Soldiers of Company B, 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, from Fort Bragg, returned March 13 from a month of training in the snow-ridden mountains of California in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Twenty-three Soldiers, five teams and three individual civil military operations noncommissioned officers, were sent to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center to assist the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
According to company commander, Maj. Clint Hanna, Co. B will either be supporting civil military operations or training Afghan national forces to conduct civil military operations.
“Anytime you go out to a modern battlefield, there are civilians that are going to be there in some way or another,” Hanna said. “The mission of civil affairs is to minimize the harm that could come to those people and also to minimize their impact on the commander’s mission.”
Hanna said the teams working with Afghan forces will show them how to work with the civilian populous to secure it and the area and to keep the people out of harm’s way.
Capt. Brian Tarpley, a Co. B team leader said civilians on the battlefield play a key role in whether a unit is successful or not.
“If that unit pushes civilians too far, that can easily turn into an insurgency type of situation,” Tarpley said. “If that unit can provide support to those people, then they may have more freedom of movement throughout that area.”
During the exercise Co. B Soldiers had the chance to work with commanders from the 9th Marine Regt. and learn how to be liaisons between the units and the foreign locals.
Another very important aspect to the civil affairs mission is the medical support each team can provide to units and local nationals.
Most civil affairs medics go through additional training to become paramedic certified and to conduct minor dental, veterinary, preventative medicine and other health related services.
“We have outstanding medics who are young as Soldiers, but have two years as medics and paramedics,” Tarpley said.
The medics worked with trained mules and simulated battle wounds, but the inclement weather resulted in real injuries.
“During the exercise there were about 250 Marines and Navy corpsmen who were medically evacuated off the mountain,” Hanna said. “There were broken bones, torn ligaments, hypothermia and many other injuries.”
One of the medics assisting with the injured, Spc. Jeffrey Sweet, treated about 40 servicemembers over the course of the exercise.
“As soon as someone went down, we’d go over there and say, ‘do you need me to help you out,’” Sweet said about working with the corpsmen.
While all the medics were well-trained and eager to assist, Sweet’s dedication and expertise set him apart from everyone else.
Even though Sweet said he enjoyed and learned from the medical training, the weather proved to be the most challenging aspect in the exercise for him.
“I’ve never experienced cold like that before,” Sweet said. “Being from Southern California, it doesn’t get colder than the mid 40s.”
Hanna said, the extreme weather was essential to the training because in the northeastern part of Afghanistan, it can snow as early as the beginning of October, and many of the mountain passes there are snowed in through February or March.
The first eight days of training were dedicated to teaching the Soldiers how to move through the snow using various equipment and how to survive the drastic temperatures.
“I will never question my team’s heart or my team’s capabilities,” Sweet said. “We definitely pulled through strong.”
Hanna said that the exercise overall challenged and helped bring the unit as a whole closer to their pre-deployment training objective.
“I think this set us up for success on being prepared for Afghanistan,” he said.