National Guardsmen from other states contribute to Task Force Guam success in Afghanistan
By SGT EDDIE SIGUENZA
Guam Army National Guard
CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan – This was an opportunity for East to meet West in the far western Pacific Ocean for a mission deep in the Middle East.
Spc. Thomas Clark of Clio, Mich., accepted it. So did Capt. Dustin Wiggins, who dusted off the terrain at his Holladay, Utah home to be with the Guam Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment this Operation Enduring Freedom mission. The pair is part of nearly two dozen National Guardsmen representing 10 states that linked up with Guam, a unit that features a rainbow of nationalities even without the U.S. mainlanders.
Even though Guam historically united 500-plus organic Soldiers for this mission – becoming one of the largest forces currently in Afghanistan – it still needed to fill important positions, says Lt. Col. Michael Tougher, Task Force Guam commander. Guam leaders pursued these positions through Tour of Duty (TOD), a military deployment process, and relied on in-theatre extensions (ITE) to complete what was needed.
Close to 10 Soldiers from the Alabama Army National Guard's 167th Infantry Regiment – the unit Guam succeeded in April – serve as ITEs. They chose to stay in Afghanistan to serve with Guam.
"All of them serve an important role in our battalion. We're thankful they chose to be a part of the Guam Army National Guard," Tougher said. "Some have been with us since our pre-deployment, others came on once we hit boots on ground. They're contributing to our mission's success."
Wiggins, the assistant intelligence officer, was the final TOD to join Guam. He was encouraged by Capt. Charles Esteves, intelligence officer, who met Wiggins at last year's Military Intelligence captain's career course.
"After prayerful consideration and after my wife signed off on the idea, I accepted his invitation," said Wiggins. "I will be forever grateful for the privilege it has been to serve with Task Force Guam. I wish I had the chance to get to know each Soldier individually. Guam and the Chamorro people will always have a special place in my heart."
The Guam battalion features Soldiers with various nationalities such as Micronesians, Palauans, Filipinos, Samoans and Asians. This is a resemblance of Guam's multi-cultured life.
Clark joins Spc. Eldad Neumeier of the Rhode Island National Guard as medic/health care specialists via TOD. Clark, of Guam's second platoon, Headquarters-Headquarters Company, is also a combat driver who provides guardian angel security while on mission.
"I wanted to deploy with Guam for the experience of meeting new people and learning a new culture," said Clark of the Michigan Army National Guard. "The most important thing I have learned with Task Force Guam is they get the job done and well, and have a good time on top of that."
Four officers – 1st Lt. Joshua Carson and 1st Lt. Daniel J. Delgado of the Oregon Army National Guard, 1st Lt. Christopher P. Bennett (New York Army National Guard) and 1st Lt. Matthew Rogers (Connecticut Army National Guard) serve as platoon leaders. First Lt. Daniel Rudes (Alabama Army National Guard) is Bravo Company's executive officer, while Alabama native 1st Lt. Justin Blair is Echo Company's executive officer.
"Getting to work with the Soldiers of the Guam Army National Guard. I know that may sound a bit canned, but I would definitely say that is the highlight for me," said Carson of Independence, Oregon. "These Soldiers are awesome and I find it a privilege to serve as their leader. They are some of the most generous people I have met, and of course the Guam food. There is always some spam and rice cooking somewhere."
Three from the Hawaii Army National Guard fill Guam's void. Capt. Ronaldo Pascua is Task Force Guam's chaplain; Sgt. Eric Zabedny is a forward observer/team leader for Charlie Company; and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Brookfield serves a vital role as electronic warfare sergeant.
It can be tough to integrate into a unit that is so close such as Task Force Guam. Not so in this case," Brookfield, of Kaimuki, Honolulu, explained. "I was welcomed to the "Guam family" immediately.
"Afghanistan is a harsh environment with many challenges. I had the honor of working with all seven Guam companies. The motivation, professionalism and the talent of Task Force Guam Soldiers I worked with is among the best in the National Guard."
Brookfield and Pascua are members of Hawaii's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Guam falls under the 29th's chain of command.
"There are a lot of similarities in culture and courtesies as Hawaii," Pascua, of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, said. "The most positive thing I've gotten serving with Guam is the friendships I made within unit. It has been an honor to be part of a unit and family that has left a great, positive impression on all other units worked with."
Staff Sgt. Brian Kirst, the battalion's paralegal noncommissioned officer in charge, hails from Markesan, Wisc., and is a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He credits his time serving with Guam as one of the best he's ever had.
"I saw the mission on Tour of Duty. I thought why not," Kirst said. "I sent my application packet in. Then I got an email from (Guam National Guard personnel) Chief Warrant Officer Bernard Aguon. In his signature block I saw Guam National Guard. My eyes may have gotten slightly larger for a few weeks!"
Added Kirst, "The biggest thing I learned about Guam and its people are family and respect. I'm all about it. I love the culture; I love the laid back/family culture of Guam."
Everyone has gotten used to Guam's main cuisine: barbecue, Spam, finadene and Tabasco. Some are still getting used to Guam's language, Chamorro, which is still tough to get even after months saddling with Guam's bravest warriors.
"The only thing I know for sure how to say in Chamorro is ‘Malagu mumu,'" Wiggins concluded.
That means "Do you want to fight."
When asked what's the response to that, Wiggins replied, "Aren't you supposed to say ‘Chagi fan?'"
That means "Try it."