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Del. guardsmen prepare for Afghan deployment

Oct. 19, 2012 - 08:12AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2012 - 08:12AM  |  
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Two Delaware National Guard units are training this week for deployments to Afghanistan in 2013, which is shaping up to be one of the most active years for the state's soldiers.

About 150 to 175 members of the 153rd Military Police Company leave in January for a 10-month tour of Kandahar province, and about 300 to 350 members of the 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion will deploy in April, said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, spokesman for the Guard. Both have been training at Fort Indiantown Gap near Harrisburg, Pa.

In August, about 50 members of the 150th Engineer Detachment will be deployed to Afghanistan, Gratteri said. And eight Black Hawk helicopters and about 125 soldiers from the 238th Aviation Company will leave in the fall or winter. Those four units are part of the Army National Guard.

A unit from the Delaware Air National Guard is scheduled for deployment at the end of 2013, though Gratteri would not disclose details about that mission.

"Next year is going to be very busy, probably the busiest we've ever had," Gratteri said. "That's going to be easily the most people we've had deployed at one time."

No Delaware Guard unit is currently deployed, he said.

The two units in training now are qualifying on the firing range and practicing basic soldier skills on the field and among mock buildings for about another week, said Capt. Brian Malloy, commander of the 153rd, and Capt. Michael Malloy, training officer for the 198th. They are brothers.

The 153rd will relieve Montana's 44th Military Police Company. The Delaware unit will spend 10 months assisting and training their Afghan counterparts on setting up roadside checkpoints and walking patrols in Kandahar, Brian Malloy said.

It is a dangerous mission. About 500 coalition troops have died in Kandahar since the war began 11 years ago, making it the second-deadliest region in the country behind Helmand, according to iCasualties.org.

Also, the U.S. military has been grappling this year with a surge of green-on-blue attacks by Afghan soldiers or police. As of Thursday, there have been 38 insider attacks in 2012, compared to 15 in 2011. Many of the attackers were Taliban infiltrators or uniformed impersonators, U.S. military officials have said.

On Sept. 2, U.S. officials suspended training of the Afghan Local Police until all 16,000 members could be cleared of insurgent links. They resumed training in late September, but two days later, several Afghan soldiers opened fire on an Army unit, killing an American soldier and a civilian contractor.

To help guard against insider attacks, the Delaware unit will carry loaded weapons at all times and will only operate in groups of at least two or three soldiers, Brian Malloy said.

"The utmost concern is the safety of our soldiers, and we're doing whatever we can to mitigate that," he said.

The 198th, composed of three companies from Delaware and one company from South Carolina, works on communications systems at military operating bases, Michael Malloy said. During the past week, the soldiers also have been practicing medical techniques and other skills.

"It's been early mornings and late nights," Michael Malloy said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next couple of days."

A small contingent from the 198th spent about a year in Baghdad in 2006-07, but this will be the first deployment for almost all of the current members, he said. He said the deployment will be one of the largest from Delaware since 9/11.

About half of the current members of the 153rd were deployed to Iraq in 2007-08, Brian Malloy said.

"Everybody's getting excited and nervous at the same time," he said.

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