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A brigade command sergeant major and two officers were killed Aug. 8 in a deadly suicide bomb attack that also claimed the life of an American civilian.
Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, was the senior enlisted soldier for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, of Fort Carson, Colo., and the first command sergeant major to be killed in combat in Afghanistan, according to Army Times records.
The brigade deployed in March to Afghanistan's Regional Command-East and is serving along the Pakistani border, in Afghanistan's Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman and Nuristan provinces.
Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, the brigade's fire support coordinator, and Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38, of the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Carson, were killed, as was Ragaei Abdelfattah, who was on his second voluntary tour with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Kennedy joined the unit late and had been in Afghanistan only three weeks.
The brigade commander, Col. James J. Mingus, was present during the attack but was unharmed, despite initial media reports that he was badly wounded, brigade spokesman Maj. Christopher Thomas wrote on the unit's Facebook page.
"There were, however, other leaders and soldiers harmed in the attack, which is a favored [tactic, technique and procedure] of an enemy who cares little about who he harms in the pursuit of his goals," Thomas wrote.
No further information was available as of Aug. 10 about how many soldiers were wounded or the nature of their wounds.
The attack in Asadabad, the capitol of Kunar province, was one in a string of recent deadly attacks across the country. On Aug. 10, at least six service members were killed, including three by a man wearing an Afghan uniform. The day before the suicide bomber struck, another service member was killed when two individuals wearing Afghan National Army uniforms turned their weapons against coalition troops in eastern Afghanistan.
However, the attack in Asadabad stands out because of the loss of Griffin, who as a brigade command sergeant major was half of the unit's command team and responsible for the welfare of the 3,500 soldiers in the brigade.
The last time a command sergeant major was killed in combat was Nov. 21, 2006, when one died from injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq, according to Army Times records.
Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 21 Army E-9s have died; 14 of them were command sergeants major. Of the CSMs, seven died from non-combat related injuries.
In Afghanistan, in addition to Griffin, two other command sergeants major have died but from non-combat related causes, according to Army Times records.
Griffin joined the Army in 1988 and had served three deployments to Iraq, one to the Balkans, and a tour in Kuwait before deploying to Afghanistan in March.
Griffin was a true professional, said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Deliberti, who has known Griffin for 14 years and is now the equal opportunity advisor for 4th BCT.
"He was not only a great mentor but an outstanding [noncommissioned officer], somebody I looked up to for his professionalism," Deliberti said. "He's a great man. I'm honored that me and him were actually friends."
Griffin and Deliberti first met when both were assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, back when the regiment was based at Fort Carson. This was the second time the men were assigned to the same unit, and this time Griffin was Deliberti's first line supervisor.
"I'd go in [his office] and me and him would just sit there and talk for 30 to 40 minutes," Deliberti said. "He was a tanker just like I was. He pushed me. He'd always tell me to be the NCO you know you can be. His words just stick in my head. It's hard right now, but I keep driving through because I know he'd be telling me, 'Sgt. D, keep pushing.'"
Griffin made it a habit to regularly visit his soldiers and check on them, Deliberti said.
"There isn't a [forward operating base] or [combat outpost] or anything we have in our sector that he didn't go to," Deliberti said. "Honestly, I don't know if he ever did [sleep]. He had a room, but I never saw him go to it."
The soldiers in the brigade are taking Griffin's death — and the loss of the others — hard, Deliberti said.
"The last few days, there have been a lot of droopy heads, sad, no joking around," he said. "It took a big toll on our unit, and with my job, I try to be there for the soldiers. I try to comfort them, I try to talk to them."
Deliberti, who is on his fourth deployment, said he's still trying to cope with the loss of his friend.
"I'm trying to keep my head in the game and do my job," he said. "When I go to the chow hall I would see him with his cup of iced tea. Now I sit in the chow hall and I expect him to come in … It's going to take a while for this unit to get over losing a person like him."
Deliberti said he wants others to know Griffin was what an Army command sergeant major should be.
"He was hard but he was fair," he said. "He was a guy who had feelings. He loved his soldiers. He loved his job and his family."
Retired Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the former commander of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Regional Command-East in 2008, said it was "absolutely critical" that coalition commanders and their civilian counterparts continue to engage Afghan leaders face-to-face, while addressing the security risk.
"If we abandon those types of admittedly risky meetings, I don't believe we have any hope of success outside of Afghanistan, especially outside of the major cities," Schloesser said.
Judging by the makeup of the group, Schloesser speculated that the meeting was with a high-level provincial government official or a group of Afghan elders. In such a group, the command team's personal security detail was not likely to have been extensive.
As with the 2009 suicide attack at FOB Chapman that killed seven CIA agents, there may be a calculated decision to forgo pat-downs and physical security checks to demonstrate trust, he said.
However, coalition forces must insist on tighter security for such meetings now, he said, and said human intelligence is always vital.
"In this case, obviously, human intelligence failed, and it's extremely hard to get advance notice of the intents of these types of folks," he said. "It's not clear whether this was an insider or an insurgent who was able to insert themselves into this."
Such engagements are of particular value in Kunar province, a region of strategic and operational importance due to its proximity to some of the most trafficked routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the potential for conflict or cooperation with Pakistani forces, and the related political sensitivities.
"There's no doubt that a brigade combat team assigned to that area has very difficult geography," Schloesser said. "If you're looking for a extremely difficult area to be placed in charge of, Kunar is certainly one."
A dispatch posted by Mingus and Griffin to the Mountain Warriors' website in May said the brigade's role in eastern Afghanistan was to aid the transition to Afghan security forces.
The message says the brigade was at a "crucial point in the fight," as Afghan forces are poised to take the lead.
In southern Kunar, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, "Lethal Warriors," were working with Afghan forces to fight the enemy in their support zones along the Kunar river valley. The unit is on FOB Michigan, fewer than 25 miles from Asadabad.
In northern Kunar and southern Nuristan, the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, "Red Warriors," were doing the same with their partnered security forces, "in some of the most remote and challenging terrain in the world."
Just days before the attack, Pakistani and U.S. officials met to discuss joint counterterrorism campaigns that would target the Haqqani militant group along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
During the high-level meetings, Pakistani officials reportedly asked the U.S. to target Pakistani Taliban operatives based in Nuristan and Kunar provinces, who Pakistan says have carried out dozens of cross-border attacks against its soldiers.
In 2011, the U.S. military began scaling back its operations in remote parts of Nuristan and Kunar to focus on southern Afghanistan as part of its population-centric counterinsurgency strategy.
The Taliban, al-Qaida, and associated networks have used the Kunar border to "project lethal aid" into the Pech river valley following the coalition force realignment, according to a Defense Department report published in April.
Taliban senior leaders in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan increased coordination for attacks against ANSF-ISAF fixed sites and patrols, the report states.