The 600 or so soldiers with the Alabama National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 167th Infantry Regiment, knew it was not going to be all fun and games when they deployed to Afghanistan late last summer. Their training was anything but lighthearted, and some of them, including their commander, had been to Afghanistan before.
The “Fourth Alabama” is nearing the end of its Afghan assignment and it has performed more than 10,000 missions so far. About half of them, according to a battalion news release, have been “guardian angel” missions, and the other half have been “security movements.”
In an email, Maj. Mike Tomberlin, the 1/167th’s public affairs officer, explained: “The guardian angel missions are where we stand in protection of those we are tasked with guarding.” In many instances, those under the unit’s protection are instructors and mentors of Afghan security forces. In recent years, some of those instructors and mentors have been victims of “insider” (or “green-on-blue”) attacks by their Afghan counterparts.
“The security movements involve combat mounted movements to different locations: construction sites, training sites,
airfields, FOBs [forward operating bases], combat outposts, etc.,” Tomberlin said. The cargo on these “movements” is primarily human — ranking officers visiting troops in the field, for example, or civilian contractors heading to a job site.
Tomberlin said that sometimes the unit has had assignments that combine security transportation and guardian angel missions – in effect, taking individuals to a location and guarding them while they are there.
“The security movements are where we rack up the passenger counts and the miles,” Tomberlin said. “Less so for the guardian angel work.”
By the middle of this month, according to the press release, Fourth Alabama soldiers had “traveled nearly 120,000 miles within Afghanistan and transported more than 34,000 people.”
The unit commander, Lt. Col. J.R. Bass of Chelsea, called the number of missions “impressive” but added that “the satisfaction lies in the fact that our team has safely transported and protected essential instructors and key officials over such arduous roadways in the face of a determined enemy.”
Unit soldiers trained in various combat-type scenarios before deploying and they have seen some during their current deployment. According to the news release, the 1/167th “has overcome two improvised explosive device attacks, a suicide bomb attack, 10 small arms fire attacks and six escalation-of-force incidents, all without suffering any friendly casualties.” And in late November, members of the unit’s Foxtrot Company wounded and captured an Afghan soldier who turned his weapon on some officials that company soldiers were protecting on a mission in western Afghanistan.
Asked if any battalion soldiers had been wounded during the deployment, Tomberlin declined to comment.
The 167th Infantry Regiment has a long history. During the Civil War, it was known as the Fourth Alabama Infantry, and units that were part of it had fought earlier against Seminoles in Florida and against Mexican forces in Texas. The 1st Battalion is now headquartered in Talladega, and has companies in central and east Alabama, including one in Pelham. During the deployment, it has the designation Task Force Centurion Prime and, according to the news release, it is part of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, “an international coalition” whose job is to help the Afghan government develop “accountable, Afghan-led security forces.”
Most of the U.S. and other NATO troops are slated to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The U.S. hope is that Afghan national security forces – often called the ANSF — will be effective enough to keep Taliban insurgents from regaining control of the country. Bass said his soldiers “have greatly advanced” the U.S. and allied mission “to train and mentor the ANSF so that they will be capable of leading the security of their country in the near future.”
More than 41,000 Alabamians have seen military deployments since 9/11. The 1/167th is one of the largest Alabama National Guard units to have deployed during that period, and some of its companies have had deployments in Iraq.