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Local Guardsmen deserve our admirationPosted Monday, February 27, 2012, at 2:10 PM
The reality of combat in a far away war zone will soon again hit home in the Greene County community.
The Linton-based Indiana National Guard Company A, 1-151st Combat Team, known as The Avengers, is ramping up for mobilization for the third time since 2003 -- this time to Afghanistan.
The company will depart in July for pre-moibilization training at Camp Atterbury at Edinburgh, then head to their mission assignment with "boots on the ground" expected in October.
On Saturday morning, Company A conducted a change of command ceremony at the Linton armory -- welcoming First Lt. Adam Balbach as the new commander.
As the Guardsmen lined up for the event, I looked at the faces of the soldiers and was immediately struck by the youthful age of this unit.
Balbach is just 28.
The brave men are heading off as part of deployment of the 1-151 battalion that was selected for an Afghanistan mission doing provincial reconstruction team security (PRT).
There are 11 PRTs stationed all over Afghanistan that 1-151 will be operating in.
The provincial reconstruction team is a joint venture of the Army, Air Force and Navy and some State Department personnel that will make assessments in different provinces in terms of projects and governance assistance and training them how to do governance or do projects which will improve infrastructure or security.
The 1-151 soldiers will be providing the security for each one of those reconstruction teams.
It's a dangerous job in a dangerous combat zone, and 1-151st Combat Team Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Eric Derue used the change of command ceremony as an opportunity to talk face-to-face with his Company A soldiers.
"It's important for them (the company) to hear the commander's intent from the senior commander," Derue said. "I do like to be talk to them so they truly do understand what the focus is."
There are three things that are his focus area particularly -- driving skills, physical training and weapon skills.
"A lot of the vehicles are top heavy and roller-overs have taken a lot of our soldiers lives over the years," he said. "It was not like it was flagrant soldier driver error, it was just unfamiliarity with the nature of the vehicles."
He also noted that these soldiers will need to be physically fit before they deploy to endure the rigors of high altitude on-the-ground missions -- sometimes in mountainous areas.
The company will need to be familiar with a variety of small arms from a defensive and offensive stature.
Derue said the young age of Company A as a unit is not a deterrent, in his eyes, as they are heading for the next overseas mission.
"By in large the force that we recruit today is a much more intelligent force. They all have to have high school diplomas. Their (test) line scores are significantly higher than they were not too many years ago. We've asked so much of our reserve component and National Guard. We've done several state emergency statures for tornados and floods. They may be young, but they have more experience than what my older guys from 20 years ago ever did.
"It is a young force, but I was amazed on our last deployment by the amount of patience, perseverance and intellect that our young E-4s and our young specialists applied," he said. "That gunner who is up on a truant is making a split-second decision and we're putting an 18 to 22 year old E-4 up there. There was not one instance (in the last deployment) when that guy made a bad decision. The age is not a concern to me as long as we train them effectively, they are going to do exactly what they are trained to do."
The battalion commander said about 550 Guardsmen from neighboring units in Washington, Vincennes, Martinsville, Jasper, Winchester, and Evansville will join the Linton unit for the upcoming deployment.
About 130 Company A soldiers will deploy.
Linton's Alpha Company was last mobilized in early December 2007 and arrived in Iraq in February 2008 after training exercises at Camp Atterbury and Fort Stewart, Ga.
Alpha Company returned back to Indiana in late November 2009, the day after Thanksgiving.
The Linton Guard unit was previously deployed in Iraq for 13 months in 2003.
Look for a billboard with a giant-sized photo of Company A to go up soon in the area -- just like the last deployment. The photo was taken on Saturday.
If you want to help sponsor the billboard contact Margaret Amos at the Linton Armory by calling 847-9894.
These guys deserve our admiration for answering their call to duty as well as our sincere prayers for a safe return to our community.
Nick is the assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be contacted by telephone at 847-4487 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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