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Leaving soon

By Staff | Apr 30, 2010

A town hall meeting was held Thursday night at Roosevelt Auditorium for the upcoming deployment of National Guard members to Afghanistan. A panel of officers, NCOs and civilians answered audience questions. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

If there’s anything to the saying, knowledge is power, Guard members, families and employers likely felt they had more control over their lives after a town hall meeting Thursday night.

Lt. Col. John Cunningham, battalion commander of the 194th Field Artillery of the Iowa Army National Guard, led off the town hall panel at Roosevelt Auditorium. The panel included both officers and NCOs and family readiness civilian personnel who answered questions about the deployment later this summer.

Cunningham said the 3,000 soldiers deployed from Iowa, with some from Nebraska, will be the largest Guard callup since World War II. Duties will range from artillery support to mentoring Afghan soldiers and police. Cunningham said mobilization could be late July or early August.

Cunningham offered an upbeat tone to the meeting. He said over the last 24 months the Guard has received more new equipment than during the last 20 years, including howitzers and trucks.

After the sendoff late July or early August, Guard members will train at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for 60 days followed by additional training at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, Calif. He said soldiers may receive a four-day pass before going to Afghanistan. The total deployment will be for one year.

The mission, said Cunningham, is “security force assistance through combined action.” That means the Guard will work with Afghan national security forces and police and help rebuild the Afghan infrastructure and economy.

Cunningham said soldiers will quite literally live with Afghan national security forces, both police and army – “eating with them, sleeping with them, having operations with them.”

While some soldiers will have modern facilities, those in forward operations can expect more austere living conditions.

While there is a potential for 15 days while “in-country” in Afghanistan, Cunningham said, “not every person is going to be able to take leave and come home.”

Cunningham said it was not known exactly where soldiers will be deployed. It could include the desert in the south; Kabul, which is at 7,000 feel elevation or places of even higher elevation.

He said soldiers can expect the support of the vast majority of the Afghan population.

“Probably 98 percent of the Afghans are just good, working people,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the operations goal is to put the Afghans in the lead and then assist them. “We kind of help them help themselves,” he said.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, audience members received a number of tips and advice.

Families were encouraged to work with their Family Readiness Group.

“The soldiers are going to be well-prepared for the mission we’re asking them to do,” Cunningham said.