The 26 soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard’s 149th Military Engagement Team said goodbye to their families Saturday for a nearly yearlong mission overseas.
The Guard members will be based out of Kuwait to work in small groups with U.S. allies around the Middle East and Central Asia. After a month of training at Fort Hood, Texas, their deployment is expected to last 10 months, said Lt. Col. Joseph Gardner, the team’s commander.
No combat is expected, although some of the Guard members have served in battle previously, Gardner said. Instead, the team will draw on a diverse collection of skills — including engineering, law enforcement, marketing and computer programming — and partner them with others for training purposes in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kazakhstan, he said.
“Every country we’re going into, we’re going at their request,” Gardner said at the team’s departure ceremony Saturday at the Armed Forces Reserve Center. “You always see the bad stuff on the news. This is the good news story of our building relationships with our peers in the region.”
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The team is drawn largely from citizen-soldiers around Kentucky, with an average age of 38, which means they have a lot of life experience. But it also means that most are leaving families behind and putting careers on hold.
“This isn’t like deploying infantrymen in their early 20s,” Gardner said. “A lot of them are established in their jobs. They’re managers. They’re vice presidents in their companies. They’re leaving quite a gap behind.”
Joe Warren, 47, has protected Lexington neighborhoods as a city police officer since 2000. But for the next year, he’ll be U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Warren in Saudi Arabia, overseeing a small team of Americans training foreign military personnel.
“It’s always — it’s kind of mixed,” Warren said after the departure ceremony, standing with his wife and two daughters. “You know, I’m leaving my family while I’m gone. And this is my fourth deployment. Plus, I was in (the 1990-91 Operation) Desert Storm back when I was on active duty. I’m excited as far as the opportunity goes, though. Not a lot of guys get the chance to do something like this.”
“You get through it, day by day,” said his wife, Angela. “There’s always support between church and family and everything.”
During the brief ceremony, Gardner thanked the soldiers’ families who had gathered to say farewell. It’s never a convenient time for a loved one to step out of civilian life and answer the country’s call, he said. Their absence will mean missed birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, and personal crises left for those back home to resolve, he said.
“These are the one-percenters,” Gardner said, pointing to the soldiers, “the people who made the decision to serve.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Kentucky National Guard has mobilized more than 18,000 soldiers and airmen for duty in the global war on terror.