They have trained extensively for this, loved ones supporting them along the way, but saying their goodbyes on Saturday wasn’t easy.
Pizza helped, though. And homemade brownies. And fresh cherries among other goodies, all served without any pomp and circumstance.
Soldiers with the training center’s 53d Ordnance Company — EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) left for Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma after a deployment sendoff early Saturday evening. From JBLM they will leave for Afghanistan.
The company’s last deployment was 2012-13, also to Afghanistan, said Sam Scanlon, company commander. This will be a six-month rotation, he added.
Their job as EOD techs is to provide explosive hazardous mitigation as well as enable freedom of activity for supporting units, Scanlon said. On this mission, they will support Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan through the mitigation of explosive hazards and training, advising and assisting their partner forces.
“Afghanistan, it’s a bit forgotten — it’s been two decades. But people are still putting their lives on the line. The EOD community has had three killed in action in the past nine months,” Scanlon said. “I would just like to highlight the sacrifice our soldiers made for this deployment.”
Saturday’s sendoff, with the friendly air of a church potluck, was about as low-key as could be. Children tucked into the delivery pizza and homemade dishes while their parents discussed final details. Some soldiers loaded essentials outside, amid increasingly smoky air, as others signed paperwork and ensured they had their passports.
It’s a lot to prepare for and a lot to ask of loved ones, even though they’ve all been getting ready for months.
“I feel way more prepared for this deployment than my last one,” said James Lawrence, who had a nine-month deployment to Iraq in 2017-18. He was enjoying some quality time with his dog Henry, a 3-year-old terrier-type “Heinz 57” he and wife Lauren adopted from the Humane Society.
Henry was clearly enjoying the attention as he rested on Lawrence’s lap and got chin scratches and head rubs. Lauren had the couple’s other dog, Phil, a 1-year-old mix who looked just like a small Irish wolfhound, on a leash.
Throughout their preparatory nine-month training cycle, which included temporary duty at another location for at least a few months and intense field exercises at the training center — “it’s a dangerous mission,” Scanlon stressed — leaders encouraged deploying soldiers to make time for their loved ones as much as they could.
“I appreciate that our command team has been making a point (for us) to spend time with out families,” James Lawrence said.
A satellite installation of JBLM, the Yakima base trains not only U.S. military personnel, but troops from Japan, Canada and other countries, for urban and armored combat, using live ammunition and simulators.
There are 74 active duty personnel at the center, Scanlon said, along with many more civilian employees. The base is also home to the “Dustoff” Air Ambulance service, which assists local agencies with rescue operations on Mount Adams and remote areas of Yakima County, and a bomb-disposal unit that local police can call on.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chris Bailey, came from JBLM for the deployment sendoff with his wife, Sue. She will handle family readiness for those whose loved ones are deploying.
“It’s tradition that the wife of the battalion commander is the (Family Readiness Group) adviser,” he said.
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