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National Guardsmen are learning while amid a war

Steve Ranson
For the Nevada Appeal

Editor’s note: Lahontan Valley News Editor Steve Ranson has spent the last two weeks in Southwest Asia, covering pilots who trained at Fallon and are now at 5th Fleet and Nevada Army National Guard units in Afghanistan. Following are his two most recent dispatches.

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Tuesday wrapped up almost a week with the 422nd Exp Signal Battalion at Kandahar Air Field (KAF). A visit to “Signal University,” or the Institute of Technology, showed me how the Army is trying to further the education of young men and women who are interested in gaining more knowledge in signal communications and security. More than 3,000 classes have been taken by Guardsmen and other soldiers and civilians assigned to KAF. The certifications are intended to help those gain experience in the communications fields by adding certifications to their resumes.

In addition to soldiers gaining more technical knowledge at Signal University, others are taking advantage by taking college classes through Central Texas University.

Before the visit to Signal University, I received a briefing on how the communications center works. The unclassified briefing shows how important and extensive communications are in a war zone. Before I retired from the Guard, I held a security clearance and had attended something similar during one of the 422nd’s annual trainings about eight years ago. The process is very in-depth and can be intense.

Left KAF early Wednesday morning on a flight to Bagram, where I will visit the 485th Military Police on Thursday at their location nearby. The MPs once drilled in Fallon before moving to Reno during the spring of 2009. Their first sergeant is Steve Lawrence, a Fallon resident. The area is also very secure and provides limited access to civilians.

Since I have been in Afghanistan, I have become accustomed to the term TIA – Time in Afghanistan. Many things do not click on time or go as planned, so people learn to go with the flow. I need to. Earlier this week, I discovered that my flight out of Kabul for Friday had been canceled, and the military has been working to either put me on another flight to Bahrain on Friday through Dubai or wait until Saturday for a flight. That’s TIA for you.

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From Monday:

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Time is ticking away at Kandahar Air Field (KAF), as my visit with the 422nd Exp Signal Battalion is nearing to an end.

During the time I have been here, I have talked with scores of soldiers about their deployment to KAF with the signal battalion, and the majority of soldiers are upbeat about their mission. Many are performing their tasks in the areas in which they were trained. Others were moved from one section to another, and are tackling their duties with vigor.

As I write this, one plane after another is taking off from KAF this morning. Within a day or two I will board a flight to Bagram, which is near the duty location for the 485th Military Police Co. Because of security, I will be able to spend only a day with them.

Security is also tight at KAF. A good photo goes with a good story … stops there, though. Many areas are off-limits to photography. Every journalist who is in country must sign Ground Rules adhering to this. But the photos will be secondary because there are so many compelling stories of individuals out here.

One story involves 1st. Lt. T.C. Huston, a Colorado Guardsman attached to the 422nd. Huston is a young chaplain, and served as an assistant pastor of a church. Not only does he assist with soldiers’ needs but he also advises the commander on individual concerns, morale, etc. He visits the men and women of the battalion who are spread out around the region. The response from the soldiers is positive, and many have accepted Huston as one of their own Nevada guardsman. He, like me, is also concerned that many soldiers who return home form this deployment will not have jobs waiting for them. Those who live in Las Vegas will be extremely hard-hit.

“I am concerned of them coming home to unemployment,” Huston said.

Huston has also been a shoulder for those to rely on. When the three guardsmen were killed in the Sept. 6 shooting at IHOP in Carson City, the soldiers reached out to him for strength and comfort.

“When we lost our brothers and sisters, I immediately knew we had a tragedy,” he said. “It was hard for the troops. They knew them, worked with them. …”

Huston, though, was also affected by another situation. He had to stand in for a chaplain who had left for a short time, but during that time, Huston was asked to preside over the final KAF ceremonies as two fallen soldiers were sent home on the “Angel Flight,” the final journey from here to Dover Air Force Base.

Huston said he performed the services but the tears still trickled down.

Chaplain T.J. Huston: Another Guardsman serving his country, serving his soldiers and serving his God.