For the first time in seven months, a large group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers is headed to combat.
The departure to eastern Afghanistan of 165 soldiers assigned to the 54th Military Police Company is the first for a company-sized unit based at Lewis-McChord since August. Around that time, an estimated 18,000 soldiers were coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq after the largest deployment of local forces since 2001.
The company, known as the Dragon Maulers, held its deployment ceremony Friday morning and will board the plane next week.
Soldiers stood at attention as their leaders cased the unit colors. Dozens of family members and peers looked on, many snapping pictures.
The yearlong deployment means the company will be in theater when the nation commemorates the 10th anniversary of the war, launched in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks on American soil.
Staff Sgt. Jonathon Ross, 27, said he’s looking forward to leading his men for the first time in Afghanistan after serving three tours – a total of 38 months – in Iraq.
“This is my generation’s Vietnam,” the Vancouver resident said. “This is my generation’s World War II.”
The deployment occurs in the wake of this week’s testimony before Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that security has improved significantly over the last year. But he said those gains are “fragile and reversible” and that difficult work lies ahead with an expected spring offensive by the Taliban.
His message was punctuated locally by the deaths of three Lewis-McChord soldiers in Afghanistan over the course of two weeks.
Two were military policemen who belonged to the 42nd Military Police Brigade, the same brigade as Ross and his comrades. A joint memorial ceremony for Spc. Jason Weaver and Pfc. David Fahey is scheduled for Wednesday at Lewis-McChord.
The Dragon Maulers will train and work with Afghanistan national police. Capt. Josh Trulock, 27, told his soldiers that the job won’t be easy but that it will help bring security and stability to the Afghan people.
Following its deployments to Iraq, the company had provided law enforcement around the joint base for about 15 months when it was notified of its upcoming deployment. Its training included a stint at the National Training Center in California in January to support a Hawaii-based combat brigade.
“Having a strong background in law enforcement is beneficial for us to help them (the Afghan national police) with the skills they need as police,” Trulock said after the ceremony.
Family members girded for a year apart from their spouses and loved ones.
Nadine Christie, 22, of Medford, Ore., said she and her husband, Adam, a 22-year-old private, learned several days after they arrived at Lewis-McChord last fall that he would deploy for the first time. Prior to that, she said, they’d been told it would be at least six months before a deployment was even mentioned.
“I’m not ready for him to go,” said Christie as 2-year-old son, James, slept on her shoulder in a camouflage jacket. “It’s hard not to cry.”