GAINESVILLE — After the U.S. has spent more than a decade in Afghanistan, more than 200 soldiers from Georgia are being tasked with securing and closing some bases in the country.
The 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Macon, is preparing to deploy to a cluster of bases around Kabul to conduct training and security missions for Operation Enduring Freedom for a nine- to 10-month period beginning in January. The team is made up of members from 26 hometown armories, including Gainesville.
“This mission is indicative of the drawdown that’s going on in Afghanistan, the force reduction that’s going on,” team commander Col. Randall Simmons said. “A part of our mission is to close down some of the bases that we’ll be running and securing so there will be a smaller footprint in Afghanistan when we leave.”
Simmons said the soldiers will be responsible for running and supporting general operations on the bases with the overall mission being to “work ourselves out of a job.”
Simmons said he’s watched as the Afghan security forces have gone from participating in U.S.-planned and -led operations to planning and leading their own while U.S. forces “literally watch in the background.”
“It’s a good thing. It just shows that over the last several years they’ve made significant improvement and we’re no longer needed on the front lines,” Simmons said. “They’re more than capable of attending [to] their country.”
Most soldiers preparing to deploy volunteered for the mission and nearly half have never served outside the country, including Georgia Army National Guard 1st Lt. Joshua Carr, of Northeast Forsyth County. He and his team have spent many weekends this year preparing for the upcoming deployment.
Carr and his fellow troops were headed to Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi at the beginning of December for more mobilization exercises.
Simmons said having the option to deploy allows guardsmen the opportunity to gain operational experience they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Carr, a communications officer, said after 14 years of service in the Army, he’s glad for the opportunity to put a deployment under his belt. An injury prevented him from taking previous deployments.
The 32-year-old said making the decision to leave home and serve overseas required a lot of consideration. Carr said he had to prepare himself physically, mentally, financially and spiritually.
“You’ve got to make sure things are aligned at home so you have minimal distractions while you’re over there,” Carr said. “It’s a lot of planning in that regard.”
Carr said his preparations led him to propose to his now fiancée, Dirlene Reis, 28, of Decatur. The couple plan to marry Dec. 20, while Carr is home during a weeklong Christmas break.
“I was going to wait until I got back, but I thought if I love her, now is the time to do it,” said Carr, laughing. “So we’re jumping through hoops to make it happen.”
Carr said Reis expressed concerns about his deployment, but both feel more comfortable with the process after getting involved with the Army’s Family Readiness Group, a support group that focuses on military families and children.
The National Guard’s Yellow Ribbon program also is designed to prepare soldiers and families for the lengthy absences. The program assists with living, financial and relationship issues families may face while the soldier is away.
“A lot of our families don’t have a lot of experience with the military outside of their soldier being in the National Guard, compared to someone who is in active duty who lives on an Army post or a base that has access to all of those resources all of the time,” Simmons said.
In the meantime, Carr and Reis are just looking ahead to their wedding and not the deployment shortly following.
“It’s not easy,” Reis said. “But he loves what he does. He loves his career and his country. I 100 percent support him.”