Final Days of Afghanistan Mission

Massachusetts National Guard Unit Impacts Final Days of Afghanistan Mission

Story by: 1st Lt. William C. Barrett, 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment Battalion, S6, of Beverly, MA

There are no US troops left in Afghanistan. While this is common knowledge, most will only remember the scenes of chaos. Burnt in our collective memory are the images of thousands of Afghans desperately storming the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul. As service members, our hearts ache for our 13 brothers and sisters in arms who gave their lives. All of these things are worthy of remembrance and our attention. What many do not know are the stories of the thousands of people whose efforts made a huge impact. Of these, Massachusetts’ own 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment (FAR) had a significant role to play.

The 1-101st FAR has a long and storied history dating back to 1636 and involving over 47 campaigns in the Nation’s history. August 2021 is unique in those efforts, as Headquarters, Headquarters Battery (HHB) soldiers were among the last troops on the ground. In the waning days of the Afghanistan missions, HHB gave their all -- from taking on extra duties to improve the site defense posture, to aiding refugees -- all the while completing their mission with reduced manning. As weeks ran down to days, then to hours, 101st soldiers executed their C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar) battle drills with precision when five rockets were launched at HKAI. Not long after the echoes from the Land-based Phalanx Weapon System’s (LPWS) engagement faded away, the remaining equipment on ground was destroyed and the Soldiers boarded a C-17 flying out of Afghanistan. 1-101st FAR HHB First Sergeant Ryan McLane had this to say about the final day,

“Our main focus on the final day was retrograding from theatre; however, we were still operational with our guns until after 9pm. It would have been easy to understand if our Soldiers had been distracted, having been asked to focus on preparing our equipment to leave, but two of our guns engaged the five-round volley that threatened the base early in the morning. Our Engagement Operation Cell team of Lieutenant Purtell, Sergeant Elie, Specialist Walsh and Specialist Shah were just about to end shift and leave theatre when they executed a flawless battle drill that resulted in defeating the hostile round. Once completed, they literally packed up and left theatre. “ -1st Sgt. Ryan McLane of Dunstable, Mass.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian aspect of the last month cannot be understated. Throughout the crisis, 101st FAR Soldiers revealed their character and experience as National Guard Soldiers. At HKIA, Soldiers showed their flexibility and resourcefulness by sourcing basic needs for refugees. Amidst the chaos, they managed to acquire and provide formula, diapers, medicine, and shelter to refugees with infants.

Elsewhere, members from the staff gave of their time to help with the massive influx of refugees.  Staff members helped by entertaining children, organizing people, and even giving blood. Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Armstrong, the 101st FAR S6 Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, volunteered his time and gave blood that medics told him was put on a flight to HKIA to aid the victims of the bombing. For his experience he had this to say,

“We did everything from handing out food and clothes to providing security to just playing with kids. Everyone knows the feeling of being stranded in an airport after a flight is cancelled: anxious, angry, tired...We did our best to try and take people's minds off that and provide a boost to morale. Playing soccer, teaching kids how to play thumb wars, leading nursery rhymes, even a massive dance off. I had people coming up to me for days saying that this was the happiest they've seen their kids in a long time. These families have been through so much already and still face such uncertainty, I was privileged to be able to spend some time and relieve some of that stress." –Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Armstrong of Harwich, Mass.

When asked for comment on the past month and the accomplishments of HHB, the Commander of the 1-101st FAR, Lt. Col. Mark C. Glenn had this to say:

“We are extremely proud of our Soldiers, who demonstrated exceptional agility and adaptability in the face of a complex operational environment. Our HHB Soldiers joined a lineage of 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment Soldiers at the ground level of history. They carry on a heritage of selfless service to the Nation, and fulfilled their duties with integrity and character.

The Battery faced non-standard mission requirements from the moment they stepped into theater. As the situation in Kabul quickly deteriorated, Soldiers of every rank proved their ability to handle multiple difficult mission sets with not only tactical and technical proficiency, but with respect and empathy. 

As our Soldiers continue their force protection mission, we know their experiences will inspire future excellence. HHB Soldiers remain motivated to support ongoing operational goals and continue to bring pride to the Nation’s oldest Field Artillery Regiment. The 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment, Nation’s First!”- Lt. Col.  Mark C. Glenn of Bedford, N.H.

Events in Afghanistan and the subsequent ripple effect were entirely unexpected. On one hand, after a year of serving in civil unrest, COVID-19 response, and D.C. protection missions, the chaotic close of Afghanistan is just another story in an already memorable couple of years. On the other hand, there are understandably many mixed feelings about the closing of Afghanistan among Soldiers, many unanswerable questions, and a degree of disappointment and mourning. With time, the 1-101st Soldiers will process all of these thoughts and feelings. Until then, they will continue on to their next mission.

 

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