Updates From Afghanistan

In January 2012, members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team “Fury”, 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, N.C., departed for Southern Afghanistan. Among the close to 4,000 paratroopers were three IUP alumni. Major Aaron Felter ’01, M’11, Captain Mark Collins ’06, and Lieutenant Megan McFarling ’11 are all currently serving together as part of a partnered task force consisting of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), Afghan Civil Order Police, Afghan Uniformed Police, and Afghan Local Police. Their eight-month-long deployment focuses on establishing security to an area that is heavily influenced by foreign fighters from Pakistan and to help support a legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

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Captain Mark Collins, Major Aaron Felter, and Lieutenant Megan McFarling displaying the IUP pennant

From left: Captain Mark Collins, Major Aaron Felter, Lieutenant Megan McFarling

Captain Collins, of Easton, Pa., studied Political Science, Economics, and Criminology while at IUP and went on to earn his Master of Public Policy degree at Georgetown University, where he enrolled in ROTC. He currently serves as the 2-321 Airborne Field Artillery Battalion Logistics Officer (S4), supporting over 460 paratroopers and 500 Afghan National Security Forces spread over two districts. Captain Collins coordinated and supervised the fielding of over $18,000,000 worth of equipment throughout Task Force Professional, augmenting the $152,000,000 of theater-provided equipment and organizational equipment to ensure Task Force Professional maintained an advantage over the enemy. Captain Collins simultaneously partnered with the Afghan National Army’s 4th Kandak logistics officer to fortify their relationship and assist his partner in requesting logistical support from the ANA Kandak. Captain Collins’ ability to teach, coach, and mentor his ANA partner resulted in the 4th Kandak routinely exercising and exhausting their logistical support channels prior to requesting assistance from the U.S., which was a stark difference from when Task Force Professional arrived.

Captain Collins credits his IUP education with his ability to take a multifaceted approach to the multiple, unique situations he has encountered during his two deployments to Afghanistan. He prides himself on his IUP education, since his triple major enabled him to view an issue from three points of view for a more holistic approach. Additionally, his extracurricular activities (SGA, Co-Op Board, IUP Ambassadors, and Board of Governors) honed his ability to solicit information and ideas from multiple sources to make more informed decisions as well as work with people with varying backgrounds and beliefs. As a young platoon leader in Western Afghanistan, he had to quickly partner with coalition forces from Italy and Spain in conjunction with the ANSF to traverse unforgiving terrain with hostile enemies emplacing IEDs and shooting small arms at the coalition forces. On many occasions, he had to quickly assess a situation, generate courses of action with input from his troops, coalition, and ANSF partners, and make a decision which often impacted the lived of the 46 paratroopers in his platoon. Instead of freezing in times of high stress, he used his foundation from IUP to enable his platoon to accomplish their mission. Despite being in a different region of Afghanistan with a different position this deployment, he still draws on his skills honed at IUP on a daily basis.

Lieutenant McFarling, of Hazleton, Pa., studied Finance while at IUP. Her current duty position is the Brigade Medical Supply officer. Her function is to serve nearly 4,000 troopers across a battle space a little over the size of Rhode Island by ensuring that medical supplies reach the numerous aid stations set up at forward operating bases. She routinely escorts convoys of life-saving medical equipment along Highway 1, the main artery that travels east toward Kandahar. Megan utilizes her IUP experience of attending the MANage Business Competition with our sister school, PESIT, in Bangalore, India, during her senior year while interacting with the local nationalists in Afghanistan. The trip was her first time in Asia and provided insight with interacting with people of different countries, especially those who do not speak the same language. While competing in the MANage Competition, LT McFarling won the category of Best Overall Manager. She attributes the win to her leadership experience in the IUP ROTC BN and during her numerous leadership roles in school clubs, which included PBL, Alpha Xi Delta, and Phi Gamma Nu. Her college experience is able to help her make life-saving decisions during daily operations in Afghanistan.

Major Felter, of Pittsburgh, Pa., earned his bachelor’s and graduate degree in Criminology from IUP a decade apart. His current duty position is the Battalion Operations Officer (S3) for 2-321 Airborne Field Artillery. He is responsible for the operational planning for 400 paratroopers that must secure over 360 square kilometers, for approximately 9,000 civilians, and for training a local police force, building community resiliency, and helping local leaders work with higher levels of district government.

He left IUP in April 2011 after serving as an assistant professor of Military Science. His intent in teaching ROTC at IUP was to ensure new lieutenants entering the Army had high standards and were able to adapt under stressful situations. He credits his own experience at IUP during his undergraduate years for developing skill sets to “think outside the box”—something he used as a lieutenant in Iraq 2003–2004.

Lieutenant McFarling was a cadet at IUP for three years while Major Felter instructed there. “The IUP ROTC Department has the unique experience of having cadets become leaders that eventually may cross path with their former cadre” Major Felter said. He knew when teaching ROTC that one day a cadet he taught may be leading America’s sons and daughters inside his unit. This statement holds significant gravity, as one of his former cadets now leads convoys of over 40 paratroopers through areas that can be peaceful in one instant and lethal the next.

Major Felter credits IUP alumni like Mark and Megan for choosing to serve as a superior international liaison for what IUP can produce. Many students complete study abroad and bring accolades to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Graduates of the almost 2,000 Army officers produced from IUP have served in nearly every country around the world, conducted humanitarian assistance to those in need without hesitation, and, over the past 11 years, deployed numerous times in support of the global war on terrorism. IUP alumni everywhere should be proud in knowing their alma mater is serving internationally.

Members of the Fury Brigade will start to redeploy in the early fall, completing their successful tour as part of Operation Enduring Freedom XII. Major Felter, Captain Collins, and Lieutenant McFarling would like to thank the Alumni Association for sending the IUP pennant in the photograph. It was flown over Forward Operation Base Azizzullah on the Fourth of July, 2012, and they will return it to IUP upon their return home.