume the role of advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces. Strike is no stranger to the mountains of Afghanistan, but this time their role will be significantly different. They will not be the ones in the lead conducting combat operations, but rather they will advise the Afghan National Security Forces as they secure their country. If there is any unit that can mentor that ANSF through a critical time in their history, the next Afghan Presidential elections and the ANSF's second fighting season in the lead, it is the Strike Brigade.
We are also looking forward to the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, "Thunder," to join us in RC-East. The Thunder Brigade under COL Jimmy Blackmon and CSM Ronald Dvorsky returns to Afghanistan once again and will play a critical role in supporting operations in RC-East during the elections and next "fighting season". They represent the "Gold Standard" for Army Aviation.
Some of the critical things that leaders do are to get their organizations ready for change and manage transitions, and we take this very seriously in the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT). As we transition the command of RC-East to the 10th Mountain Division and return our Screaming Eagles back to Fort Campbell, we will deliberately reintegrate our troops back into their roles at home. This includes many aspects besides just returning to their Families, such as finding housing for some of our returnees and reintegrating into our communities. This is where we are so lucky to have such a supportive community that welcomes the 101st home so lovingly and fervently.
As the Division Headquarters, Currahee, and Lifeliners return to our Families and community, Strike and Thunder Soldiers will depart theirs. We will all work hard to ensure Soldiers and Family members have access to as many resources as possible to ease their transitions.
With the holiday season upon us, mail services are at their yearly peak. The Lifeliners' postal personnel throughout Afghanistan are continue to do an outstanding job, ensuring everyone gets their mail and care packages as efficiently as possible and we are truly grateful for this service- and those care packages.
I thank you all for your continued support and dedication to our Screaming Eagle Family and community. Maria and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season.