Guard Soldiers Headed To Afghanistan Get Sendoff
10/30/09 5:50PM By Steve Zind  Download MP3
(Host) The largest deployment of the Vermont National Guard in the past 60 years got underway this week.
Today, nearly six hundred guard members left for Fort Polk, Louisiana.
They'll join several hundred who traveled there last weekend. VPR's Steve Zind reports on today's events.
(Dubie) "Good morning, mountain warriors." (Soldiers) "Good morning sir!"
(Zind) The day began with a ceremony officially marking the deployment. Members of Vermont's Congressional delegation offered thanks and encouragement and Adjutant General Michael Dubie passed the guard's battle flag to Colonel Will Roy, who will lead the task force that includes the Vermonters. Roy told the troops that their mission is clear: to train Afghan security forces.
In spite of recent concerns that the mission has changed to a more dangerous assignment as the strategy in Afghanistan is revised, Roy says it's always been the case that the Vermont soldiers would serve in the field alongside Afghan forces.
(Roy) "I think there might have been misunderstandings about what our mission was. Our mission is to train them on the job. Not in a garrison type environment, but wherever they are is where we are."
(Zind) Roy and a small contingent of Vermonters will go to Afghanistan ahead of the rest of the guard members. Among the soldiers leaving today was Captain Christopher McDonald of Essex. It's his second deployment and he says it helps to have done it before.
(McDonald) "You kind of know what you're getting into. I guess the first time you're oblivious to a lot of things. You know what you're getting into. You know the process, the routine. You know, it's the standard Army fare of stand in line, hurry up and wait a lot of times."
(Zind) About 60% of the nearly 1,500 guard members leaving Vermont have been deployed before. Kara Kitchen-Glodgett's husband Forrest is one of the guard commanders who left today. The couple and their two children live in Jericho. Kara Kitchen-Glodgett says there's a strong network in place to support guard families and she's learned not to be afraid to ask for help.
(Kitchen-Glodgett) "And so when people say, hey I'm here for you, give me a call or ‘if you ever need anything', I'm like ‘absolutely, I'm going to put you on my list', because I know there are times that I need different things, so I think reaching out to people or accepting help was something I really learned."
(Zind) Kitchen-Glodgett says there's a good chance her husband will return for the holidays before he goes to Afghanistan. The soldiers will have an eight day holiday break but the government isn't paying their way home. With airfares running high for the holiday season, there's concern not all the soldiers can afford the trip.
A fund has been established to raise money for airfares for guard members to fly home before they leave for Afghanistan early next year.
A final group of about 600 soldiers are scheduled to leave Vermont on Saturday.
For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.