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The Spartans Return to Fort Drum

4:33 PM, May 31, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Max Boot wrote last year about a visit by a small group of us to Afghanistan in October. One of the most memorable parts of the trip was the day we spent with the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 10th Mountain Division:

And on the ground?  A seven-day visit to Afghanistan in late October, taken along with other security analysts at the invitation of General John Allen, the senior American and NATO commander, reveals that U.S. troops are fighting with wholehearted dedication—and, at least in the south, enjoying considerable success. If the United States is indeed on the way out in Afghanistan, as the political class in Washington now assumes (perhaps rightly), nobody has bothered to inform the troops. They are still risking their necks every day in order to defeat the enemy.

In Zhari District, west of Kandahar City, troops from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division are in the process of clearing this longtime Taliban stronghold. I drove in a convoy of heavily armored MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles from Forward Operating Base Pasab down roads that only a few months ago were full of buried IEDs, past fields that once sheltered Taliban fighters. The American infantrymen have been using M9 armored bulldozers and Mine Clearing Line Charges (known as “mick licks,” after their acronym) to blast their way through the Taliban’s minefields. Regular air assaults by helicopters are also taking place to leapfrog Taliban fortifications: As our troops and their Afghan partners advance, they erect their own forts and link them together with newly dug roads that are protected by blast walls to impede Taliban movements. The youthful-looking brigade commander, Colonel Patrick Frank, proudly showed us some of the spoils of war—we got to walk through what is said to be Mullah Omar’s hometown and even to see his former mosque. Another sign of progress: There are now 14 schools open in Zhari and neighboring Maiwand District, up from only 2 last year.

Just before our arrival, the brigade had finally managed to reach the Arghandab River, which marks the southern boundary of Zhari. “This is a big deal,” Lieutenant Colonel Kenny Mintz, commander of the 1-32 battalion, told me, noting that this achievement had cost him 13 men killed and 29 seriously injured during the past five months. Just before departing Zhari, I witnessed a moving ceremony in which three of Mintz’s men received medals of valor for their extraordinary heroism—including one soldier who had been badly wounded and evacuated stateside for treatment but had volunteered to return to the fight. “You’re my hero,” Mintz told him.

The 3rd Infantry Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (known as Task Force Spartan) is now back at Fort Drum, and yesterday dedicated a statue in memory of its soldiers who didn't make it home:

An emotional day on Fort Drum as the 3rd Brigade Combat Team unveils and dedicates a Spartan Statue to those soldiers who didn't make it back home.

Fort Drum Commanding General Mark Milley and 3rd Brigade Commander Colonel Patrick Frank helped uncover the statue. The 3rd Brigade is also known as the Spartans.

A total of 109 soldiers with 3rd BCT have been killed since the War began nearly a decade ago and 38 soldiers died on the last deployment alone.

Every soldier's name was read aloud.

"As we come over and they each see the statue and see the 38 names of the Spartans we lost in Afghanistan, it goes right to the heart of being a soldier. Those are their comrades in arms and this our tribute to honoring their legacy," said Col. Patrick Frank, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team Commander.

The Spartans had been planning for this statue for nearly six years. Funds were raised entirely by Spartan soldiers and their families."

Here's video of the Spartan statue unveiling at Fort Drum yesterday.

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