DES MOINES (AP) - About 700 Iowa troops are being deployed to help the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the largest single unit being sent abroad by the Iowa Army National Guard since World War II.
The troops have been training for more than two months at Fort Hood, Texas with Task Force 168, which will provide security in Afghanistan for reconstruction teams. They are also preparing to launch combat patrols to kill or capture Taliban or al-Qaida forces.
Some members of the task force could leave Texas as early as Monday, and all of the Iowa soldiers are expected to be in Afghanistan within the next two weeks. They are expected to be deployed for one year.
"If you are not scared, there is something wrong with you," said Staff Sgt. Scott Stogdill of Council Bluffs, who works for a moving company in civilian life. "This is not flood duty. This is not tornado duty. We are not sitting at an airport. This is a real-world mission going overseas."
He said he has a simple goal for the next 12 months: "I want to bring all my guys home," said Stogdill, 32, an infantry squad leader who is a married father of three children.
The task force is primarily drawn from the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, which is headquartered in Council Bluffs. The force includes soldiers from armories in 22 Iowa communities, plus about 80 troops from the Minnesota Army National Guard and a few dozen soldiers from other states.
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Their training has focused on dealing with such threats as suicide car bombers, snipers, roadside bombs, land mines and ambushes in Afghanistan, where the war has been overshadowed by heavy fighting in Iraq.
"Nobody should be under any illusions. They are going into an area where people get shot at. Certainly, it can't be characterized as the same violence we are seeing in Iraq, but it is not safe," said Charles Pea, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
The troops will be split into smaller units across Afghanistan and assigned to remote areas affected by decades of war that have destroyed schools, roads, bridges, police stations and other infrastructure.
Spc. Nick Russell, 19, of Winterset, an automatic rifleman who works in civilian life installing voice and data lines for Baker Electric of Des Moines, said he's looking forward to heading to Afghanistan.
"I am of the mindset that I am ready to go, ready to get out of here," Russell said. The training has been "drilled into our heads" so troops will react instinctively to dangerous situations, he said.
Sgt. Andrew Mortensen, 28, of Kiron, a farmworker in civilian life, said he has a hard time explaining his thoughts about the mission to family and friends back home.
"I would just as soon not go, but this is my job," Mortensen said. "It will be great once we get back, knowing you did something for your country. If a guy ain't proud after that, something is wrong with him."