Florida Guard Headed to Afghanistan in 2009

WASHINGTON – Florida’s largest National Guard unit has been alerted that it may be deployed again to Afghanistan in 2009. 

The 3,400 soldiers of the 53rd Infantry Brigade will “assume battle space in Afghanistan” to perform a range of operations starting in the summer of 2009, the Pentagon announced today. 

More than 1,200 members of the brigade, headquartered at Pinellas Park, returned from an active-duty tour in Afghanistan as recently as mid-2006. 

And for some of them, this could be even a third tour to Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait. 

Three battalions were mobilized in December 2002 and deployed as “part of the initial Iraq push” in the spring of 2003, said Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, spokesman for the Florida Army and Air National Guard. 

“You’re going to have mixed feelings on this,” said Tittle of the Pentagon’s announcement. 

“This impacts not just the soldiers going off and taking care of the country’s needs,” he said. “This brings everybody — family and employers, too — into the situation. But we know we have a mission to do.” 

They’ll begin the preparation during their upcoming unit training assemblies and annual training, he said. 

Exactly how many soldiers who will go to Afghanistan in 2009 will be making a second or even third tour could not be determined today, said Tittle. That’s because some members of the brigade have left and others have since joined. 

The Pentagon made its announcement – given to brigade commanders over the weekend — so far in advance to give soldiers time to undergo training specific to Afghanistan and to allow family and employer planning. 

The brigade’s units are: 

— 53rd Special Troops Battalion (Pinellas Park, Lake City) 

— 53rd Support Battalion (St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Tampa) 

— 1st Battalion, 124th IN Regiment (Miami, Hollywood, West Palm 
Beach, Cocoa)

— 2nd Battalion, 124th IN Regiment (Orlando, Sanford, Leesburg, 
Eustis, Haines City)

— 1st Squadron, 153rd Cavalry Regiment (Panama City, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Chipley, Bonifay)

— 2nd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery Regiment (Lakeland, Bartow, Dade City, Winter Haven) 

— 53rd Special Troops Battalion (Pinellas Park, Lake City) 

— 53rd Support Battalion (St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Tampa) 

Entire brigades are being sent to theaters of war based on the Pentagon’s belief that they work more effectively when kept together. 

The Pentagon said that troop levels in Afghanistan continue to be “conditions-based” and are based on the recommendations of military commanders in Afghanistan and in consultation with the Afghan government. 

Until recently, the deployment of a Guardsman or Reservist for one year in Iraq or Afghanistan – the standard tour length for the Army – would usually entail up to 18 months on active duty. 

But a new Pentagon policy calls for a maximum 12 months mobilization period, with the goal of five years at home before the next mobilization. 

The 48th Infantry Brigade combat team from Georgia also has been alerted that it will be sent in the summer of 2009 to Afghanistan to concentrate on training Afghanistan National Security Forces. 

Together with the Florida group, about 7,000 service members have been told they will deploy in summer 2009. 

The 53rd Infantry Brigade deployed more than 1,200 Soldiers in June 2005 to Afghanistan, where they served for a year to help train the Afghan National Army through the Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix. 

Tittle said three of the brigade’s infantry battalions, consisting of nearly 1,800 Soldiers, were mobilized and deployed in December 2002. They became part of initial combat operations into Iraq in the Spring of 2003. 

“We expect these same battalions will be included in any future mobilizations of the brigade,” Tittle said. 
Reporter Billy House can be reached at bhouse@mediageneral.com.or at (202) 662-7673. 

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