Some East Tennessee soldiers get one more Valentine’s Day at home before they leave this weekend to help manage the last of the drawdown in Afghanistan.
About 80 soldiers of the Tennessee National Guard’s 1st Squadron of the 230th Air Cavalry will head out Saturday and Sunday from Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base for training at Fort Hood, Texas, said Maj. Randy Harris, spokesman for the Guard. Deployment to Afghanistan will follow in April.
“They say the first 90 days and the last 90 days (of a deployment) are the most critical, and that’s true,” said Lt. Col. Mel Clawson, the squadron’s commander. “We should be back by the end of (next) February.”
The soldiers of the 230th, based in Knoxville, Tenn., last saw service in Iraq from 2009-2010. Previous deployments have included Kosovo and relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“We’ve been to all the major dances in the past six or seven years,” Clawson said.
He estimates about two-thirds of the soldiers deploying this time have seen service overseas at least once before. Army officials haven’t given specifics, but the soldiers expect to spend their time conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions via helicopter.
The squadron has spent the past 18 months training for the mission, Clawson said.
“These folks are very well-prepared to go,” he said.
The soldiers will leave with the OH58-D Kiowa Warrior helicopters they’ve trained on for years, although the Defense Department has moved to scrap that model in favor of the Apache AH-64. Guard officials spoke up against that plan last month.
Congressional leaders have since raised questions about that proposal, Clawson said.
“Just taking that aircraft away from the Guard’s not necessarily the right answer,” he said.
Department of Defense plans initially called for 300 soldiers from the 230th to deploy. Adjustments to the timetable for the drawdown of U.S. forces ultimately cut that number to fewer than 100, Clawson said.