Vt. Army Guard Trains Hard for Afghanistan - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. Army Guard Trains Hard for Afghanistan

Underhill, Vermont - June 19, 2009

The Vermont Army National Guard is still waiting for official notification for a large-scale deployment to Afghanistan. Eighteen-hundred guardsmen are expected to receive that order later this year -- and they are already training for it.

A small group of Guard soldiers walked into a mock Afghan village set up on part of the Underhill firing range. It's part of a vigorous schedule of training designed to prepare them for the real thing. The training is based on reality, passed on by dozens of Vermonters who have served a similar mission before. The training is required of all Coalition forces before they go to Afghanistan.

Col. Will Roy, the commander of Task Force Phoenix -- as the prospective deployment will be called -- and a veteran of Afghanistan, told reporters, "Our mission statement, says our job is to train the Afghan national security forces in order to bring security and stability to their nation. So that's the focal point. As we do these missions with the Afghans, you know, the Afghans are in the lead. It's THEIR job."

These Vermont soldiers -- and more than 3,000 others from seven states -- will form Task Force Phoenix. Although formal orders have not been issued yet, it's expected that they will be deployed as soon as the end of the year. Most of the time, they find that all is quiet in a typical Afghan village, complete with a greeting from a village elder.

And sometimes they run into trouble, including enemy snipers. Obviously, for training purposes, they were shooting blanks here. Gunfire and smoke bombs made the exercise seem real.

Specialist Kevin Stockwell, who served in the Marine Corps during the 2003 Iraq invasion, said, "Things change quickly from a peaceful, you know, patrol through a city -- to everything hitting the fan."

The Vermont Guard already has a successful track record in Afghanistan. Nine-hundred members out of the total 3,500-member Brigade have been there before. And the commanding officer has been there three times.

"It's humbling and it's difficult," Roy said. "It's knowing that we're going into a very difficult mission, and there's a lot of things to do to get ourselves ready."

It's also dangerous. But every soldier here is trained to minimize the risk to himself and the others -- with the objective of helping the Afghans secure their own homeland -- while getting those who put themselves on the line back home alive.

Andy Potter - WCAX News

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