LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In September 1777, Prussian Maj. Gen. Friedrich Von Steuben, or more commonly, Baron von Steuben, arrived in Portsmouth, N.H.
His job was simple: form a model company of 120 men who would learn basic soldiering techniques and then go forth and train at the regimental and brigade levels, which would then train the next level and so forth.
The training manual he created, the Manual for the Order and Discipline of the American troops, better known as “the blue book,” is the foundation on which the modern United States military is built, and many of its lessons are still implemented in field manuals across the services.
Today, soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are acting as modern-day von Steubens, assuming the role of the first security force assistance brigade in the Army and in Afghanistan during a historic transfer of responsibility ceremony Nov. 25 at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan.
The advisement mission that members of the “Long Knife” brigade have taken on is not new to them or the Army.
“The Army enjoys a long history of such missions,” said Col. Bill Benson, brigade commander. “What is new is how the Long Knife team has been tailored to the specific challenges, conditions and opportunities unique to Afghanistan.”
The assistance brigade is composed of multiple security force advise and assist teams, who will work shoulder-to-shoulder with the 201st Afghan National Army Corps and other components of Afghan National Security Forces across the provinces of Laghman and Kapisa in eastern Afghanistan.
The responsibility of security of the two provinces has already been transferred to the Afghan security forces and the Long Knife security force teams will support them in a purely advising capacity.
With this new mission comes new challenges and hurdles to overcome. The brigade left nearly 60 percent of its combat power at Fort Hood. The soldiers who have deployed to Regional Command East were specifically chosen for this mission and many are wearing multiple hats during the deployment, both the security force team mission as well as their primary positions in the brigade.
“We were able to identify the best soldiers and leaders from across the Long Knife team and train them specifically for this mission,” Benson said.
With four deployments in six years, including serving as an advise and assist brigade in the closing months of the Iraq War, coupled with numerous field exercises, training events and an intense, but successful, rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., there is no doubt that Long Knife is ready to act as a larger-scale Baron von Steuben to its Afghan counterparts.
“I would argue that few brigade-sized elements have deployed in this role that were better trained, more experienced, better equipped or more appropriately organized than the soldiers, leaders and units represented by the Long Knife Troopers,” Benson said.