FORT BENNING, Ga. — Although advise and assist missions are a relatively new term to the Army, the U.S. Army has been performing advisory roles for the past century to increase the capabilities and capacities of foreign militaries. 1st Sgt. Henning Jensen joined the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to continue advising foreign allies and provide readiness tools they can use to fight enemy forces.
Growing up, Jensen says he watched a lot of Vietnam movies and read many books about the Vietnam War. He spent many hours at the park playing ‘Soldier’ with his friends, and that’s when he realized that he wanted to be an infantryman, he said.
Jensen joined the Army at 17 years old in 1990 as an infantryman and went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic combat training and advanced individual training. From there, he went to Germany for his first duty station.
“When I got to Germany, we began training for deployment to Saudi Arabia. My unit deployed late 1990 in support of Operation Desert Storm,” Jensen said.
Shortly after Jensen got back from his deployment, his contract was over, and he joined the Army Reserves.
“I missed every day that I was not active duty,” he said. “When I found out there was an opportunity for me to go back, I talked to my wife about it and I enlisted in the active component again in 2005 as a company first sergeant for basic training.”
According to Jensen, the Army was pushing for transition teams to deploy to Iraq. The transition teams were 10-15 Soldier teams that trained local forces. He volunteered and that was the first time he got to go on a combat advisor deployment.
In 2007, Jensen went to eastern Baghdad and spent a year advising the Iraqi National Police while assigned to a Military Transition Team.
“We helped the national police make their systems better so that they can stand and fight against insurgency on their own,” Jensen said. “We ran weapons training, medical training and accompanied them on all the operations they did.”
At first, Jensen thought the deployment was going to consist of foot patrols and readiness training, but quickly found out that it was much more than that.
“A couple months into the deployment, we were conducting a foot patrol and we pushed past some barriers and noticed there was nobody out on the street,” Jensen said. “As we went looking for people, we were hit with a dismounted improvised explosive device. One of the national police in Iraq ended up passing away and as we were recovering his body, a sniper had us pinned so we had to maneuver against the sniper.”
After Jensen’s encounter with insurgents, he received a Purple Heart when a round from a foreign sniper rifle ricocheted off a pole and hit him in the face and shoulder.
Jensen took the lessons learned from the Iraq advising deployment and applied them during another advising deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
Chris Willis, deputy director for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, capability manager of the 1st SFAB at the Maneuver Center of Excellence on Fort Benning, and retired colonel, was Jensen’s commander during one of the advising deployments and recommended Jensen join the SFAB.
SFABs have replaced transition teams and allow the Army to reduce demand on conventional brigade combat teams over time for combat advising, increasing conventional forces’ readiness for current and emerging near-peer threats.
The 1st SFAB is the Army’s first brigade purposefully built to help combatant commanders accomplish theater security objectives by training, advising, assisting, accompanying and enabling allied and partnered indigenous security forces.
“I told 1st Sgt. Jensen that he’d be a viable candidate for the 1st SFAB because of his two previous advising deployments,” Willis said. “1st Sgt. Jensen always put himself in personal danger to make sure that both our team and the national police were provided proper security.”
Jensen said he really enjoyed his previous advising deployments because it’s a different side that the conventional Army doesn’t see. He was afforded the opportunity to build relationships with the Afghans and the Iraqis, experience the culture, and live out his childhood dream.
“It’s good to see the cohesion 1st SFAB is starting to build and see the quality of the noncommissioned officers and their command,” Jensen said.
Willis said the first thing a Soldier needs to have as an advisor is to be confident in his or her own warfighting function. The second thing is that the Soldier must be mature, knowing how to see things from the host nation’s security forces point of view.
“1st Sgt. Jensen is an extremely brave, mature and caring leader who showed it on more than one occasion,” Willis said.
Soldiers interested in joining an SFAB should contact their branch manager for more information.