BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – When members of the 52nd Ordnance Group (EOD) return to Fort Campbell, KY, after serving eight months as Combined Joint Task Force Paladin here, most will do so as a unit and be met by a large group of family, friends and fellow soldiers waiting to welcome them home.
For Paladin members like Maj. Mike Ricciardi, the welcome home will be just as heartfelt, but a little more low key. Soldiers and civilians like Ricciardi who are deployed under the Army's Worldwide Individual Augmentation System, or WIAS, deploy as individuals as opposed to with their unit, and return home the same way.
January 5, 2014 - U.S. Army Maj. Michael Ricciardi, an explosive ordnance disposal officer assigned to the 21st Theater Sustainment Command at Kaiserslautern, Germany, deployed to Afghanistan under the Worldwide Individual Augmentation System to work with Combined Joint Task Force Paladin. (Photo by Ed Drohan, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin Public Affairs)
Just under half of the military members assigned to CJTF Paladin were deployed under the WIAS program, to include Ricciardi, an explosive ordnance disposal and logistics officer deployed from the 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command at Kaiserslautern, Germany. He is currently working at Bagram with the 242nd Ordnance Battalion (EOD) which has assumed responsibility for Paladin's mission of providing EOD and counter improvised explosive device expertise and training to U.S., coalition and Afghan National Security Forces throughout the theater of operations.
WIAS is the primary method for requesting military and civilian augmentation for contingency operations, recurring operations and exercises. For Paladin, it's used to augment the unit with personnel who have qualifications either not inherent or not currently available in the deploying unit, said Lt. Col. Christopher Cox, CJTF Paladin chief of staff.
For Ricciardi, this deployment started with a requirement from U.S. Army Forces Command for an EOD qualified officer. The logistics branch, under which EOD officers fall, then identified him to fill the position. Ricciardi deployed to Afghanistan in March to fill the identified position.
While he just finished serving as the Joint Task Force J3 for the 184th Ordnance Battalion (EOD) and battalion forward tactical command post (TAC) officer in charge for the 242nd at Bagram, he's also worked in several other positions in Paladin, to include working with Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and coalition units to include the British, Australians, Czech and Slovak EOD both at Bagram and at Kandahar. In each capacity, efforts were focused on balancing combat operations and Train Advise and Assist (TAA) advisory operations with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). He has two previous combat deployments to Iraq as an EOD officer in which he deployed with his unit and said there are pluses and minuses involved in both types of deployment.
“What I missed (in deploying as a WIAS augmentee) is the mission specific individual training and team building tasks and exercises that you go through in the buildup for deployment with your unit,” Ricciardi said. “Those are the mission set specific individual and collective tasks you put into use after you deploy.”
On the positive side, he has been able to work with various units and in various positions since joining Paladin.
“I've been able to work with three different battalions and both the Army and Navy in Paladin,” Ricciardi explained. The Navy's Mobile Explosive Ordnance Unit 2 was responsible for CJTF Paladin operations before the 52nd OD (EOD) took over in May. “You have to look at it as an opportunity. When you deploy like this, teams come and go while you remain behind. You have to inject yourself into the team.”
Ricciardi suggested that anybody who will be deploying under WIAS contact the unit they'll be assigned to before leaving home station to help determine what they'll be doing when they arrive.
“When you get there you need to keep your game face on,” he added. “Whatever way you can make yourself useful is value added.”
Ricciardi is now in “double digits” and will be returning to Germany soon for his more personal homecoming, but he does so knowing he made an important contribution to the CJTF Paladin mission, both as an individual augmentee and as part of the Paladin team.
By Ed Drohan
Combined Joint Task Force Paladin Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
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