President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by 2014 likely will end a busy schedule of foreign deployments for the Oklahoma National Guard.
Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the state's adjutant general, said the 2014 timetable certainly is a light at the end of the tunnel for soldiers and their families, but it can't be in the front of anyone's mind right now.
“Obviously they are smart enough to recognize that, but that's just kind of a mark on the wall for us,” Deering said. “We cannot let that 2014 deadline divert our attention from what we should be doing, and that is getting these soldiers and airmen ready should the call come.”
The Oklahoma National Guard currently has 213 soldiers deployed, most of them outside the United States. A few hundred more are scheduled for deployments in Afghanistan through 2013. About 3,000 Guardsmen returned in March from a yearlong stint in the country, the largest deployment for the Guard since the Korean War.
There are no deployments scheduled before the end of 2014 that will approach those numbers, but that could change at any time, Deering said.
“We've seen in the past how quickly those calls can come,” he said. “You can't always predict those deployments.”
Although the number of soldiers in harm's way is fewer, the danger they face is no different. The Guard lost 14 soldiers during the 2010-11 deployment.
“The formations aren't as large, but the jobs are just as tough,” Deering said. “It's still a great sense of responsibility I feel for each soldier that is going down range.”
An aviation unit of 38 soldiers is scheduled to leave Fort Hood, Texas, on Saturday for Afghanistan. Another 115 soldiers from the 1245th Transportation Company are scheduled to leave Monday for final training before their deployment to Afghanistan. They are set to return in September.
Sgt. Chadwick Chudoba, 24, of Del City, is one of the soldiers from the 1245th leaving Monday.
“I'm not trying to have any assumptions about the deployment,” Chudoba said. “I'm just going to take it as it comes. We've been spending about every minute of every day conducting some really excellent training, and I don't think we've wasted any time whatsoever.”
Many Guardsmen have deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. Deering said seeing the job done is a high priority for those who have put in time and seen their friends give their lives in Afghanistan.
“I think certainly you get the feeling that we are making progress,” he said. “How you measure that is more of an art than it is a science. The future is what it is. We don't pull back. We continue to train. It doesn't lessen the responsibility of leaders in letting their soldiers know to always be ready.”