FOB SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan – ‘We better die for something than live for nothing,’ this motto, claimed by a little known unit, has defined its soldier’s lives throughout numerous combat and peace-keeping operations.
“It means try to do your best and give everything for something,” said a team sergeant with the Eagle Five Contingent of the Albanian Special Operations Force.
This is the motto of the Albanian Special Forces. For many Eagle-V soldiers, like the team sergeant, it is not just a slogan or military history fact taught in school, it is part of their individual story. These soldiers were the first: the first class, the first unit, and the first to say this motto and learn its meaning.
It has been their guide through their first mission in Afghanistan as part of Eagle-I to their present day mission where they work with coalition forces and their Afghan partners to improve security and governance.
The team sergeant learned it is not enough to be skilled and tough. Instead, soldiers must live this motto and know and demonstrate compassion for the people they protect, their partners and even the enemy. He believes they cannot live life like an ‘island.’
“You must be very well trained and prepared psychologically and physically,” the team sergeant said. “You must know when to use a weapon, when to use a pen and when to be human. You must use the mind before power.”
He has used this knowledge, training and preparation through two deployments in Iraq and four in Afghanistan.
“Here we are part of the U.S. Our missions are the same,” he said. “We want to raise the level of security and improve the [local] people’s feelings of safety, to show we are here to help them and not fight them. This is our job, the job of the Soldier, to serve everywhere our country needs us to.”
Throughout their short history, the ALBSOF members have fought and trained alongside Turkish and American forces. They continue this service as part of an American-led task force in Kandahar province.
According to Lt. Col. David Soika, commander of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry regiment, there is a lineage between the two forces and almost an immediate friendship. For Soika, the ALBSOF’s knowledge of the area coupled with skills normally not found in infantry or cavalry units has helped his soldiers learn and understand the unique issues facing the area.
“It lends a lot of credence to what they [ALBSOF] are doing here. It’s not like they have to figure out what’s going on here. [For] some it’s their third time here, it helps a lot,” said Soika. “It allows us to understand problems sets that have stemmed back two and a half years. So when we need some historical reference or some idea why certain things are the way they are we can reach all the way back.”
The ALBSOF, who are skilled in counter-terrorism and personnel security tactics often augment or reinforce units and the specialized teams operating in the area.
“Their security capability teaches us and allows us to understand the security situation now that we are in less of a traditional role as infantry men,” said Soika. “They have passed these skills on to the men. It allows us additional tools in the bag to leverage.”
Although the ALBSOF’s history in and knowledge of Afghanistan may seem lengthy, they are relatively young in age. Their first unit was created Oct. 16, 1998. Soika, along with Lt. Col. Ekland Dauti, commander of Contingent Eagle-V, their respective commands and other coalition forces recently gathered to recognize the unit’s birthday and contributions.
“What is interesting and puts things into perspective is that not every military profession is as old as ours,” Soika said. “Lt. Col. Dauti can actually see what it was like 14 years ago when his unit just started and how they progressed to all the way to where they are up to now.”
Dauti was also member of the first class and recalled the hardships in developing their first SF soldiers into the Direct Action Company, the first Albanian military unit to deploy to Afghanistan.
“We had to work very hard to build this unit,” Dauti said. “Most of the guys of the Direct Action Company were part of Eagle-I and this is their work from their first mission. Our soldiers learned a lot from the first deployment. [We learned] to bring all our experience to each duty. It all came from our sacrifice.”
Displayed on the wooden walls of their operation center is their motto, a reminder of the sacrifice, service and commitment to mission soldiers make when joining their ranks.
According to Dauti their motto represents the courage and risk soldiers take to achieve their end state goals.
“It is the reason that we are here, to accomplish and fulfill our mission in cooperation with the U.S. and to provide for the Afghan community, peace, security, stability and development,” Dauti said. “It is part of the environment we operate in. We will risk our life for another life.”
Even though this risk may be a soldier’s reality, like most leaders, Dauti remains committed to ensuring the soldiers return home safely.