Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan cross-trained extensively as they prepared for a mission outside their norm.
“We’re going in with reduced numbers, so they kind of have to be the jack of all trades,” said Maj. Katie Blue, operations officer for 57th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, after the unit cased its colors Jan. 22 at Sadowski Field.
“What we’re doing is we’re putting a lot of trust in the soldiers to kind of take (and use) what they’ve learned. We’re asking some very young soldiers to step up and act as leaders.”
About half of the unit will deploy by the end of the month for its communications and signal support mission, where they will assist combat units and war fighters at more than 16 different forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Darlene Straub, battalion commander.
Even though the soldiers won’t be exposed to the dangers of patrolling while deployed, Straub said their role at the bases has a “huge sense of urgency,” especially if a comrade is injured.
“Every time one of our networks takes a blip, that’s potentially a medevac line that’s not going through,” she said.
Straub’s battalion is replacing a National Guard unit, but she said another unit will not replace the 57th when it leaves.
As part of the retrograde, the length of the battalion’s deployment is unknown, but she expects it to be anywhere from six months to a year.
“The mission is diverse and unique as our focus is turning networks off and collapsing bases,” she said. “Our focus on retrograde while always supporting the mission will be new and different, but one I feel very comfortable that this unit can successfully support. ... These soldiers are trained and prepared to go to war.”
Although she’s confident in her soldiers, Straub said the timeline for closing forward operating bases and dealing with outside politics will be the battalion’s biggest difficulty.
But a difficulty her soldiers are honored to be a part of as the war in Afghanistan nears its end.
“We feel a little special that we get to be doing something unique,” she said.
Col. James C. Parks III, brigade commander, shared some words of praise and encouragement with the soldiers following the ceremony.
“The reason we are so busy is because no one does it better than us,” said Parks.
Before departing, Parks stressed the importance of the soldiers looking out for one another while overseas.
“The reason we fight is that person on your left and right,” Parks said.
“Your job is to make sure they come back in one piece.”
Staff Sgt. Kelvin Ringold contributed to this report.