48th Brigade prepares for Afghanistan deployment

The Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade, which deployed to Iraq for more than a year in 2005 and 2006, is gearing up for another war zone mission, this time in Afghanistan.

The 48th, headquartered in Macon but made up of smaller units based across the state, was notified in December 2007 that it would deploy this year to Afghanistan to serve in a training role for the Afghan military and police.

The 48th served in a combat role in Iraq, losing 26 soldiers during the deployment.

The first unit, the 108th Squad from north Georgia, was mobilized Monday and will soon report to Fort McClellan near Anniston, Ala., for pre-mobilization processing and training there and at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss., before going to Afghanistan in about 90 days, said Maj. Marshall Rich, the brigade’s public affairs officer.

Other units in the 48th will be activated during the next four months and will follow a similar pre-mobilization training period before deploying to Afghanistan from April to July, though some will train at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Ind., rather than at Camp Shelby. And all the brigade members not already deployed will assemble one final time for annual training at Fort Polk, La., in February.

The soldiers are expected to serve overseas for nine to 10 months before rotating back to the U.S. for 15 to 30 days of post-deployment processing before de-mobilizing.

Tuesday, members of the 48th were learning to set up equipment, such as new tents, in Macon as part of their training.

The soldiers training are men and women who previously had been deployed overseas mixed with those who were making their first trip.

Sgt. 1st Class Sean Held has spent most of his time in the Guard as a recruiter, but he wanted to serve a tour abroad before retiring.

“I expect to meet new people as we shift our efforts to Afghanistan,” he said. “We’re going out there to help their government and their civilians. It’s nice to help these people out. ... Morale is very high. We’re enjoying learning with this new equipment.”

Since its last deployment to Iraq, the 48th has been reconfigured from a mechanized unit with tanks and armored personnel carriers to a light infantry brigade that uses trucks and helicopters.

And instead of operating as a single, task-force-level unit, the brigade’s smaller modular units have been trained to act independently or in conjunction with other units, even those of multi-national makeup.

Working with other units will be especially important in the 48th’s Afghan mission.

Rich said most of the 48th’s personnel will work as embedded training teams with various Afghan army and police units.

“We’ll be working with everything from the chief of police of Kabul, the Afghanistan capitol, down to small, mountainside village police forces,” he said. “Our soldiers will be embedded in the local units and help train and support their people to provide their own security in their country.”

Rich said the typical size of an embedded training team will be about 12 soldiers, but that could vary according to the size of the unit it will be training.

The 48th teams will likely remain with the same Afghan units the entire time of their deployment, he said.

“That’s what they’ve been doing in theater for the last year or so, and it is what the National Guard unit (the 33rd Brigade from Illinois) we’re replacing has been doing,” he said. “The idea is to foster relationships and show the Afghans that we are serious about helping them build their security forces, and having a minimum of transition of faces is the way to do that.”

Rich said about 75 percent of the brigade’s 4,000 soldiers will deploy, with the rest remaining home in support roles.

“That’s also different from our last deployment. When we went to Iraq, everyone who didn’t have issues went,” he said.

Sgt. Samantha Allen of Gainesville, Fla., previously served in Iraq.

Though she said her previous experience will serve her well, she knows both the mission and the conditions in Afghanistan will be different.

“It’s a totally different culture,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning something new. It’s going to be in the mountains, so it will be a lot colder.”

Pvt. Bradley Leverett of Milledgeville joined the 48th last year when he was 37.

Despite his age and tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during basic training, Leverett is preparing for his first deployment with the Guard.

“I’m thinking that I’m going to miss my family, but part of (joining the Guard) is that I’m doing it for them,” he said.

Rich said about 30 percent of the 48th soldiers deploying to Afghanistan had served in Iraq, though many of the returning soldiers are in leadership positions.

“We’ve had a good bit of turnover since coming back from Iraq, with people shifting in and out to different units as we’ve reconfigured,” he said.

To contact reporter Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235. To contact reporter Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.