For those of us who served as ETT’s or PMT’s up to 2009, we worked for Task Force Phoenix. TF Phoenix was headquartered at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. After TF Phoenix I, each succeeding iteration was staffed by a National Guard brigade, augmented with teams gathered from the National Guard and the Regular Army. Bouhammer and I were both on teams that were fielded to augment a National Guard IBCT (Infantry Brigade Combat Team) functioning as TF Phoenix. After Combat Advisor training at Fort Riley… which in later iterations was provided at Fort Polk… teams were deployed and assigned their missions by TF Phoenix as the task force saw fit.
Each team processed in and out of theater, in part, at Camp Phoenix. The teams were then scattered to the winds as they fanned out to train, mentor and fight with their Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police counterparts. Teams from TF Phoenix found themselves in many different locations and situations. We all had our own experiences in disparate places, some of which few other Americans have been to. We worked with and developed relationships with Afghan officers, NCO’s, soldiers and interpreters that few other Americans would. Our experiences varied. But there is a constant in our experiences; Camp Phoenix.
Many of us hated Camp Phoenix. It was overrun with salute-seeking staff officers, fobbits and bull fobbits. It was a place where you found out how little support your task force would actually provide to you. It represented the weaknesses of the Task Force; the inability to supply or even advocate for the teams. Once we left Camp Phoenix, everywhere we went, we were strangers. Strange strangers. We operated in battlespace “owned” by… usually… Regular Army brigades who viewed us as potentially “gone native.” We had to observe their rules for communications, movement and coordination. Sometimes, we were told, in effect, that we couldn’t operate in elements as small as we were because we didn’t have the vehicles to meet the movement minimums. Some “battlespace owners” would count ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces… the Army and Police) vehicles, so that if we moved with our counterparts we could travel.
We also depended upon those “battlespace owners” for everything from shelter to food, maintenance and supplies; especially ammunition. One would think that these support relationships would be easy; hey, we’re all Americans and we share a mission. Right? One would think. Teams had widely varying experiences in this regard. For me, TF Gladius, led by the 82nd’s Division Special Troops Battalion and headquartered at Bagram, was a great unit to work with most of the time. We had good relationships with their S-2, S-3, S-4 and S-6. Bagram’s finance office worked hard to support us. Their contracting office treated us with equanimity. We had a place to stay when we needed, maintenance and ammunition and a decent working relationship with Gladius and Bagram. We were lucky.
My last few months were spent an the area owned by another brigade and the situation for advisors there was very different.
Horror stories abound of bad situations between advisor teams and “land-owning” units. This is part of what drove GEN McChrystal to disband TF Phoenix and make each brigade responsible for fielding and supporting its own advisor teams. I believe that while the General had good intentions, the actual results were mixed to poor. Green on blue went through the roof, for one thing. Advisors in the land-owning brigades were given much less training than previously. There is more that could be said, but the end result was that TF Phoenix came to an end with the 48th IBCT, Georgia National Guard being the ones to turn out the lights in late 2009. Camp Phoenix became something other than the headquarters of TF Phoenix. No one after that point would view the camp as what those of us who served as part of TF Phoenix would.
Camp Phoenix was also the home of Rambo. Rambo was an Afghan guard who was absolutely famous throughout each iteration of TF Phoenix. Rambo was always there.
He hated the Taliban, and the stories of why he did were tragic. He had single-handedly foiled attacks on the ECP (Entry Control Point), the main gate of Camp Phoenix, including dragging a suicide car bomber from his seat before he could trigger his explosives. He wore patches from every unit that had ever been there on every bit of velcro space that his gifted uniform possessed. Rambo is a legend who surpasses the movie legend he was named after.
For those of us who served as Combat Advisors between 2003 and 2009, Camp Phoenix was one of the first places we saw when we got there and one of the last places we had to go before we left Afghanistan. It was a place where you could get a hot meal, some sleep and even some cigarettes, dip, or other comfort items which were not available “downrange”. I once commanded a convoy from Jalalabad to Camp Phoenix that was conveniently timed to not only take care of business but also catch a USO show featuring Robin Williams, Kid Rock and Lance Armstrong. One of our young security troops was a huge Kid Rock fan. I got an education on how talented Kid Rock really is.
It’s only been a few years, but Robin Williams is dead and Lance Armstrong is discredited and reviled. Camp Phoenix has been turned over to the Afghans. The world changes, and sometimes the places we know change as well. Regardless of what your experience was at Camp Phoenix, regardless of how you hated the fobbitry and lack of support, it’s a place that our tiny club of Combat Advisors shares. We can still see it in our mind’s eye, and it’s a common touch point for us.
Give it a thought today. Remember those you served with and think about reaching out to one of them.