Troops headed to Afghanistan may face different mission

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(Host) Vermont troops going to Afghanistan later this year may face a different, possibly more dangerous mission.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the Pentagon is now re-assessing how to use the 1,500 members of the Guard.

(Dillon) The Vermonters will begin their year-long deployment in November. The focus so far has been on training Afghan army and police. But the new mission may put the guard in closer contact with hostile forces.

Adjutant General Michael Dubie said the mission of the 1,500 troops is being re-shaped by the new U.S commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

(Dubie) "The changes may be that we’re going to be in charge of a region. Instead of being spread out all through to the East and the North, it may be that they give us an area, and say this is your area. And you’re in charge of that area."

(Dillon) Dubie sat down with lawmakers to brief them on the largest Guard deployment since World War Two. Dubie said the exact role for the Guard is still being determined.

(Dubie) "It sounds like now that we may be doing some training but less training and possibly other missions. We had a video tele-conference on this subject yesterday, so it’s changing all the time."

(Dillon) The troops may become part of the new U-S focus in Afghanistan – one that’s based on a "clear and hold" strategy aimed at taking territory back from the Taliban. Dubie said the mission may be more dangerous, but it depends on what part of the country the soldiers are sent.

(Dubie) "There are areas of Afghanistan that are very peaceful and stable. And then there are areas that have more instability and have more Taliban and insurgent presence. So it really depends on where we’re going to be before I comment on risk, danger, those kinds of questions."

(Dillon) The Vermont troops have trained intensively this summer — even building a mock Afghan village in the hills of Jericho. Dubie told lawmakers the training is still relevant even if the mission shifts.

(Dubie) "The preparation for the mission doesn’t change. So we’re not going to change anything in what we’re doing even if they change the mission on us. The basic soldier skills that we have to be proficient at doesn’t change."

(Dillon) As the troops get ready to spend a year in a war zone, the military has stepped up its support at home. Major Randall Gates directs the guard’s family readiness program.

(Gates) "When I took over three years ago, we had eight people statewide. We have 38 contractors and federal technicians today. And we are able to position them so that every family has someone to go to literally right down the road."

(Dillon) Gates said the services are available to other members of the military, not just the Guard. The assistance includes family counseling, child care and help with tutoring for soldiers’ kids.

And beyond the formal programs, Dubie said Vermonters throughout the state have come forward with numerous offers of assistance.

(Dubie) "It’s happening all over this state. People are doing random acts of kindness from one person to hundreds of people that make you feel so good about being a Vermonter, so proud of the community."

(Dillon) Dubie said the guard has also made arrangements with other states to help handle emergencies and natural disasters while the Vermont troops are gone.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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