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Deployed: Dispatches from Afghanistan

Walter J. Biner, a Scotch Plains-Fanwood native, writes about his experiences serving in Afghanistan with the United States Army. In this first installment, Biner introduces himself and provides background on his deployment.

My name is Walter J. Biner, and I am a captain in the United States Army. 

I am a graduate of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Class of 2003, and I still call this area home. Growing up, I worked at the JCC and the Highland Swim Club, I ran cross-country and track, and I participated in the student government at the high school. After graduating, I attended the University of Massachusetts on an Army ROTC scholarship. I continued running cross-country and track, and I earned a bachelor's degree in history.

Upon graduation, I received a commission as an armor second lieutenant. I was assigned to Ft. Lewis, Wash., then the Basic Officer Leadership Course II at Ft. Benning, Ga.; the Armor Officer Basic Course at Ft. Knox, Ky.; and Airborne Training and Ranger Training, at Ft. Benning.

In January 2009, I headed to Vilseck, Germany to join the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. I am the fourth platoon leader of Comanche Company, 1st Squadron. My first year-and-a-half was mostly devoted to training the soldiers in my platoon, preparing them for deployment to Afghanistan. 

Which brings me to the focus of this periodic column: My experiences in Afghanistan. 

Currently, I have been deployed for about two months. For the purpose of operational security, I cannot state the exact location of where I am, or write about many of the things that I do. I will, however, express my thoughts (within reason) and those of my men throughout this deployment.

My platoon is relatively small. Originally it was comprised of 12 "tankers" like myself. However, the operational needs of our area of operations (AO) called for my company to add a fourth infantry platoon, and I became the fourth platoon leader.

My men are all very young. At 26, I am one of the oldest. Most of my soldiers are barely in their 20s. Some are still in their teens. Also, for many of my soldiers (myself included) this is their first deployment.

Since I lack deployment experience, I have been leaning on my noncommissioned officers (NCOs) for their advice and professional opinions. They come from all over: Ohio, Alaska, New York, Missouri, Maryland, New Hampshire, Alabama, Texas, Oregon and, of course, New Jersey.

It is interesting to see how they've grown as men since they've arrived, how they've learned to take themselves and their jobs seriously. They've learned this isn't some "Call of Duty" video game. The danger is real out here.

Most of my time is spent with my platoon sergeant (PSG). We not only live together in the same CHU (containerized housing unit) when we are ever back at the forward operating base (which is never), but we also spend most of our free time with each other. This is the PSG's third combat deployment, but his first to Afghanistan.

He and I are commonly likened to the parents of the platoon. I have been very fortunate to have him as my senior NCO. He and I share a similar sense of humor, taste in movies and opinions on politics. Our similar views and our ability to talk to each other about all topics has been a major building point for how we've developed our platoon. The respect that we show each other trickles down, and we expect our soldiers to show each other the same level of respect, regardless of rank.

My initial exposure to Afghanistan occurred at Kandahar Air Field, or KAF. As I walked off the ramp of my plane from Kyrgyzstan, the heat coming off the tarmac was a punch in the face. I realized it would take some getting use to.

We exited the terminal and what I saw before me could best be described as a giant multinational circus. Soldiers and civilian contractors from all nations were crawling everywhere. People were just going for jogs, or riding their bikes around. There were huge lines to get into a TGI Fridays. It did not look like my idea of a War Zone. How is it that soldiers the same rank as me get paid the same when they live in such a carefree environment?

My time at KAF was very short lived. Within 24 hours of my arrival, I was on a Chinook helicopter to my forward operating base. Once there, I was able to relax for a few days.

I had mailed myself things I didn't want to carry ahead of time and they were all waiting for me when I arrived. I went right to setting up my CHU. It was like moving into the dorms again, except there would be no partying.

From the day I arrived, I had about a week to learn everything I could about our AO from the unit we were replacing and from the limited route clearance packages (RCPs) I could ride along on. My platoon arrived a week later, and after we signed for equipment that had already been through one deployment, we were out into the AO conducting combat operations. At this point I had no knowledge of how limited my time at the FOB would be.

For now I hope this information will suffice. I will continue to write about my thoughts on this deployment thus far. Any questions that you have, or suggestions on what you would like to know, please contact me at walter.j.biner@us.army.mil. Thank you for your support.

Walter J. Biner

CPT, Armor

Platoon Leader

C Co 1/ 2 SCR

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