Citizen-soldiers lead force protection at Kabul compound

Written by  //  October 21, 2011  //  Feature Stories, News

By Erik Stetson

KABUL, Afghanistan (Oct. 21, 2011) — A West Point graduate, a former stock broker and a heavy equipment operator are at the front line of force protection for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan’s main compound.

The trio, all Guardsmen – one from Florida and two from Alabama – lead efforts to secure the site, located in a bustling section of Kabul, including conducting patrols near the location.

Alabama Army National Guard Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Carroll of Daphne, Ala., non-commissioned officer in charge of force protection, said serving in the guard is “just something that I’ve always wanted to do.” He has served for 22 years.

“It’s times like this where you have to lean on one another,” he said. “It’s like one big family.”

Guard troops can serve together for longer than active-duty troops, and tend to form close bonds, particularly on deployments like their current assignment in Kabul, he said.

He added that he borrows his leadership style from his civilian job as a heavy equipment operator for the Baldwin County Highway Department.

“I run a piece of equipment and I have a crew,” he said. “I treat guys here like they’re on that crew.”

Alabama Army National Guard 1st Lt. Rich Rogers, of Montgomery, Ala., force protection OIC, said benefiting from civilian career skills make the Guard distinctive.

“They may be an MP deployed, but a mechanic back home, so if their vehicle breaks down, they can fix it,” he said.

He added that current conflicts “have really closed the loop” between active duty and the Guard. He called the Guard’s training very high quality and said his troops have experienced few surprises in theater.

If we “needed more training, they provided that for us,” he said.

Their training was put to the test, Sept. 13, when insurgents attacked the U.S. Embassy and the coalition force’s base in Kabul. The troops led by Rogers and Carroll as well as Florida Army National Guard Capt. Jerry Mitchell of San Antonio, Fla., snapped into their defensive positions and ensured the compound’s safety.

“It could not have been better,” Mitchell said of the defensive response. “Not just the people we had in place, but all the other teams, did exactly what they needed to do. People were coming out of the woodwork with combat experience, saying ‘what can I do to help, where do you need me?’”

Ten of the Alabama guardsmen received the Joint Service Commendation Medal, while 14 received Combat Action Badges, many earning both, for their actions that day. They were part of a group of 33 service members at the installation overall who were decorated for their actions during the attack. The remaining troops were active duty forces under Mitchell’s command.

NKC forces suffered no casualties. Afghan National Army soldiers later cleared, floor-by-floor, the building where insurgents had taken up positions.

Mitchell, a 2004 West Point graduate and the installation’s headquarters company commander, also received a joint service commendation medal. He praised the integration between active duty and guard troops.

“A lot of the people that were under me that received awards are intel people. They are IT people. They are lawyers,” he said. “They are people who volunteered to help.”

Mitchell, who served on active duty for five years before joining the Guard, said signing up with the Guard allowed him to serve alongside fellow soldiers who were firmly rooted in their communities.

He said Guard troops were “absolutely” the same quality as active duty soldiers.

Just as Rogers said civilian experience aids deployed units, combat experience can benefit a civilian’s career, particularly in the areas of leadership and responsibility, Mitchell added.

“The average E-5 soldier who’s been in combat and led people when they’re at their most afraid, you can’t replace that in the civilian world,” he said. “You can’t replace that they’ve led people when they’re at their hardest to lead.”

He said they also often are responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, “which normally takes years” to achieve as a civilian.

Both Mitchell and Rogers, who formerly was a stockbroker and financial services adviser, work for the Guard full time and plan to stay in the organization.

Carroll, for his part, plans to retire after his nearly two dozen years of service.

“It’s just time,” he said. “I want to be able to spend more time at home with the family.”