30 in 412th head to Afghanistan ‘We’ve answered the call of duty and we’re prepared to do it again’

Published 11:30 am Monday, September 24, 2012

More than 30 members of the 412th Theater Engineer Command said farewell to friends and family Sunday as they prepared for deployment to Afghanistan.

“These soldiers are leaving their lives and families behind at great personal risk,” said Maj. Les Teague, headquarters commander for the 412th.

The group of 32 men and women shipped out for Fort Bliss, Texas, Sunday and will spend several weeks there before providing support roles in Afghanistan for nine months as part of the 23rd Detachment, said Lt. Col Victor Walton.

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“We’ve done this before,” he said. “We’ve answered the call of duty and we’re prepared to do it again.”

The soldiers came from as far away as Boston, Walton said. Three members of the 23rd Detachment already are at Fort Bliss, and more will follow in about a month, he said.

The troops will build roads, bridges and provide other strategic engineering roles, Walton said.

“It’s not a small mission, and we understand that,” Walton said.

Troops appear to grasp the gravity of the mission, and goodbyes were cheerful rather than tearful.

Fourteen members of Spc. Jermaine Washington’s family came out to say goodbye. The deployment to Afghanistan is the second for Washington, who is a Jackson police officer, and he expects to see a difference in the war-torn country when he arrives.

“I do believe we will have a great impact on how the Afghan public is receptive of us,” Washington said.

Washington’s grandfather, retired 1st Sgt. Arie Washington who won the Congressional Gold Medal, said military service has become a tradition in his family. Most of his children enlisted and served at some point, Arie Washington said.

“I don’t know what kept them in. I didn’t force them. There’s just something in their blood, I guess,” he said.

Fewer troops have been deploying to Afghanistan in recent years, but their role is still critical to supporting the nation, said Major Gen. William M. Buckler Jr., commander of the 412th. Many members of the 23rd detachment will be helping train Afghans to take over once all international forces leave the war-torn country, Buckler said.

“That’s important to our exit strategy, he said. “It’s a critical piece.”

President Barack Obama said Sept. 7 that more than 30,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the month, but still more than 60,000 U.S. troops remain, according to the Department of Defense. Most troops are now focused on training Afghans to fill the void once international troops withdraw. The war began Oct. 7, 2001.