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NEWS | June 2, 2010

South Carolina Guard secures PRT operations

By 2nd Lt. Mark Lazane International Security Assistance Force HQ

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, - The list of hometowns reads like an I-85/I-26 roadmap: Greenville, Laurens, Spartanburg, Waterloo.

Regardless of their individual starting points, they are together here, making a difference in Afghanistan.

The soldiers assigned to the B/1-178th Field Artillery Regiment of the South Carolina Army National Guard, as well as other South Carolina National Guard personnel, who volunteered as augmentees, are not here as field artillery specialists, a job they performed on their deployment to Iraq a few years ago.

Instead, they're here as the security force element for the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team.
As members of this special security force, there's not as much cannon fire emanating from their muzzles as there has been at times, but their mission is no less important.

The soldiers ensure safe travel for civilians from the Department of State, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as fellow sailors, soldiers and airmen as they conduct rebuilding operations throughout the province as part of the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The Paktika PRT's mission in this Eastern Afghanistan province is to partner with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in rebuilding their war-torn province. The PRT assists government leaders with development projects, agricultural initiatives and mentorship in government affairs.

Though tasked with a new job as a security force element, the SECFOR team isn't short on battlefield experience.

"Our knowledge of convoy operations through previous deployments help us take care of anything that happens along the way here," said 19-year U.S. Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Jermaine Jones, the SECFOR platoon sergeant for Forward Operating Base Sharana. "We use that knowledge as a guide to lead the engineers, civilians and other PRT members to and from their destinations safely."

Providing safety and security is the number one job for the SECFOR personnel.

"Our job is to go out and provide security for the members of the PRT," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Dodd, a truck and convoy commander. "We make sure the area is safe before the personnel dismount from the vehicles, ensure their safety during the mission and ensure their safe return to base at the end of the day."

The soldier's job duties include serving as gunners, drivers, truck commanders and convoy commanders on mine resistant ambush protected vehicles.

"Gunners are the eyes and ears of the truck," said U.S. Army Spc. Aaron Franklin, a PRT gunner.

On a typical field artillery mission, Franklin's job would primarily be a number one man who would help load and fire the cannon.

"Gunners have the best point of view of anyone in the truck," Franklin said. "We've got the lives of everyone in the truck in our hands. We're the first line of protection for our vehicle."

Though SECFOR's mission is to get others to their missions safely, their job doesn't stop when the destination is reached.

"We go out and we're able to secure the area while we're doing the mission," said U.S. Army Spec. Dewayne Blackwell of Blacksburg, S.C., normally an all-wheel mechanic but currently serving as an MRAP driver and mine roller operator on this deployment. "We provide those participating in the mission a clear mind because they know that with us watching their back, they can concentrate on the task at hand."

To prepare for this deployment, the Soldiers, nicknamed the "Gamecocks," left their families and friends early last fall and headed for training at Ft. Stewart, Ga., and then on to Camp Atterbury, Ind., where they were introduced to the rest of their team.

The entire team, consisting of about 100 individuals, deployed together to Paktika province in February 2010 after months of rigorous training and team-building exercises.

Upon arrival to FOB Sharana, near the provincial capital, the team was split into two detachments- one to stay at FOB Sharana, while the other detachment was sent to FOB Orgun to the east.

Though separated geographically, the security force elements are united in purpose: to make sure everyone under their watch comes home safe.

"Safety is the definition of success for us," said Jones. "My main goal is to make sure that everyone on this team comes home safe. My guys are doing an excellent job in the SECFOR role for the PRT so far. They know their job and they know it well. They take their job very seriously. Though we like to joke around a little bit to stay loose when we're on base, when it's time to go out and perform, we are all-business."

So, with vigilance and dedication, the SECFOR members travel the roads of Afghanistan to perform their mission. These roads may not be as familiar to them as those they came from, but eventually, they'll lead the way home.