Twenty Apache attack helicopters and 190 soldiers of the SC National Guard deployed for Afghanistan Saturday following a rousing ceremony at McEntire Joint National Guard base here.
They likely won’t be the last.
Although the deployment of the 1-151 Air Reconnaissance Battalion had been a year in the making, President Donald Trump’s authorization to send more troops into America’s longest war will likely mean more S.C. Guard troops deployed to the region, Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, the state’s adjutant general, told The State.
“The South Carolina Guard represents every weapons system in the United States Army ... and any or all of our units are subject to deploying to Afghanistan,” he said. “We’re already starting to hear discussions.”
On Monday, Trump reversed his stance on Afghanistan and authorized the troop ramp-up. He said that the additional troops were needed to break a stalemate with the Taliban and force them to the negotiation table, which is said to be the only way to win a war that has been raging for 16 years.
Livingston said he agreed with the decision.
“If we’re going to achieve a stable government (in Afghanistan), we are going to have to give the Taliban only one choice,” he said.
Trump would not specify the troop levels authorized to augment the 8,400 troops now in Afghanistan. But in June, Pentagon plans were made public calling for 3,900 additional troops.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, attended Saturday’s deployment ceremony at McEntire.
He said that in addition to more troops, Trump also loosened the rules of engagement to allow more freedom for U.S. troops to fire against enemy soldiers when fired upon.
“We don’t have to ask the Afghan Army’s permission anymore,” he said.
Being able to return fire is important to the soldiers of the 1-151 “Mauraders.” The attack helicopters will be used for both reconnaissance and to escort Afghan troops into battle.
“It will be dangerous for all of our aviators outside the wire,” said Lt. Col. Brian Pipkin of Jamestown in Berkeley County, the battalion commander.
Capt. Luke Mole of Varnvillle, the headquarters company commander, said he is glad more troops will be following the “Mauraders.”
“We all know we’re going to a hot area,” he said. “We thought we would be undermanned. So this is a blessing.”
More National Guard soldiers are being blended with active duty commands in the face of a shrinking regular Army, a philosophy called “total force.”
Also, Livingston has long preached the Abrams Doctrine that having National Guard troops in combat zones boosts American’s support for a war. The thought is that having whole units from local towns and cities rallies those soldiers’ families, friends and, ultimately, communities behind the war effort.
The folks at McEntire on Saturday backed that up. Despite the worry evidenced by tears and hugs, the crowd was festooned with flags and banners.
“I surely didn’t want this day to come, but it’s here,” said Pipkin’s wife, Candace. When he’s deployed, “I just do what I have to do. This is what I signed up for.”
The unit left Saturday for Fort Hood, Texas, where the soldiers will get an additional 40 to 60 days of training. They will join six Chinook transport helicopters and 60 soldiers of Detachment-1, Company B of the 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion of the S.C. Guard that left for Fort Hood Wednesday from the Donaldson Center in Greenville.
Both units are expected to be deployed for about a year.
At Fort Hood, the S.C. Guard units will also be joined by 22 more aircraft – Apaches, Chinooks and medical evacuation helicopters from National Guard units from Pennsylvania, Iowa and Illinois.
It was an emotional morning in Eastover, where family members crowded into a large hangar for the departure ceremony.
For Misty and Luke Mole, this is his first deployment since they got married.
“There’s nervousness, anxiety, confusion,” Misty Mole said. “I can’t explain it. When I get home it will sink in.”
For Luke Mole, Saturday was a day he had trained for for a year.
“I’m just ready to get out there,” he said. “We’ve had a long train-up and I’m excited to get started.”