Guard troops prepare for Afghanistan (7/9/09)

Thirteen Williston residents to deploy

July 9, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In March 2010, Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Fletcher of the Vermont National Guard will step foot for the first time in Afghanistan. In a country half a world away from his home, Fletcher will join nearly 1,500 of his fellow Vermont guardsmen and women in training Afghanistan’s army and police forces.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie (left) and Col. Will Roy speak with reporters last week at Camp Johnson in Colchester, talking about Vermont National Guard’s future deployment to Afghanistan.

It’s a difficult task and a long time away from home, but Fletcher believes the mission is a vital one in the ongoing War on Terror.

“I’m not excited to leave my family, but I’m more than willing to be part of the mission,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher, a Richmond resident, works at the Williston Armory, which is playing a major role in Vermont’s largest military deployment since World War II. The armory is the headquarters of Vermont’s 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which will head up the Afghanistan mission.

Under the command of Col. Will Roy, who currently operates out of the Williston Armory, the Vermont 86th will join soldiers from seven other states and 17 countries. By the time all units report to Afghanistan next year, Roy will be overseas commanding approximately 10,000 troops.

“It is daunting knowing we’ll be in charge of 10,000 personnel spread across the entire country,” Roy told reporters last week.

Helping Roy will be Lt. Col. Patrick Kirby, an East Montpelier resident who also works at the Williston Armory. This will be Kirby’s second tour in Afghanistan. He said going to the central Asian country is a world apart from Vermont.

“When you first deploy, there is a lot of anxiety,” said Kirby, who will act as Roy’s executive officer.

Roy, along with Vermont National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, spoke at a press conference last Thursday and outlined the goals of the yearlong mission. According to Dubie, the Vermont Guard will provide military and security training to Afghanistan’s police officers and army soldiers. The war-torn country, known for its high deserts and rugged mountains, continues to see attacks from the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Dubie said one of the goals of the mission is to eventually allow Afghanistan to stand by itself while fighting its enemies. The operation is known as Task Force Phoenix, which has been an ongoing training mission since 2003. Now it’s Vermont’s turn to head up the operation, Dubie said.

“Vermont will do its full duty,” Dubie said.

In recent months, President Barack Obama has made the war in Afghanistan a priority, moving more troops into the country and simultaneously scaling back military operations in Iraq.

The deployment was announced publicly last week, but has been in the works for about a year, according to Dubie. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that Dubie said he received confirmation from the Department of Defense to prepare for deployment.

Unlike past deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, Guard personnel will be called from all corners of Vermont. According to Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow, 13 Williston residents will report for this mission.

This will not be the first time Vermont Guardsmen and women have traveled to Afghanistan since coalition forces invaded the country in 2001. Dubie estimated about 50 percent of those being deployed will be experiencing their second overseas tour, which includes missions in Iraq.

Dubie also said another National Guard deployment will take place sometime next year. Approximately 70 personnel will report to Iraq, although he did not provide details on that mission.

For operation Task Force Phoenix, the nearly 1,500 Vermont troops will report to Louisiana and Indiana at the end of this year for two months of training before heading to Afghanistan for 10 months. Most soldiers will be back in Vermont by the end of 2010, Dubie said.

Dubie said Task Force Phoenix will not be a “direct combat mission.” Instead, most of the Vermont Guard will act in combat advisory roles. Still, troops are trained for every eventuality and the mission is not “without risk,” he said.

“Afghanistan is a very complicated security environment,” Dubie said.

“It’s a tall order, but we understand the mission,” Roy added.

Perhaps the hardest part of the deployment will be the effect on the families left behind, Dubie said. The Vermont National Guard is setting up a support network, which will help families stay in close contact with their loved ones.

Fletcher, a member of the guard for 12 years, considers himself lucky because he’s never been deployed overseas until now. He said his wife and two children, ages 13 and 4, have been taking time to prepare for his long absence.

“I don’t think my 4-year-old really understands how long a year is,” Fletcher said.

Dubie said 2010 will be a “tough year” for the Guard and its families, but he’s confident everyone can pull together.

“We’ve got the finest men and women serving in the National Guard — I firmly believe that,” Dubie said. “They’ll be making a troubled place in the world better.”