Troop C, 1st Squadron, 126th Cavalry Regiment is based in Dowagiac and has approximately 80 Soldiers assigned as infantry and mortar men, supply specialists and radio operators. The troop also has a seven-man sniper section. Charlie Troop is an infantry unit with a female exclusion in their ranks, although, during their 2012 deployment, three women deployed as part of a female engagement team.
The unit is a dismounted reconnaissance troop. At home station and during annual training they conduct reconnaissance, security and surveillance operations during combat. This includes providing timely, accurate and relevant combat information across the full-spectrum of operations.
“One of our missions is to insert behind enemy lines and radio back intel,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Breen, the unit full-time readiness noncommissioned officer.
Due to the nature of their mission as infantry foot-Soldiers, their equipment includes weapons with multiple-range firing distances, inflatable boats, high-frequency radios and Ravens (small unmanned aircraft systems).
Since the Global War on Terrorism began, Charlie Troop has deployed twice. In December 2007, about 70 Soldiers from the troop were among almost 900 Michigan Army Guard Soldiers who deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Michigan Soldiers joined with the 37th Brigade Combat Team, Ohio Army National Guard. Charlie Troop was based in Kuwait and supported convoy security operations in and around the area of operations, including Iraq. The squadron completed its overseas deployment in December 2008 and returned home without any fatalities or serious injuries.
“[Charlie] Troop did an excellent job independently running security missions in Kuwait, operating from Ali Al Salem and became certified to run convoy security operations in Iraq,” said Col. Clark Barrett, the squadron commander during the deployment. “Their professional service was recognized by multiple commanders throughout the area of operation.”
In October 2011, Charlie Troop was mobilized for deployment to Afghanistan. Soldiers who were formerly with Company F, 425th Infantry, MIARNG, had joined Charlie Troop. The 425th Soldiers were trained as long-range surveillance and were an asset to the troop.
“The 425th Infantry had deactivated and we tried to get as many guys from them as possible because they had a lot of training and experience and had been trained to a high level of proficiency, not just in infantry skills but also in communications skills,” said 1st Sgt. Michael Henry, Charlie Troop first sergeant. “We really pushed to build our own team with who we thought were the best guys for those positions. I had E-5s and even corporals running teams. I would always try to give my junior leaders leeway to train,” he continued. “Every place we went for our train-ups we were at or above standards. The battalion commander and sergeant major were surprised and couldn’t believe we were a National Guard unit.”
When they arrived in Afghanistan, their mission was full-spectrum operations and included “pushing” the Taliban north.
“Charlie troops were responsible to patrol, provide security, reconnaissance and de-confliction of units in their area,” said Breen. “They conducted many air assault missions and were involved in multiple firefights, to include an attack on one of their FOBs.”
May 20, 2012, is a day many Charlie troops won’t forget. One of their convoys hit an improvised explosive device and a firefight ensued. Eric Lund, who is now retired, was then a specialist with the 126th Cavalry, and was severely injured when his vehicle flipped, causing the loss of both his arms, among other injuries.
Sgt. Robert Eckardt is now the full time supply sergeant and was also injured that day and medically evacuated with Lund and eight other Soldiers.
“It was really unfortunate what happened to Lund, it was a bad day for the unit,” said Eckardt. “Lund’s a fighter though, he continues to stay active. He has recently been horseback riding and surfing.”
Eckardt continued and said that this was “pretty much the beginning of the fighting season.”
“We were the only maneuver element in the area,” said Eckardt. “We took over a combat outpost from Special Forces with 30 of us and 30 [Afghan National Army] soldiers. We tried to maintain a good working relationship with them—we would share meals Afghan style, eating a local goat with their customs and talk to learn more about the culture and the Afghanistan soldier’s way of life.”
As far as living conditions, some might consider Charlie Troop was “roughing it.” But Eckart said both the forward operating base which provided consolidated housing units and the outpost were nice.
“It was just two different worlds,” said Eckardt. “On the FOB you had a CHU, chow hall, and the other amenities. The outpost was more like camping out. We had a short shower every couple days because of limited shower supply and we had a cook so we had hot meals,” said Eckardt.
About their missions he said, “We did air assaults with the Afghans and we’d push up north,” Eckardt continued. “If you were on an air assault, you were going to be in a gun fight.”
During the deployment, the first sergeant and other Charlie troops found out first-hand that they had earned a reputation among the Taliban.
“We were out on a 10-day mission and took our linguists and other intel assets with us,” said Henry. “On one of the radio messages intercepts, the voice transfer referred to us as the ‘heavy infidels’.”
On another 10-day truck-mission, first platoon found 500 pounds of homemade explosives, or what Soldiers call ‘HME.’
Based on this, Charlie Troop knew they were making a difference in the fight. The female engagement team was also helping to take the fight to the Taliban.
“Our job was to go into the villages and correspond with the females of the local populace,” said Staff Sgt. Andrea Yearsovich, a Michigan National Guard female engagement team member. “In some of the villages the women were not privy to the information shared among the men. In those villages, women were only allowed to talk with other women or children. In rare occurrences the men would not correspond at all with their wives,” said Yearsovich. “I met a woman who hadn’t been out of her compound for at least 16 years. When we visited most villages, the women were excited to talk with us. Overall, this was a unique experience due to cultural differences.”
On a few instances the Afghan women’s information helped locate someone in the village who was a person of interest.
Eckardt and Yearsovich both commented that good leadership contributed to Charlie Troop’s success.
“Capt. [Mark] Grant was a great commander overseas. We never had a day off, but he had it right,” said Eckardt. “When we weren’t on a mission, we had maintenance days. He kept everyone busy—but he did this for a purpose. He made us successful.”
“We had pretty much taken away their ability to function. We had disrupted their bomb-making ability,” said Henry. “When someone came to visit, they came to Charlie Troop to find out what was going on in the area.”
Although everyone in Charlie Troop contributed to the success, Henry said, “Without Lt. Lesse and Sgt. Nanni, we would not have been as successful as we were. Their work ethic and technical abilities allowed us to outperform our active duty counterparts every step of the way.”
“I’d contribute Charlie Troop’s success to the right mixture of tactical proficiency, technical knowledge, leadership and trust,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Leese, the company intelligence support team officer in charge. “If all of those pieces fit together, most missions can be accomplished.”
Charlie Troop’s mission accomplishments did not go unnoticed by the Department of the Army. The unit was submitted for the Valorous Unit Award, which is the second highest unit decoration (the highest is the Presidential Unit Award). The unit was initially submitted for the Meritorious Unit Citation, but the award was upgraded. In October 2013, Charlie Troop received orders from the Secretary of the Army announcing their Valorous Unit Award and citing their “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais presented the Valorous Unit Award streamer to Grant and Henry during the August 2014 memorial and pass-in-review ceremony held at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.
Troop C knows that their mission was successful and the Valorous Unit Award helps signify that. They certainly encountered the enemy and hindered their mission, but not without a cost. Eleven Charlie Troop Soldiers received the Purple Heart Medal and most received the Combat Infantry Badge.
“It was active, it was busy, but it was the best deployment I’ve ever been on,” said Henry.