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FOB Walton closes as Afghanistan withdrawal continues

Monday, July 21, 2014 - 10:10pm

The hollow aluminum tent frames, clanked as they hit the ground during quick disassembly. The tents were the last standing structures on a huge empty lot in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, once known as Forward Operating Base Walton.

The 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was the last unit to roll out of Forward Operating Base Walton, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, July 17, marking an end to a permanent coalition presence in the area.

"We popped smoke (left the area) before noon on the 17th, and FOB Walton is now a part of Afghanistan once again," said Maj. Samuel Linn, a native of Philadelphia, who serves as executive officer and operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment.

"It's a full closure of the FOB, which means we've left it like we found it when American forces first arrived," Linn said.

Tearing down a FOB the right way isn't an easy task, as equipment and structures accumulate over the years. Through the closure process, it became necessary to ethically dispose of some of the equipment, and simultaneously decide what equipment to consolidate and ship back to the U.S., explained Capt. Bernard Tumanjong, a native of Dallas, who serves as a supply officer with 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment.

"We had all of this excess equipment, so we had to really coordinate with our Afghan partners and decide what we were going to do with all of it," Bernard said. "We used groups like the Defense Logistics Agency and others like it to decide what we were going to sell to the Afghans, what to throw away, and what the unit needed to bring back home."

Linn explained that the proper withdrawal after an occupation is not only the right thing to do, but it shows our Afghan partners that we respect them and their land.

"The alternative to closure is abandonment, which would really send the wrong message," Linn said. "By deliberately retrograding the FOB, it sends a clear message to the Afghan people, and the Afghan National Security Forces that it was done in a deliberate and controlled manner and returned it to its rightful owners in the same way it was found. It shows respect and a close working relationship between the International Security Assistance Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic Of Afghanistan."

FOB Walton served as a strategic point in Regional Command-South during Operation Enduring Freedom because of its placement just north of the Kandahar Provincial Police Headquarters.

"Its strategic importance was such that it has been co-located with the police headquarters. The civilian protection element was co-located with a coalition presence, which gives you better communication that's absolutely indispensable for joint operations," Linn said.

The deconstruction of the FOB offered unique opportunities for U.S. Soldiers to work with local nationals in the area daily, and develop good working relationships.

"My favorite part of being out here has been working with the local nationals," said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Gorbet, a native of Susanville, California, who serves as a platoon sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment. "That's where the alliance grows, because I feel working with them every day on the ground gives them a good impression of what the U.S. Soldier is. I really love it."

Step by step, as the base crept closer to its closure, safety measures were increased simultaneously. Security elements patrolled the area to protect the FOB up until the last truck exited.

"The analogy that I would use in describing the retrograde of FOB Walton is disassembling an airplane while you're flying it," Linn said. "It's really a unique challenge in that you've got to get rid of everything without decreasing your security posture; and it's pretty evident to the enemy what you're doing so you go through a period of increased risk, which you've got to mitigate.

"There were two coordinated attacks about a week ago on the police headquarters and the provincial security meeting simultaneously, which we mitigated with our Afghan partners," Linn said.

Closing FOB Walton safely and properly is a step in the right direction for the autonomy of the Afghan National Security Forces, Linn said.

"We've given them the time and space to develop in their own capabilities, and this closure is a chance for them to improve upon their current condition and be able to carry on, on their own," he explained.  

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