Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sister services, brothers in arms


by Sgt. Matthew Clifton
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE CHAPMAN, Afghanistan – You only have to say two words to invoke that feeling of rivalry that is oft-present between two of the largest armed services in the United States.

"Army-Navy." GO NAVY! :)

Upon hearing those words, one’s mind is immediately drawn towards collegiate athletics and although there may be some slight truth in the rivalry each Soldier or Sailor has towards the opposite service, one unit (comprised not of Soldiers and Sailors, but Servicemembers,) has demonstrated how the rivalry, when it comes down to it, is just good-hearted fun.

The truth is, whatever feuds the Army and Navy may have, they are certainly taken with a giant grain of salt.

No one unit better proves this point than the Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team. Made up of uniformed personnel from both services, the Khowst PRT plays a key role in the development of the Khowst province by funding and contracting projects like the building of schools, roads and hospitals.

This mission is a huge task and one that would not be possible without the complete and total teamwork of all its members, Army and Navy.

"This is the first time I’ve ever been in a joint environment," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey Caffey, master at arms, Khowst PRT. "I’ve never experienced the ‘Army thing’ before and at first it was a total culture-shock."

The "culture-shock" was best remembered through his pre-deployment training at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"I think the biggest thing for the Navy guys was the ruck-marches we went on," said Staff Sgt. Michael A. Sheets, civil affairs noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Khowst PRT. "I think it was difficult for the [Navy] guys, not because they couldn’t handle it, but because they were so used to being on a ship."

"It was fun teaching the guys about marching formations, what way to point their weapon and things like that," Sheets continued. "They were completely cooperative the whole time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any one group of guys more eager and willing to learn."

Caffey, a New Braunfels, Texas native, laughed at the recollection of the ruck-marches, mentioning that, although he "walked" a lot during his Navy basic training, he had never before donned full "battle-rattle" and walked for miles in a formation.

"It was definitely different," Caffey added. "Some of our guys had a tough time, but I think some of the Army guys also had to get used to having a Navy commander."

None of the Soldiers in the unit had ever worked on a ship and both Caffey and Sheets agreed the Navy "slang" used by the commander was something the Soldiers had to get used to.

"There is an enormous amount of service-specific slang the commander uses in his speeches," Sheets said jokingly. "He always says something about ‘fair winds.’"

Caffey was quick to add "fair winds" means everything is going fine, like "smooth sailing."

"The Army just says ‘hooah’ for everything," Sheets, an Ohio native, retorted.

All-in-all, the unit spent three months training at Fort Bragg and after being in the Army for more than four years, this was Sheet’s first experience with the Navy.

"The tact shown by these guys during training can not be matched," Sheets said. "Our commander is one of the smartest guys I know."

Sheets referred to the way their commander, understanding he needed experienced leaders, made Sheets and other combat veterans "team leaders" during their training time.

Before they realized it, their training had stopped and they were in Afghanistan doing exactly what they had trained for. By that time, there was no longer the distinction between the Army and the Navy. They were just "the team."

Daily life for Caffey and Sheets is seen by both as being vastly productive. Working at the district center in Tani, a small district in Khowst, they literally live among the people of Afghanistan, helping to rebuild the area through funding and reconstruction projects.

"We work with the local government officials and police officers to ensure the continued stability of the district," Caffey said. "They are an all-around good group and I feel proud that they are doing what’s best for their citizens.

Straddling the half-way mark of their deployment, the lines of "Army and Navy" have gone from blurred to nonexistent.

"I don’t even see a difference anymore, its just one big team," Caffey said.

Neither Caffey nor Sheets had ever worked in a joint environment before and that they, along with their entire unit, bonded so instantly and permanently says something about how trivial and "elementary" any type of rivalry really is.

"I’m completely shocked at how everyone left their egos at the door and came together to be the best possible unit," Sheets said. "We have a good government to work with in this province and because we work so well as a team, I feel good about the future of our district."

Photo - Staff Sgt. Kirtis Hoursch, a squad leader with the 158th Infantry Battalion, Arizona Army National Guard, attached to the Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team, inspects a Soldier and a Sailor prior to heading out on a mission, at Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Clifton.

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