As the withdrawal clock for most U.S. troops in Afghanistan ticks toward the year’s end, a team of Army Reserve soldiers from Las Vegas prepared to leave Sunday for training in Texas before heading to the war-torn country to support transportation of supplies and equipment in the coming months.
Families, friends, USO volunteers and leaders of the 948th Movement Control Team held a deployment ceremony for 15 of the 21 citizen-soldiers who are leaving for a monthlong training stint at Fort Hood, Texas. Then they will head out for nine months to a year in Afghanistan to coordinate ground and air supply operations.
Six from the team, which is a detachment of the Army Reserve’s Transportation Corps, are already in Texas or were participating in individual training Sunday.
Most of the citizen-soldiers who were treated to a barbecue at the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Nellis Air Force Base have deployed before. But for a few, such as 20-year-old Pvt. Brittany Payne-Purse, of Las Vegas, this will be their first trip to a combat zone.
“I’m just new to the Army, so I’m a little scared because I’m leaving my family and everyone behind. But I know this is what I signed up for, and I’m ready for a change to hopefully better myself through this whole process,” she said.
Besides her mom, dad, sister and brother, she will be leaving her little dog, Sparky, “who I love so much.”
Her father, Bryan Payne, said while his mind was filled with thoughts of “my baby girl leaving … I think she’s in good hands. God will watch over her.”
Her mother, Sharlene Payne, though worried, was confident that “she’ll be OK. We’ll pray every day for her.”
Before the ceremony, Col. Gaspare Magaddino, chief of staff of the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, said the team’s mission is “a small piece of the big picture.” But nonetheless it will serve “a very critical role. Without them, there would be nobody to coordinate transportation movements in theater.”
In May, the Obama administration announced that the 32,000 U.S. personnel that were in Afghanistan would be cut to 9,800 at the start of 2015. U.S. military personnel peaked in 2011 at 101,000, the highest level since the U.S.-led invasion began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
At Sunday’s ceremony, the team’s commander, Capt. Tierra Guillory, spoke of the “mixed emotions” that the citizen-soldiers and their families are experiencing. It’s a “time of pride and humility, a time of togetherness and separation, a time of joy and tears.”
“I feel blessed to serve with members of your family who are willing to answer the call of duty. … This is the most noble mission in life,” she said. “I know you don’t consider yourselves heroes, but America does.”
Guillory said the 948th Movement Control Team will use computers to track and coordinate transportation of military equipment on and off of forward operating bases. For now, the team is expected to operate from Kandahar. “That may change. If the mission changes, that would change.”
“What’s going through my mind is pretty much go over there, focus on the mission at hand, keep my soldiers safe. Mission first, safety first,” said Guillory, who deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the 257th Transportation Company.
Known as the “Rolling Thunder,” the 257th was sent to support Operation Iraqi Freedom after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
On that deployment, they spent 346 days in Iraq and Kuwait, traveling 2.25 million miles to move tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles around Iraq’s battlefields.
The 257th deployed again in 2008, driving nearly 2 million miles in Heavy Equipment Transporters — powerful trucks with goose-neck trailers — to haul tanks, artillery and armored vehicles on dangerous Iraqi highways.
Sgt. Brian Gonzales, 24, another veteran of deployments who served as a soldier in Afghanistan in 2010 to 2011 and as a contractor there in 2012, said he is “looking forward to completing a successful mission and making sure our troops get their supplies so they have a successful mission as well.”
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Follow @KeithRogers2 on Twitter.