LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (KTUU) - It wasn't long ago that JBER's 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, or the 4-25, was one of 50 brigade across the country on the chopping block. Flash-forward less than a year, and the 4-25 is the only brigade to have survived, and is now on tour in Afghanistan.
Soldiers from JBER's 4-25 Spartan Brigade in Afghanistan January, 2018 (Albert Lutan / KTUU)
Starting in September, about 2,100 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Spartan Brigade deployed to 25 different locations across eastern Afghanistan.
Throughout their 9-month deployment, the Spartan Brigade has been tasked with two missions. There's the NATO mission, called 'Resolute Support,' which is aimed to train, advise and assist Afghan Security forces. The other mission, 'Operation Freedom's Sentinel,' from the Pentagon, focuses on counter-terrorism.
"It's a challenging terrain, it's a challenging atmosphere," said Brig. Gen. John Richardson, TAAC (Train Advise Assist Command) East Commander. "It's a non-traditional mission, but the young men and women from Alaska, from this brigade, have adapted to the mission, have embraced it, and are making a huge impact for the future of Afghanistan."
For the train, advise and assist part of the mission, U.S. advisors from the 4-25 meet with Afghan security force leadership for a battle update briefing six days a week.
"That's a big part of our mission set," said Spartan Brigade Commander, Col. Jason Jones. "Telling them what they're doing right, what they're doing wrong and making recommendations to them on how they can better enable their unit."
Soldiers admit it's not the most exciting mission they've ever participated in, but recognize its importance. Commanders in both the Afghan and U.S. Army say in order to help the Afghan government achieve legitimacy in its fight against the Taliban and ISIS, its people must win the war themselves, and through the train, advise, assist mission, the 4-25 is helping in that process.
"To their families, to the person who lives in Alaska, I thank you so much that they have sent their family here to help work with us night and day, in such a tough situation," said Afghan National Army, 201st Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Mohmand Zaman Waziri. "They assist in helping us to bring peace in Afghanistan, so to all of their families, and even people living in Alaska, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
As for the Spartan Brigade's counter-terrorism mission, Operation Freedom's Sentinel, soldiers provide security for special forces on the front line at remote outposts. That includes duties like driving vehicles, firing artillery and providing outer cordon security for special forces who train, advise and assist Afghan soldiers on the battlefield.
Although both missions are much less combat-oriented than the unit trains for and is used to, Col. Jones says his brigade has hit its battle rhythm, committed to making a difference in war-torn Afghanistan.