19th Special Forces Group

Returns from Service in Philippines

 

Written by Shad West

Published May 15, 2007

 

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A wife embraces her husband warmly after being separated for nearly a year.

Photo by Shad West

A wife embraces her husband warmly after

 being separated for nearly a year.

SALT LAKE CITY— Nearly 100 members of Utah’s Special Forces returned from fighting the Global War on Terror in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from a unique location.

 

The Soldiers of First Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), spent nearly a year in the Philippines where they provided training and support to Filipino military forces in combating terrorist activities in various locations throughout the Philippines.

 

The 1-19th, as the unit is known, was mostly stationed on the island of Jolo in the Sulu province, a lawless region of the southern Philippines where insurgency and terrorism have reigned for years.

 

Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said his troops focused mostly on Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist and separatist group that is linked to al-Qaida and is known for bombings and kidnappings.

 

"There are a lot of different groups. It's difficult to describe, but they're like families that operate in different areas," Wood told Utah media outlets during an impromptu press conference.

 

The United States deployed soldiers to the Philippines after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Wood said much of his unit's activities centered on training Philippine armed forces in bomb detection, including things such as vehicle checkpoints and searches.

 

"We saw a number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) discovered before they were detonated, saving a tremendous number of lives. Many of my Soldiers were awarded with Philippine defense ribbons for their work over there," Wood said.

 

Lt. Col. Andrew Wood hugs a family member waiting to greet him at the SLC airport.

Photo by Shad West

Lt. Col. Andrew Wood hugs a family member

waiting to greet him at the SLC airport.

The Special Forces group helped combat terrorism in the Philippines, without casualties. It was a dangerous and grueling mission.

  

"This area is being used as a transitional route for terrorism actually into the United States and other parts of the world,” Wood said. “So getting a handle on what's going on there is very important."

 

Their mission was similar to, and sometimes just as dangerous as, the missions of Soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

"There is a large terrorist faction over there that we had to deal with, Chief Warrant Officer John Wester said.  “In fact, the bulk of the 9/11 planning was done over in the Philippines."

 

Soldiers were welcomed at Salt Lake International Airport, where many families were allowed to greet their loved ones at the arrival gates thanks to a coordinated effort between the Transportation Safety Administration and the Utah National Guard.

 

Other family members and members of the Guard waited just outside the security barrier with signs, balloons and open arms.

 

This was the 1-19th's second deployment as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit had a similar mission from 2003-04 in southern and eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.

 

 

Daughters of a Special Forces member show their support in stylish camouflage sundresses.

Photo by Shad West

Daughters of a Special Forces member show their

support in stylish camouflage sundresses.