29th ID Soldiers return to Virginia after federal duty in Afghanistan

Maj. John Martin of the Virginia National Guard's 29th Infantry Division gets a warm welcome home July 14 at Dulles Airport after returning from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Francis O'Brien, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Approximately 30 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division returned to Virginia July 14 after serving on federal active duty in Afghanistan since November 2011. The Soldiers returned July 7 to their demobilization station at Camp Shelby, Miss., where they conducted health screenings and other administrative tasks to transition from active duty back to National Guard status and returned to airports across Virginia that were closest to their home of record. Approximately 35 Soldiers from the Maryland National Guard also took part in the mission.

A formal ceremony recognizing their service will take place in about 90 days.

The Soldiers were assigned to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Afghan National Security Force Development Team where they served as advisors and mentors to senior Afghan leaders with the mission to provide Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police subject matter expertise to facilitate ANSF growth and development.

The Virginia contingent is comprised of Soldiers assigned to the 29th Infantry Division and was augmented by Soldiers from Joint Forces Headquarters and other units across Virginia. Of the Virginia Soldiers taking part in the mission, approximately six are from the Richmond and Petersburg area, about five are from the Northern Virginia area, approximately four are from the Fredericksburg area, about three are from the Hampton Roads area and the remaining are from various locations across the state.

Brig. Gen. Charles W. Whittington, Jr. (left) and Sgt. Maj. Christopher Brock prepare the casing of the 29th Infantry Division colors June 29, 2012, in Kabul, Afghanistan. The 29th ID has transitioned authority for IJC ANSF-Development to the incoming V Corps team. (Contributed photo)

The team of senior officers and noncommissioned officers was split among five locations in Kabul. The Soldiers served on the cross-functional teams at the IJC headquarters by developing and implementing plans and policies to facilitate growth and development of the ANSF within all cross-functional teams, including Current Operations, Future Operations, Future Plans, Combined-Joint Engineer, Combined-Joint Logistics, Combined Transition Assistance Group and the ANSF Development Headquarters/Fusion Cell.

The Current Operations Team led the effort in developing measures and methods for tracking the development of ANSF Security forces utilized by all levels of command throughout ISAF and led the IJC effort to resolve the issue of over 30,000 ANP without identification cards and determined the way forward to assist in streamlining the ANP promotion process to reduce a backlog of promotions.

The Future Operations team advanced the development of the ANSF through multiple major operational and planning efforts, and they provided critical guidance to the various Regional Commands, NTM-A and other necessary stakeholder organizations. Their efforts directly resulted in the successful fielding of over 11,000 ANA soldiers, comprising 37 separate company and battalion-sized units. With cooperation from NTM-A and each RC, the team was able to lead to an increase of literacy training throughout the ANSF.

The Future Plans Team was instrumental in the fielding of the $400 million Mobile Strike Force capability to the ANA. The MSF consists of two brigades of more than 400 armored motorized vehicles to be fielded from 2012 to 2014 across the ANA. The team played a critical role in the development of Security Force Assistance, the leading effort to improve operational capability and enable the ANSF to take the lead for security by the end of 2014, by creating the training requirements for the SFA Advisor Teams. The team developed the Mission Essential Equipment List to ensure Advisor Teams would be self sustaining with adequate force protection assets.

The Combined-Joint Engineer and Combined-Joint Logistics Team worked tirelessly to address one of the IJC Commander’s highest priorities by working to rapidly distribute Counter Improvised Explosive Device equipment and were instrumental in getting critical supplies out to the ANA Corps for the current campaign season. Due to the efforts of the teams, tons of medical supplies, ammunition and repair parts were shipped from Kabul out to depots in the corps areas for distribution. They also worked closely with Regional Support Commands to facilitate critical tactical builds to support combat operations, including combat outposts that involved ANA engineers in the construction.

The Combined Transition Assistance Group Team streamlined the Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool briefing process and developed a new report summary to better assess issues, articulate ANSF development progress and highlight challenges. They were instrumental in developing the Commander’s Operational Readiness Report that reduces complexity and revises the methodology by which ANSF operational effectiveness is assessed and reported.

ANSF Development Headquarters/Fusion Cell took the lead in establishing a joint-attrition working group with the ANA Vice-Chief of the General Staff focusing on decreasing ANA attrition and Absent Without Leave resulting in the ANA reporting the lowest AWOL rates in their young history.

The 29th Infantry Division has an honored legacy. It was formed in 1917, but is best remembered for its integral part in Operation Overlord, the landings in Normandy Beach during World War II. The division was among the first wave of troops to the shore at Omaha Beach.

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Photos of Soldiers returning to Richmond and Northern Virginia: