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Story Last modified at 10:40 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Members of Guard wing packing for Afghanistan
Former Army MP commander to advise Afghan police chief

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

photo:Military

Public Affairs Members of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing board one of two C-130s prior to departure from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson June 1 to begin a three-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Photo by Maj. Guy Hayes, Alaska National Guard

Lt. Col. David M. Oberlander is moving from keeping the peace on an Alaska military base to helping an ally forge the peace in a country at war.

The commander of the U.S. Army military police battalion at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson flew out June 2 to spend a year advising the Afghan National Police Chief in Kabul.

The deployment marks the first time Oberlander will deploy to Afghanistan since entering the military in 1983.

"One, it's Afghanistan and I haven't been there yet. Two, I joined the Army to serve my country and it's my turn to go down and deploy again," Oberlander said, ticking off the reasons he chose to put in for the high-level appointment.

Three, he continued, his background working with police in Iraq and Saudi Arabia qualifies him for the job.

"I've got a lot of middle eastern experience understanding the culture and working with the culture," he said.

Oberlander isn't the only Alaska-based member of the military going over to Afghanistan this month. Some 140 members of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing are also headed there.

The first two of five C-130s left June 1 for a three-month deployment. The 140 are drawn primarily from three of the 176th Wing's component units: the 144th Airlift Squadron; the 176th Maintenance Squadron; and the 176th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

The 144th operates the C-130s. In Afghanistan, they will be performing intra-theater tactical airlift and airdrops of personnel, equipment and supplies, according to the Guard. The two maintenance units work together to keep the 144th's planes in peak operating condition. The deployment will also include a few support personnel drawn from other units.

As all readied to deploy last week, the news from Kabul was troubling.

photo:Military

Lt. Col. David M. Oberlander, departing commander of the 793rd Military Police Battalion at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, is deploying to Afghanistan to serve as senior advisor to the Afghan National Police Chief in Kabul.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army

A bombing in a crowded neighborhood market the evening of May 31 killed one civilian and hurt five others. Afghan president Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, announced from the presidential palace in the city that he would no longer allow NATO airstrikes on houses after a strike killed a group of children and women in southern Helmand province, the Associated Press reported.

Oberlander, asked how circumstances in the city will affect his job, said he doesn't yet know exactly what his job will be. He'll receive more information when he arrives at Georgia's Fort Benning, he said, but won't know for certain what his time in Kabul will involve until he gets on the ground.The guy he's replacing will take him around after he arrives, Oberlander said. He didn't sound too worried.

Oberlander's military career might explain his calm: Platoon leader, 101st Military Police Company; commander of an MP unit at the Sierra Army Depot in California; and provost marshal of a training mission to Saudi Arabia. He served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 as task-force commander training Iraqi police.

"It was the military police side but more on the combatant side," he said.

But one of his proudest accomplishments, Oberlander said, was bringing the Arctic Military Police Battalion back to American soil from Germany in 2010. The 793rd was activated on May 16, seven months early, he said.

Members of the 164th MP Company – under Oberlander's command at the time – deployed March 14 to Afghanistan. Oberlander said he hopes he gets to visit with those MPs but wasn't sure he'd get the chance.

"I know most of the soldiers in the unit ... you have to," he said. "They're kind of like your family. You spend a lot of time with them. You build respect both ways. They respect you if you get to know them and you respect them, of course, if you know them better."

Four members of the 164th died June 4 (see story, this page), several days after Oberlander spoke to the Star.

Oberlander's replacement as commander of the 793rd is Lt. Col. Stephen E. Gabavics. He assumed command during a ceremony on Pershing Field on May 26.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 8, 2011.