400 Illinois National Guardsmen learn they'll be deployed to Afghanistan
Just as word was circulating Thursday of President Donald Trump's desire to withdraw nearly half the 14,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, about 400 Illinois Army National Guardsmen were learning of their own planned summer deployment to the war-torn nation.
The 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment headquartered in Chicago is composed of companies based in Elgin, Woodstock, Joliet, Chicago, Kankakee and Bartonville, officials said. The planned deployment will be the largest for Illinois Army National Guard forces since one to Egypt in 2010.
The last deployment of the 178th Infantry Regiment was to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, during which four soldiers died.
Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, director of public affairs for the Illinois National Guard, said current talk about a potential change to the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan should not be casting any doubt about the planned deployment in the minds of the 178th Regiment's soldiers or anyone else.
"We're going to prepare the soldiers to deploy," Leighton said. "They already have a lot of training and we're going to give them more. We're full steam ahead unless we get word otherwise."
As far as how the guardsmen and their families likely took the news just before the holidays, Leighton said there was probably a wide variety of ways they could and did. While some may have been excited by the news, others could have been more leery.
And while the notification may have cast a shadow over this holiday season for some, others may have found it useful to know that an approximately 10-month deployment would likely keep them away from home for next year's holidays, Leighton said.
"We're very cognizant of the commitment our soldiers make and the impact this news will make on their lives, but we want them to be able to prepare," Leighton said.
He added that the Illinois Army National Guard is equally grateful for the understanding and cooperation of the soldiers' families, employers and educational institutions.
The 178th Regiment recently returned from training at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, and will receive additional training at Fort Bliss, Texas, before its likely July departure for Afghanistan.
There are many factors that go into deciding which units will be chosen for a particular deployment, including what kind of capabilities are needed for a particular mission, Leighton said. The upcoming deployment will be for a security forces mission.
"It's more readiness than anything," Leighton said. "A unit just returning from a deployment won't typically be turned around and asked to go back."
During the 178th's last deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, Sgt. Robert M. Weinger, 24, of Round Lake Beach was one of three Delta Company soldiers to die after their vehicle encountered a roadside bomb. Also killed in the explosion were Sgt. Christopher Abeyta, 23, of Midlothian, and Spc. Norman Cain III, 22, of Mount Morris.
Delta Company Spc. Lukasz D. Saczek, 23, of Lake in the Hills died from a noncombat-related injury while providing security to rebuild the Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.