SUPERIOR, Wis. - While U.S. operations in Afghanistan are changing - military bases are closing, fewer troops will deploy there in the future, and Operation Enduring Freedom will transition to Operation Resolute Support - the need to keep traffic routes clear of roadside bombs has not changed.
That important job will soon fall to the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 950th Engineer Company, which will head to Fort Bliss, Texas for several weeks of pre-deployment training before they hit the roads in eastern Afghanistan.
"Every time we do our mission and we find one of those devices on the roads, we make the world a little safer for other humans," Capt. Andrew Redd, the 950th Engineer Company's commander, told family and friends at an Oct. 15 sendoff ceremony at Superior Middle School. "Whatever country we're deployed to, our mission directly impacts and saves lives, and it's why I'm proud to put this uniform on every day. I look forward to getting over there and doing my part."
The 950th has deployed twice before, to Iraq in 2003 and 2010, and roughly half the Soldiers in the unit have prior deployment experience. Clearing traffic corridors of roadside bombs was a part of both prior deployments.
"You're not going to find a better company of route clearance anywhere in this nation," Redd said.
Redd was a platoon leader in the 950th during the 2010-11 deployment, and said he feels blessed to lead the company for this mission.
"In my wildest dreams, I never thought the cards would fall like this," he said. "It's a very big honor for me."
Senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders applauded the Soldiers who extended their enlistments specifically to be available for this deployment.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, cited Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn" to compare the Soldiers of the 950th with the militia who fought at Concord and Lexington during the Revolutionary War. He also promised family members that the Wisconsin National Guard would be there for them while their Soldiers are away.
Gov. Scott Walker noted the patriotism and courage of Wisconsin's Civil War Soldiers, and drew a connection to the members of the 950th Engineer Company. He also said he has a special track record as governor, one he asked the 950th to continue.
"Since I've been governor, every Guard member who has deployed has made it back home safe," he said, drawing applause.
2nd Lt. Phillip Brewer has no wife or children to leave behind when he deploys, but understands the sacrifice his colleagues will experience.
"It's still hard for me, but it's harder for my guys," he said. "They're leaving behind brand-new kids - I feel for them."
The 950th Engineer Company has spent the past 14 months preparing for this deployment, including sending nearly half the unit to the Counter Explosive Hazards course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in April. The unit also conducted a 28-day exercise in June focusing on marksmanship and basic Soldier skills at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, and a 10-day exercise at Fort McCoy earlier this month. The unit is expected to return to Wisconsin in autumn 2015.