Thursday, December 03, 2009

Indiana Soldiers Maintain Forward Operating Base

Army Spc. David Lillian, right, supervises an Afghan worker during weed removal at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan's Khost province, Nov. 30, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. William E. Henry

By Army Spc. William E. Henry, Special to American Forces Press Service

KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Indiana National Guard soldiers from the 38th Infantry Division's Task Force Cyclone ensure Forward Operating Base Salerno is maintained properly.

Located in eastern Afghanistan, Salerno is near the Pakistan border and is home to four different elements of the Indiana National Guard.

The 1-19th Indiana Agribusiness Development Team; B Company, 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment; the 177th Finance Company; and the 38th Infantry Division's Task Force Cyclone, who run base operations, reside at Salerno during their deployment. The commander for Salerno base operations, Army Lt. Col. Rodney Babb, said the work his team does surpasses the expectations of all who live on post.

"The performance of Task Force Cyclone servicemembers has been outstanding," said Babb, an Indianapolis resident. "Their effort to go the extra mile surpasses the needs of our tenants and improves the quality-of-life support services."

Army Spcs. David Lillian and Devin Blankenship, both Indianapolis residents, said their work is difficult, but worthwhile, as soldiers coming and going on a day-to-day basis are the ones who benefit the most from their efforts.

"It boosts morale," Lillian said. "[When] you live in a house, you like to have your house clean. This is our house, and we keep it clean."

Blankenship said his rural upbringing contributes to his desire to do his part in keeping the base clean. "I grew up in the country, so I don't like having mess and filth, and I'm sure nobody else does," he said.

Each soldier supervises a crew of 10 to 12 local Afghans who perform a multitude of tasks each working day. Tasks range from filling sandbags and pulling weeds to preparing billeting and building projects.

The specialists both had high praise for the Afghans' work ethic and how they engage in each job.

"They're great. They don't mess around. You show them something, and they do it," Lillian said. "I like these guys. Some of them have been [working on the base] for five years."

On this particular day, the crews were removing weeds and trash from around the base, which are mundane jobs, but crucial for the health of all who live in and around the area.

"The weeds are an issue because of the rodents," Blankenship explained. "We have a lot of mice, rats, lizards and snakes here, especially in the summertime. There are all kinds of different diseases out here. We don't want anything to help feed that."

Blankenship noted Khost province is a high-risk area for malaria. "We don't want standing water and trash to feed the mosquitoes," he said, "and we're trying to come down on the malaria issue."

As a direct result of the work done by the local Afghans, Lillian said, units going out on assignment each day can keep their mind on their operations, rather than worrying about their living conditions.

"They can be focused on the mission and drive on, and when they come back inside from going outside the wire [they] can be like, 'Wow,'" said Lillian. "[It's] something like home, just thousands of miles away."