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Huron, Parkston Guard units ready to deploy to Kuwait for 9 months

HURON -- As one South Dakota guard unit returns, another is preparing to deploy. More than 160 soldiers from Parkston and Huron have received official orders for a nine-month deployment to Kuwait beginning in November. The S.D. Army National Guar...

HURON - As one South Dakota guard unit returns, another is preparing to deploy.

More than 160 soldiers from Parkston and Huron have received official orders for a nine-month deployment to Kuwait beginning in November.

The S.D. Army National Guard’s 153rd Engineer Battalion, based in Huron, will provide command and control for other engineer units. Logistics and maintenance support will be provided by the battalion’s Parkston-based Forward Support Company, according to a statement from the Guard’s Public Affairs Office.

The official mobilization order was given over the weekend, but the soldiers in the 153rd were told several months ago they may be facing deployment, so the company has been physically and mentally preparing for deployment for some time, according to Capt. Marc Rieger, commander of the Forward Support Company.

“We’re an operational force,” Rieger said. “We don’t just stay stateside. If they need us, we will always answer the call.”

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While the roughly 85 members of the Forward Support Company - based in Parkston with a detachment in Huron - are preparing to head out, Rieger said some are apprehensive about leaving their families for so long.

“As soldiers, the first thing we think about is family, and then we think about each other,” Rieger said. “They have the mentality of let’s get over there and get our job done, perform our duties and then get back home safe to see our families again.”

The unit will first report to Fort Bliss, Texas, to complete several weeks of theater-specific training prior to deployment.

This is the first deployment for the Parkston support company and the second for the engineer battalion, which deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2005. A decade between deployments is longer than average for South Dakota National Guard Units, according to Major Anthony Deiss of the Guard’s Public Affairs Office.

“In their particular case, they’ve gone quite a long time before getting called up again,” Deiss said.

The National Guard works on a deployment model that gives units a chance for deployment every few years. A unit is given three or four years at home to recover from a past deployment or build up the unit, and then it enters its “available year,” Deiss said.

If a unit is not deployed within that year, it is given another three or four years at home.

South Dakota serves The news comes after another South Dakota unit, the 155th Engineer Battalion, made up of soldiers from Wagner and Rapid City, recently returned stateside from Kuwait. A welcome-home ceremony is planned Saturday in Rapid City.

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Deiss said the South Dakota National Guard has no voice in what units are deployed, but South Dakota units are called upon often.

“Certainly the South Dakota National Guard has punched above its weight with units that have deployed over the past 12 to 13 years, and they do a great job in their mission,” Deiss said.

The 153rd is one of about eight engineer units in the state, but its 80 members will serve a unique role as administrative engineers, overseeing and supporting the work of a number of other engineering units stationed in Kuwait, Deiss said, which have specialties like vertical construction of buildings - like the 155th - horizontal construction of roadways, and sapper engineers, who may build bridges, lay or clear mines, complete demolitions or work on repairs.

The Forward Support Company, meanwhile, will ensure the 153rd and all the engineering battalions under its watch are well supplied and taken care of in the field by hauling and repairing equipment and providing meals in a mess hall among other duties.

“I think we’ll definitely be busy over there,” Rieger said.

Authorities have selected a tentative date to transport the group to Fort Bliss but have declined to disclose it just yet. But the soldiers are expected to be at the training site in November, and a deployment ceremony will be held shortly before their sendoff. Training in Texas typically lasts about a month, and then the nine-month deployment overseas begins.

In the meantime, Rieger said his company is getting in as much training as possible. By completing some of the preparation required before deployment, they’ll hopefully be given a little more time at home.

“There’s a lot we have to accomplish prior to getting down to our mobilization station,” Rieger said. “If we accomplish them here, it’s less that we’d have to do down there, so there’s more time with the families.”

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While the number of troops overseas has been drawn down, Deiss said it's important to remember the United States is still a nation at war, so the National Guard must continue to provide support to units in other parts of the world.

“We still have these wonderful men and women in uniform that are still willing to answer the call and serve their country when called upon,” Deiss said. “I think we’re always ready, we’re always willing to deploy when our nation calls us up.”

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