There are no more training tomorrows for more than 160 S.C. Army National Guard soldiers from the Rock Hill armory.
The families are at home, nervous.
The hugs are a memory.
Today, the 178th Combat Engineers are heading to war.
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“Task Force Panther” is set to leave Fort Bliss in Texas for Afghanistan, where the soldiers will be stationed near the Pakistan border.
They will be performing some of the most dangerous engineering, construction, security and convoy safety duties in the country.
The 178th spent weeks in training – including the last month in Texas and New Mexico – after the soldiers left Rock Hill July 9.
They trained in weapons, convoy operations, dealing with civilians and enemy prisoners of war, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) driver training, cultural awareness and combat lifesaving, according to Fort Bliss officials.
“The desert here, the altitude, the heat, prepared the soldiers for some of the conditions we will be required to handle in Afghanistan,” the unit’s commanding officer, Col. Corol Dobson, said in a telephone interview Friday. “We have met all the gates, the requirements, and we are ready.
“The people at home, they can be sure we are prepared to do all we have to do.”
The military is all about orders and duty. Dobson will carry a piece of paper to Afghanistan and present it to a commanding officer whose place Dobson will take.
At that moment in Afghanistan, the 178th will be officially in combat.
The deployment is the first for about half the unit’s soldiers, but some have been deployed before to Iraq, Afghanistan or both. Many of the unit’s non-commissioned officers and command staff, including Dobson, have been deployed to Afghanistan before.
The top enlisted man for the unit, Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Medlin, said Friday by telephone that the 178th soldiers are prepared to handle any duties assigned to them.
“South Carolina, York County and Rock Hill can be very proud of this unit, which right now is at its strongest, most ready in its history,” said Medlin, who was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. “The support of the community for this unit has always been great.
“I would ask that people back home don’t forget those families we had to leave.”
The 178th’s Family Readiness Group assists families with basic needs and support during deployments.
A former member of the unit who served in Iraq, Gary Knight of Indian Land, has along with his wife created an “Adopt-A-Soldier” care package program to match businesses and other sponsors with each of the 168 soldiers.
The Knights will send packages periodically to the unit in Afghanistan. Each sponsorship is $25.
In just the last few days on the Adopt-A-Soldier Facebook page, Knight has secured more than 60 sponsors with the goal of 168 – one for each soldier.
“This is regular people who want to make sure that every one of those soldiers has a package,” Knight said. “I have been there and I know that after a few weeks, all the things you brought with you are gone.
“There is nothing like a package from home, from a community that loves you.”
The deployment comes at a time when danger in Afghanistan is not just a threat but very real.
In June, three S.C. Army National Guard soldiers from the Timmonsville unit were killed and several others were wounded in a suicide bombing.
The families at home will have periods of anguish, yet it is those soldiers who soon will be in a place that is the most dangerous on earth. Those soldiers – 168 men and women mainly from York and Chester and Lancaster counties – will be there for nine months.
In a place that is desert and dirt and rocks. And bullets and bombs.
Even with all the training the soldiers have completed, and the readiness that top command staff said is at an all-time high, there is one thing the unit hopes to get each day from home that is not in any care package.
“We appreciate every prayer we can get,” said Medlin.
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