After successfully completing a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan’s Kabul Province, the men and women of the Mobile-based Alabama National Guard’s 226th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade are finally back on American soil. Currently processing at Fort Hood, Texas, unit leaders expected to be home for Valentine’s Day.
The Guardsmen of the 226th MEB were responsible for the day-to-day operations of Camp Phoenix, their home base in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, as well as five smaller bases throughout Kabul Province. They also worked with Afghan leaders to improve the city’s infrastructure plus train local police and security forces.
Lt. Col. Ronald McBay, a Mobile attorney with nearly 28 years of service in the Alabama National Guard, served as the 226th MEB’s command judge advocate and senior legal advisor to the brigade commander. McBay and his team oversaw contract issues, reviewed local Afghans’ claims against the U.S. Government and provided legal services, including family law counseling to deployed troops in theater.
While serving in a support capacity not directly involved in combat operations, the 226th MEB did respond to several bombings and terror attacks, including the Jan. 17 bombing of a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul popular with expatriates, in which 21 people were killed. The Alabama Guardsmen helped secure the area, transport and care for the wounded and move victims’ bodies to the mortuary affairs section at Camp Phoenix.
McBay recalled another attack in Kabul on a compound occupied by civilian contractors to which the Alabama Guardsmen responded. After the initial detonation of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device breached an outer wall of the compound, insurgents attacked with suicide vests and small arms. Eight contractors were killed and others were wounded in the attack.
“Once that wall was breached and they couldn’t secure themselves … (we) had to secure the area and help transport the wounded and bodies back to Camp Phoenix,” McBay said. “We had to relocate all the contractors to Camp Phoenix and provide support until they could be resettled. Like any other deployment, it was 90 percent boredom and, for some folks, 10 percent terror. We had a few earn the Combat Action Badge, and that’s not necessarily common for the type of duty we were doing.”
Proud of their effort
Spec. Amanda Overstreet of Irvington deployed with the 226th MEB as a technical engineer, and served in a military police capacity, vetting local Afghans for security passes, badging and performing other security functions. She returns home with memories of long workdays, sometimes 15 hours at a stretch, and the worst imaginable daily commute traversing Kabul’s chaotic city streets.
“Take New York traffic and multiply that by 10,” Overstreet said. “There were no traffic lights, no stop signs. They could take a two-lane road and turn it into a five-lane road. It was crazy.”
Despite the challenges, Overstreet took her first deployment in stride. She plans to re-enlist and seek promotion through the Warrior Leader Course, an Army noncommissioned officer development program. Overstreet remains proud of her unit’s accomplishments in Afghanistan.
“From where we started [at Camp Phoenix], personally, in my work, we just rocked it,” said Overstreet. “We increased security by a good 50 percent. The 226th as a whole, we definitely helped with everything we wanted to accomplish over there: Starting the draw down, closing some of the bases out, and getting certain equipment to certain bases to increase security such as scanners and things of that nature.”
Command Provost Marshal Lt. Col. Douglas Parmenter, a lieutenant with the Mobile Police Department in civilian life, was on his second deployment to Kabul and was responsible for law and order, fire prevention and safety for all U.S. bases in Kabul. His work included working with Afghan partners to provide force protection technology for large gatherings, political events and meetings of local leaders.
“We kept the bases safe, we brought everyone back home,” Parmenter said. “A lot of the bases are a lot more secure because of the improvements and the things we did there. So we made it a better place for those who follow us.”
Parmenter says while he enjoyed meeting and interacting with our Afghan allies, he is eager to return to life in Mobile and to be reunited with his family.
“I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing the wife and kids,” Parmenter said. “Truthfully, I’ve missed the ability to go out. I went out almost everyday driving to different bases, and (I’m looking forward to) just being able to drive and not worry about things.”
Staying strong at home
Like many military spouses experiencing a loved one’s deployment for the first time, Julianne McBay worried about her husband, the lieutenant colonel. Despite daily video chats and her husband’s reassurances, Mrs. McBay’s fear caused sleepless nights, and made her daily routine of working and caring for the couple’s 2-year-old daughter challenging. After the first several weeks of the deployment, she stopped watching news reports and reading articles about the war, and turned to prayer to help get her through the days without her husband.
“I started thinking about the potential dangers. I got scared. I felt helpless,” Mrs. McBay said. “It’s not all rainbows and butterflies and missing him every second. There are times when you’re just mad. The roof is leaking, the kid is screaming and the dog ran off, and you’re thinking why did you agree to do this?
“But mostly we were like we always were. We laughed and we talked on the phone and told jokes and we were good.”
Now with her husband safely back in the United States and a joyful reunion just a few days away, Mrs. McBay says she wants her fellow Mobilians to know Americans are still serving and sacrificing on their behalf in Afghanistan.
“I would like more people to realize they’re still out there,” Mrs. McBay said. “They’re family men and they have careers but they do something extra and they do it because they believe in something bigger than themselves.”