The 495th Returns from Afghanistan

By Beacon Staff

They worked through a long, hot 11 months, but now Kalispell’s 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion is back in the United States after a successful deployment in Afghanistan.

“We were definitely given a big task,” Specialist Michael Bleick of Kalispell said in a Monday morning interview from Fort Hood, Texas. “As far as the overall mission, we blew it out of the water.”

The 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion deployed in November last year, when more than 60 Montana Army National Guard soldiers left for Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 6 for six weeks of training and then a year in Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The soldiers provided sustainment and logistical command support to the theater of operation, or, as they like to say, “the muscle behind the punch.” This meant the Kalispell battalion went into Kandahar and took over operations, commanding roughly 1,600 soldiers and civilians and overseeing the support operations for American troops in southern Afghanistan.

The 495th returned to the United States on Sept. 15.

Bleick, 22, said when they arrived in Afghanistan, his team’s role was to keep 19,000 troops supplied with gear and essentials.

“We were very busy,” Bleick said.

Before he left for deployment, Bleick was focused on training and worked odd jobs in the Flathead. He’s looking forward to getting back home, especially to meet his 2-month-old son, Braxton, who he’s previously only seen through online video chats.
“It’s good to be home,” he said.

Maj. Chris Cusker, 48, of Somers echoed Bleick’s excitement at being back in the states, saying he is looking forward to returning to Montana to see his wife, Sue, and his son, Cody.

Cusker’s role in Afghanistan was that of special operations officer, working in part in supply support activity (SSA) at a huge warehouse serving the largest tactical SSA in the U.S. Army.

His team also ran four transportation companies, Cusker said, which traveled collectively about 450,000 miles. Sending out these convoys was nerve-wracking, he said, because of the potential dangers lurking outside the wire.

“For all those miles on the road, we had minimal times where we were in contact with the enemy,” Cusker said. “A lot of it is just that stress of knowing that it’s out there all the time, especially for the younger guys and the transportation companies.”

One of the biggest stressors on the convoys was the erratic nature of Afghanistan drivers, he said. At times, convoys were unsure whether the drivers were simply in a hurry as they wove in and out of the military vehicles or if they were aggressive.

“A lot of what we had to do was make sure the gunners were trained to make the right decision,” Cusker said.

Cusker will come home to his job at Glacier High School, where he teaches special education. He is looking forward to watching his son play soccer, and hopes the snow falls heavy this winter for a solid ski season.

Bleick said the battalion received a lot of support from back home, including multiple care packages.

“We’re very thankful for their support,” Bleick said.

The 495th CSSB should be back in the Flathead in the near future, according to the National Guard.

This was the second deployment for the 495th, with the first occurring when the transportation battalion went to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

The 495th CSSB has history dating back to the militia in 1867 and the official creation of the National Guard in 1887. It was called into action for World War I and II, and again in 2003 and 2012.

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