MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN: Nevada Guard’s transportation company drives streets of Kabul
CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan — When soldiers from the Nevada Army National Guard’s 593rd Transportation Company set foot on Afghanistan soil in July, this marked a historical occasion for the Silver State’s military.Since the Bush Administration launched its Global War on Terror in late 2001 after terrorists slammed passenger jets into the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, hundreds of Nevada servicemen and women have answered the call to deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan or both. For the 593rd TC, the company’s arrival in Afghanistan became symbolic as the unit became the first in Nevada to serve deployments to both countries.The 593rd Transportation Company, with headquarters in Reno and detachments in Las Vegas, Elko and Winnemucca, accepted a mission to deliver personnel, supplies and equipment in and around Kabul, one of the world’s most dangerous cities.Providing attention to detail on this mission is characteristic of the soldiers who serve in the company. The intensity of any threat in the capital region makes the Nevada guardsmen more determined to carry out successful trips from their base at Camp Phoenix.The same resolve can be said about the company’s commander, Capt. Curtis Kolvet of Reno, a 1997 Bishop Manogue High School graduate who later served in the U.S. Army and deployed to Iraq.Kolvet, an athletic, seasoned Army officer, has handled both overseas combat and homeland missions. He lived in Minden until age 12 when his family relocated to Reno. Now married and the father of two children, Kolvet received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, was commissioned a second lieutenant and went overseas to Germany and then to Iraq.Fast forward the clock and Kolvet finds himself at Camp Phoenix, a small post on the outskirts of Kabul, and seven miles away from the international airport. Location makes no difference to either Kolvet or his soldiers because driving the streets of Kabul remains dangerous as long as suicidal insurgents continue to try blowing up vehicles or kidnapping westerners. The city is home to millions of people, many who have relocated there from eastern Afghanistan villages and small towns and cities.
Despite having the Pentagon reduce the number of soldiers for most units coming to Afghanistan, Kolvet said the 593rd TC brought about 125 soldiers, down an eighth from the original number.“Realistically, we have the same missions but with fewer people,” Kolvet explained from his second-floor office located near the edge of Camp Phoenix’s walled, barbed fence line with the city.The 593rd TC represents every corner of Nevada. In addition to having detachments throughout the state, soldiers come from as far south as Boulder City in Clark County to as far east as McGill, a small mining town north of Ely in White Pine County. Kolvet said company platoons mesh together soldiers from the entire state, adding, “We’re all one company and all one team.”The 593rd TC’s mission is primarily to provide convoy movement throughout Regional Command-Capital (RC-C), transporting personnel and/or equipment and supplies to other bases within the region. Some missions can take as little as one hour, while others may require an entire day or night, depending on the time and scope of the mission.“The bulk of our mission operations are in an environment of 5 million people,” Kolvet pointed out. “We have had over 100 missions in four months. We’re busy.”Compared with other units, the 593rd TC interacts more with the Afghan National Army because of its mission, but Kolvet said his soldiers must be prepared for any situation, even murderous “green-on-blue” attacks by Afghanistan soldiers or policemen on coalition forces.The vigilance continues for each mission, beginning with the initial operating order, planning, execution and then review. Jumping into an armored truck after checking the oil and water and kicking the tires doesn’t always lead to a successful mission.“The battalion element here hands us our missions,” Kolvet explained. “We work with them on the mission’s routes and logistics. Our convoy commanders examine the missions by mapping them out and by keeping people safe. I put that in their laps and they make it happen.”Once the company receives a mission, the convoy commander assembles the soldiers involved with the mission either the previous day or in the morning of a trip into Kabul or to a base in the region. Further preparations with crew and any passengers manifested for movement occur hours before the vehicles, each with an experienced gunner, leave the Camp Phoenix compound.“For the number of solders and missions, we have had few issues. Very few exceptions, very few execution issues of getting the mission done,” Kolvet said. “We must be aware and don’t let our guard down.”Kolvet is proud of the professionalism of the 593rd soldiers. He saw active-duty soldiers conduct the same duties in Iraq and is quick to make a comparison.“They are as good as any company I saw in the active Army,” Kolvet. “They (Nevada guardsmen) came from real jobs, needed to have skills and have the ability to manage. Some of our soldiers have been on two, three, even four deployments. Transportation? Logistics? The Guard can do just as well ….”The unit makeup represents a typical ground unit. Many marines who pounded the ground returned to military duty to become guardsmen; furthermore, Kolvet said all 15 women in the 593rd TC have ridden in convoys, including seven women who regularly ride on missions ad hold significant positions of responsibility.Kolvet said many units in and around the Kabul area include National Guard companies and battalions in addition to numerous coalition forces deployed to the capital. When the 593rd doesn’t have a mission or soldiers have time off from going “out of the wire,” a phrase meaning outside the gates, Kolvet said they are training on the vehicles and updating their licenses.•••1st Sgt. Harry Schroeder brings a good mix to the company, having served in the Army for 10 years and now the National Guard for eight more.After the Hug High School graduate received his diploma, Schroeder enlisted and then spent most of his time as a cavalry scout, stationed in Germany but deployed to Bosnia and Macedonia. When he left the Army, he returned to Reno and became the Readiness NCO for the 593rd. Schroeder earned a promotion to unit first sergeant more than four years ago. He said being a team leader in the Balkans has helped him perform his duties in a tough wartime environment.“The mission we have now is similar when I was a cav scout,” Schroeder said.When Schroeder talks as the 593rd’s first sergeant, he speaks from experience due to his deployment to Iraq six years ago with the same company. “The majority of our NCOs have previous deployment experience although it was different in Iraq,” he explained. “It’s important having people in leadership positions and relate the experiences they went through. That is one of the reasons we were successful and a huge reason for us to get through the process rather easily.”Pre-deployment training went well as the soldiers met their readiness level.“We hit the ground hard. Everyone was prepared and knew what to do,” Schroeder said.Schroeder is married and a father of four, including his youngest child who was born 10 days before the unit deployed. He checks in with his family daily, and as a true career soldier, he marches on to ensure his unit’s success. In reflecting on their five months in Afghanistan, Schroeder said he is proud of the soldiers in the 593rd and how determined they are to be successful with a difficult mission.“Everyone who comes over her has a purpose — our soldiers are out on the road almost every day,” he said. “They are accomplishing the mission and having a purpose to it. They are doing a great job at it.”Lessons learned from Iraq make a big difference during the second overseas deployment to Afghanistan. Schroeder said the unit deployed at full strength to Iraq and the mobilization process was much shorter. The 593rd also shared assets with 1864th Transportation Company that had drivers who came off deployment before the 593rd TC mobilized; as a result, drivers signed up again for a deployment.Schroeder said a smoother system enabled the 593rd TC to deploy to Afghanistan more efficiently, and soldiers were ready quicker at the mobilization station.Both Schroeder and Kolvet have developed a relationship based on mutual respect and common goals. Their working relationship and leadership styles make the transportation company perform like a well-oiled machine.“We work well together and have a similar thought process, but we may not agree all the time on answers,” Schroeder said.“We both decide to work it out. He (Kolvet) is very engaged. He was commander two years before deployment. Both of us have previously deployed. It’s up to us to ensure the unit’s success.”Kolvet likes the saying, “The company goes as the first sergeant goes,” meaning that Schroeder sets the standard for the company. “1st Sgt. Schroeder is an accomplished professional who sets the standard for discipline, work ethic, military bearing, and overall technical and tactical proficiency and the reason we are successful is because the soldiers in this company emulate those values,” Kolvet said in describing Schroeder’s attention to detail. Kolvet said Schroeder’s years of experience are leading to the company’s success, not only in Afghanistan but also in Nevada for two years prior to the unit’s deployment to Camp Phoenix.“His ability to reference his experience and find the right soldiers and put them in the right positions and then ensure the whole unit was properly trained before getting to the country so they could hit the ground running is what having an experienced first sergeant does for you. He got all the hard work done before the mission ever began,” Kolvet explained.“One of the biggest challenges we face being deployed for months at a time is complacency; in continuing to enforce the standards, the first sergeant spot-checking convoys by going out on the road with them, and correcting deficiencies as they appear, has been vital to the continuity of success we’ve seen to this point.”•••Elko resident 1st. Lt. Christopher Yell serves as both the operations officer and executive officer for the 593rd, two totally different jobs from that of his civilian career as an electrician for Newmont Mines.Yell formerly served in the U.S. Navy in the Seabees. After a break in service, he joined the Nevada Army National Guard, completed Officer Candidate School and received his commission in 2005 before attending his Officer Basic Course in transportation at Ft. Eustis, Va.Yell grew up in Shreveport, La., but moved to Nevada after his Navy days to be closer to his father, who was retiring from the military; instead, his father changed his plans about relocating to Reno after Yell accepted a job at Harrah’s. Yell eventually moved to Elko in 2002 to accept a job and also received his Associate of Arts and bachelor’s degrees from Great Basin College.The deployment to Afghanistan has been what Yell expected.“This first deployment has been fantastic,” he said. “I wanted to deploy with Capt. Kolvet, who’s a fantastic leader.”Yell said every day is OJT (on-the-job-training) at Camp Phoenix.“We’re doing what we trained to do and get to use the school books in a real-world experience,” Yell added.His eventual goal is to become company commander after Kolvet rotates out.•••During his Army career, 1st Lt. Chris Jones of Reno had never deployed until the 593rd Transportation Company conducted its mobilization ceremony in May to Afghanistan.Jones, who transferred to the transportation company in 2010, serves as one of two platoon leaders and enjoys the daily challenges at Camp Phoenix.“I like to go out on missions and work with the squad leaders,” Jones said .Along with the command staff, Jones said he is trying to streamline how missions are coordinated, especially in the areas of maintenance and communication. Jones believes in a hands-on approach and views every convoy mission as important as the last one.“We take the mission seriously by creating the teams and assembling a convoy,” Jones explained, adding that he was part of a convoy that traversed Kabul several nights before. “We are maintaining a high level of operations in the mission.”Jones, who spent eight years on active duty and then transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve, drilled with a training brigade in California. The monthly drive over the snow-packed Sierra grew old, so he became a transportation officer.The National Guard experience has been rewarding for Jones, especially with the soldiers. With the assimilation of soldiers from the entire state into two detachments and then the additional training at Ft. Hood, Texas, Jones said the unit came together quickly.•••2nd Lt. Yelena Yatskikh grew up in a Russian city of almost 1 million people south of Moscow and came to the United States to finish her undergraduate degree in New Hampshire and then graduate from UNLV with a master’s degree in international relations and political science. While in graduate school, the 30-year-old Yatskikh enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard and eventually completed Officer Candidate School.Before receiving her commission, Yatskikh also took the oath to become a naturalized United States citizen.In addition to being a platoon leader, Yatskikh serves as a convoy commander twice a week, ensuring her crews get the needed safety and threat assessment trainings and that the vehicles are ready to rumble over Kabul’s streets.Although she admits to having some butterflies before heading out on a convoy, she overcomes those anxieties knowing her soldiers and their expertise make the convoy run smoother.“I am used to going out now, but I do not want to become complacent,” she said. “I need to stay focused.”•••Jones’ platoon sergeant is Sgt. 1st Class Heather Harris of Truckee. Barely into her 30s, Harris deployed three times to Iraq, but this is her first assignment to Afghanistan.
Harris joined the military more than 10 years ago, two days after 9/11. Since that time she has periodically worked full time for the Nevada Army National Guard, and prior to the Afghanistan deployment, she worked with training.As the platoon sergeant, she ensures soldiers meet their training objectives, and she sets forth additional training for the road as both an assistant convoy commander and truck commander.“A leadership role is a lot different in a combat zone,” she pointed out. “There is more responsibility. I go out on convoys. I want to go where the fight is.” As platoon leader, Harris said she wants to see if the soldiers are focused on their convoy missions; and to see how they deal with situations that may crop up along the route.
Harris figures her missions in Iraq have provided an extensive wealth of knowledge in dealing with soldiers who have deployed for the first time.Harris said she is always a little nervous when going out on a convoy.“If you do not fear, then you may lead soldiers into more risk,” she said.Likewise Sgt. 1st Class John Dube also ensures the soldiers receive their training in the second platoon.Dube, who grew up in Carson City and moved to Douglas County 20 years ago, is serving his second deployment. The first overseas trip to Iraq also with the 593rd.“I was on the road there, but here, I’m on the road a little bit, but I mostly do admin (administration work),” he said.A full-time maintenance worker for the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City, Dube said Iraq’s infrastructure was much better, especially with better built highways.
“These are two totally different places,” he said. Dube has also seen the Nevada Guard in action in Europe. Dube, a veteran of 21 years, served in the 150th Maintenance Company in Carson City as a track and light-wheel mechanic. The unit performed three annual trainings in Germany and two more in Italy.