Back from Afghanistan, civil affairs unit deploys to Iraq.
The battalion, based in Knoxville, Tenn., spent most of 2002 in Afghanistan. Before that, the 489th was in Bosnia.
"We've been busy," the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Don Amburn, told National Defense. "I wonder how much more I can ask of these people."
The 489th is part of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), within the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Civil affairs specialists work with local governments and international humanitarian organizations to rebuild infrastructure and restore stability in areas stricken by war or natural disasters. In their civilian lives, they serve in city and county government, law enforcement, medical, banking and customer-service occupations.
The deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are the largest for civil affairs units since World War II, and such units are in short supply. The Army has one active-duty civil affairs battalion. Most civil affairs specialists--96 percent of the total--are in the reserves.
Civil affairs reservists are accustomed to spending one weekend per month and two weeks per year in military service. Lately, however, they have been deployed repeatedly for months on end. For example, Amburn--who works for an insurance brokerage firm--has been out of uniform only for six months since 2000, he said.
U.S. military leaders recognize they need more civil affairs specialists. At his confirmation hearing last year, USSOCOM's commander, Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, told senators that, in 2004 and 2005, his command plans to add one active-duty company and one reserve battalion of civil affairs specialists.
While those units are assembled, existing organizations are getting a lot of use. Seven months after the 489th returned from Bosnia, it was ordered to Afghanistan.
During nearly 10 months in Afghanistan, the battalion teams of six to 12 individuals--called Coalition Humanitarian Liaison Cells--implemented more than 120 quick-impact reconstruction projects worth $6 million, according to a pending Meritorious Unit Citation.
"The unit was given perhaps the most challenging mission ever entrusted to a U.S. Army Reserve battalion, requiring it to operate in small CHLCs across a combat zone the size of Texas, while tackling tasks directly impacting on the success of U.S. national interests in Afghanistan," said the citation.
The CHLCs (pronounced "Chicklets") became the backbone of the U.S. coalitions effort to rebuild Afghanistan. They worked with U.S. and coalition government and non-governmental organizations on the reconstruction of 15 medical facilities, 77 schools, 205 wells and more than 300 kilometers of irrigation canals. To do the actual labor, the CHLCs hired more than 18,000 Afghan workers.
The battalion's medical officer became the primary doctor for the former king of Afghanistan and his family, as well as the president and his cabinet. The 489th's veterinary officer--at her own expense--purchased and delivered live animals to enable a graduating veterinary in Kabul to operate on actual animals for the first time in 10 years.
Many members of the battalion initiated hometown drives for school supplies and clothes. The drives provided hundreds of boxes of humanitarian assistance, which were distributed to the population.
In March 2002, a massive earthquake struck, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless. Responding to a United Nations request for assistance, the battalion launched a response team within three hours.
Many of the teams served in isolated areas, with no more than 20 other U.S. soldiers within hundreds of miles. They came under small arms and rocket fire more than two dozen times.
Another team, arriving at its assigned post, found their vehicles being stoned by the hostile local population. As the team built rapport with local leaders, however these attacks tapered off, Amburn said.
The battalion also provided civil affairs support in combat operations along the Pakistani border. Teams accompanied units from the 82nd Airborne, 101st Air Assault and 10th Mountain Divisions, as well as the British Royal Marines and other special operations forces.
In one ease, a team member provided medical care under fire to an Afghan district governor who was shot accidentally by his own men during a confrontation with village residents.
For their efforts, battalion members, in addition to the recommended unit citation, received such awards as the Bronze Star, Joint Commendation Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
Soon after the battalion returned from Afghanistan in December 2002, rumors began circulating about another deployment--this time to Iraq.
Some of the soldiers whose enlistments expired chose to leave the service. Others sought transfers to units less likely to deploy.
"When they first came back, we were losing people at a pretty good rate," said Amburn, who took over the battalion at about that time.
Amburn said he went to some of his best commissioned and non-commissioned officers and said to them: "I know you're thinking of transferring, but I need you to stay. And they were, like, 'OK.' They just needed to be asked.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "Nobody said, 'Oh boy, it was great being gone last year. Let's go again.' But we're one of the best units they have, so there's a lot of pride."
The 489th consists of 125 men and women, including 65 to 70 officers, Amburn explained. A lot of them are small-business owners.
"Our veterinarian just opened her own clinic a couple of years ago," he said. "I call her 'the Steel Magnolia.' She served in the First Gulf War, and she was in Bosnia and Afghanistan. She has two boys. She's not going on this next deployment." None of the health specialists are being deployed this time, Amburn said.
The deployment to Iraq will include almost 100 members of the battalion, divided into two detachments. Amburn couldn't say, in advance, where in Iraq they will be headed.
The two groups trained for two weeks in December in Texas and Mississippi, and returned home to Knoxville for the holidays, he explained. They were scheduled to depart for Fort Bragg, N.C., headquarters of CAPOC, and then to deploy to Iraq for a year.
The battalions troops are armed with the weapons typically used by the National Guard and reserves--9 mm pistols and M16 rifles. "We've been asking for the [newer] M4 [carbines] for longer than I can remember.
"The vehicles will be Humvees that we Fall into when we arrive in country, he said. "It would be nice to have a couple of hardened Humvees with M2 50 cal. machine guns or Mark 19 grenade launchers for traveling purposes or for missions where we are deployed more or less on our own."
The good news, Amburn said, is that he has been assured that getting the latest Interceptor body armor will not "be an issue."
Amburn also takes some comfort in the December capture of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"The timing couldn't be better," he said. Although hostilities probably wouldn't cease immediately, there could be a gradual tapering off "as people realize that Saddam is out of the picture," he said.
Civil affairs soldiers often put themselves at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan. They accompany U.S. combat troops in raids seeking "high-value targets," as leaders of at Qaeda, Taliban and pro-Saddam forces are called. "Our job is to help find people to point out the HVTs, calm the local citizens and reassure the village elders," Amburn said.
Casualties sometimes result. One CA died in an ambush while on a mission to inspect a water treatment plant. Another perished in a traffic accident in Baghdad. Four more, members of a public health team, were wounded in an ambush, also in Baghdad.
Amburn, however, is confident that the personnel being deployed this time will be prepared for what they encounter. Of those being deployed, "85 percent are veterans," he said, "and that speaks well for their chances of survival."
CA troops also are trained to accompany airborne units. "We serve with the whole XVIII Airborne Corps, and that includes the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Air Assault Division and the 10th Mountain Division. We have to go wherever they go."
Although he is the battalion commander, Amburn will not be deploying to Iraq, and be is not comfortable with that fact. "It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I'm going to be safe and warm here, while my people are beaded into harm's way," he said.
During the deployment, Amburn plans to spend his time in Knoxville recruiting new troops. He is concerned about more personnel losses when the deployed units return. "While they're gone, my main focus will be on recruiting like heck."
One way to attract more recruits to the National Guard and reserves, Amburn said, would be to allow them full access to the Defense Department's Tricare medical system.
Currently, Tricare is available mainly to active-duty service members, retirees and their families. Members of reserve components and their families are eligible only if the reservist is activated for more than 30 consecutive days.
"A lot of my troops don't have access to health insurance through their civilian jobs," Amburn said. "I have a young spec 4 with a kid who lives in the projects. That's real tough. Tricare would be a huge boost for them. It would be for a lot of people."
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|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2004|
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