Nevada Guard members drive streets of Kabul
Published: 13th December 2012 10:21 AM |
When soldiers from the Nevada Army National Guard's 593rd Transportation Company set foot on Afghanistan soil in July, it marked a historical occasion for the Silver State's military.
Since the Bush Administration launched its Global War on Terror in late 2001 after terrorists slammed passenger jets into the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, hundreds of Nevada servicemen and women have answered the call to deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan or both.
The 593rd TC's arrival in Afghanistan was symbolic as the unit became the first in Nevada to serve deployments to both countries.
The 593rd Transportation Company, with headquarters in Reno and detachments in Las Vegas, Elko and Winnemucca, accepted a mission to deliver personnel, supplies and equipment in and around Kabul, one of the world's most dangerous cities.
Providing attention to detail on this mission is characteristic of the soldiers who serve in the company. The intensity of any threat in the capital region makes the Nevada guardsmen more determined to carry out successful trips from their base at Camp Phoenix.
The same resolve can be said about the company's commander, Capt. Curtis Kolvet of Reno, a 1997 Bishop Manogue High School graduate who later served in the U.S. Army and deployed to Iraq.
Kolvet, an athletic, seasoned Army officer, has handled both overseas combat and homeland missions. He lived in Minden until age 12 when his family relocated to Reno. Now married and the father of two children, Kolvet received his bachelor's degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, was commissioned a second lieutenant and went overseas to Germany and then to Iraq.
Fast forward the clock and Kolvet finds himself at Camp Phoenix, a small post on the outskirts of Kabul, and seven miles away from the international airport. Location makes no difference to either Kolvet or his soldiers because driving the streets of Kabul remains dangerous as long as suicidal insurgents continue to try blowing up vehicles or kidnapping westerners. The city is home to millions of people, many who have relocated there from eastern Afghanistan villages and small towns and cities.
Despite having the Pentagon reduce the number of soldiers for most units coming to Afghanistan, Kolvet said the 593rd TC brought about 125 soldiers, down an eighth from the original number.
"Realistically, we have the same missions but with fewer people," Kolvet told the Lahontan Valley News (http://bit.ly/Z0Fmlu) from his second-floor office located near the edge of Camp Phoenix's walled, barbed fence line with the city.
The 593rd TC represents every corner of Nevada. In addition to having detachments throughout the state, soldiers come from as far south as Boulder City in Clark County to as far east as McGill, a small mining town north of Ely in White Pine County. Kolvet said company platoons mesh together soldiers from the entire state, adding, "We're all one company and all one team."
The 593rd TC's mission is primarily to provide convoy movement throughout Regional Command-Capital (RC-C), transporting personnel and/or equipment and supplies to other bases within the region. Some missions can take as little as one hour, while others may require an entire day or night, depending on the time and scope of the mission.
"The bulk of our mission operations are in an environment of 5 million people," Kolvet pointed out. "We have had over 100 missions in four months. We're busy."
Compared with other units, the 593rd TC interacts more with the Afghan National Army because of its mission, but Kolvet said his soldiers must be prepared for any situation, even murderous "green-on-blue" attacks by Afghanistan soldiers or policemen on coalition forces.
The vigilance continues for each mission, beginning with the initial operating order, planning, execution and then review. Jumping into an armored truck after checking the oil and water and kicking the tires doesn't always lead to a successful mission.
"The battalion element here hands us our missions," Kolvet explained. "We work with them on the mission's routes and logistics. Our convoy commanders examine the missions by mapping them out and by keeping people safe. I put that in their laps and they make it happen."
Once the company receives a mission, the convoy commander assembles the soldiers involved with the mission either the previous day or in the morning of a trip into Kabul or to a base in the region. Further preparations with crew and any passengers manifested for movement occur hours before the vehicles, each with an experienced gunner, leave the Camp Phoenix compound.
"For the number of solders and missions, we have had few issues," Kolvet said. "We must be aware and don't let our guard down."
Kolvet is proud of the professionalism of the 593rd soldiers. He saw active-duty soldiers conduct the same duties in Iraq and is quick to make a comparison.
"They are as good as any company I saw in the active Army," Kolvet. "They (Nevada guardsmen) came from real jobs, needed to have skills and have the ability to manage. Some of our soldiers have been on two, three, even four deployments. Transportation? Logistics? The Guard can do just as well .."
The unit makeup represents a typical ground unit. Many Marines who pounded the ground returned to military duty to become guardsmen; furthermore, Kolvet said all 15 women in the 593rd TC have ridden in convoys, including seven women who regularly ride on missions ad hold significant positions of responsibility.
Kolvet said many units in and around the Kabul area include National Guard companies and battalions in addition to numerous coalition forces deployed to the capital. When the 593rd doesn't have a mission or soldiers have time off from going "out of the wire," a phrase meaning outside the gates, Kolvet said they are training on the vehicles and updating their licenses.
A DIVERSE TEAM
2nd Lt. Yelena Yatskikh grew up in a Russian city of almost 1 million people south of Moscow and came to the United States to finish her undergraduate degree in New Hampshire and then graduate from UNLV with a master's degree in international relations and political science. While in graduate school, the 30-year-old Yatskikh enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard and eventually completed Officer Candidate School.
Before receiving her commission, Yatskikh also took the oath to become a naturalized United States citizen.
In addition to being a platoon leader, Yatskikh serves as a convoy commander twice a week, ensuring her crews get the needed safety and threat assessment trainings and that the vehicles are ready to rumble over Kabul's streets.
Although she admits to having some butterflies before heading out on a convoy, she overcomes those anxieties knowing her soldiers and their expertise make the convoy run smoother.
"I am used to going out now, but I do not want to become complacent," she said. "I need to stay focused."
Jones' platoon sergeant is Sgt. 1st Class Heather Harris of Truckee. Barely into her 30s, Harris deployed three times to Iraq, but this is her first assignment to Afghanistan.
Harris joined the military more than 10 years ago, two days after 9/11. Since that time she has periodically worked full time for the Nevada Army National Guard, and prior to the Afghanistan deployment, she worked with training.
As the platoon sergeant, she ensures soldiers meet their training objectives, and she sets forth additional training for the road as both an assistant convoy commander and truck commander.
"A leadership role is a lot different in a combat zone," she pointed out. "There is more responsibility. I go out on convoys. I want to go where the fight is."
As platoon leader, Harris said she wants to see if the soldiers are focused on their convoy missions; and to see how they deal with situations that may crop up along the route.
Harris figures her missions in Iraq have provided an extensive wealth of knowledge in dealing with soldiers who have deployed for the first time.
Harris said she is always a little nervous when going out on a convoy.
"If you do not fear, then you may lead soldiers into more risk," she said.
Likewise Sgt. 1st Class John Dube also ensures the soldiers receive their training in the second platoon.
Dube, who grew up in Carson City and moved to Douglas County 20 years ago, is serving his second deployment. The first overseas trip to Iraq also with the 593rd.
"I was on the road there, but here, I'm on the road a little bit, but I mostly do admin (administration work)," he said.
A full-time maintenance worker for the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City, Dube said Iraq's infrastructure was much better, especially with better built highways.
"These are two totally different places," he said.
Dube has also seen the Nevada Guard in action in Europe. Dube, a veteran of 21 years, served in the 150th Maintenance Company in Carson City as a track and light-wheel mechanic. The unit performed three annual trainings in Germany and two more in Italy.