OKOLONA – They are sending in Mississippi boys to tidy up Afghanistan as the draw-down in the war there wraps up in 2014.
The 858th Engineering Company/Horizontal, with a depot and armory in Okolona and headquartered in Calhoun City, will leave for final training at Camp Shelby around the first of August as they prepare for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
This marks the third time for the unit to deploy in the War on Terror. The 858th deployed to Iraq in 2004 and again in 2009. Their last deployment to Baghdad saw them doing much the same job they will do this time in Afghanistan.
“We are trained to build roadways, airports and facilities where you have to move a lot of dirt,” said Capt. Robert Sanders, Company Commander with the 858th. “Our job this time around is being classified as a retro-grade operation. Basically we will be deconstructing forward operating bases.”
Sanders did not say what part of Afghanistan the company would operate in.
“This is our first time to Afghanistan and we will be carrying about 100 over there,” said Sanders. “We will fall in to equipment that is already over there.”
Sanders said about half the company are veterans of previous deployments and know the drill. Sanders has been in the military for seven years and this is his second deployment.
“It’s easy to say we are as ready and trained as we will ever be,” said Sanders. “But seriously, we are ready and trained.”
Troops may earn sporatic leave when they get to Camp Shelby, but the nine-month deployment to Afghanistan is unrelenting.
Sanders urged the community to stay in touch with their soldier and not forget the unit as a whole.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to get a letter or supplies from home,” said Sanders. “Yes, some soldiers do get more than others, but every little bit helps.”
Sanders said he has a wife and child and the separation is always hard.
“Once we get to Afghanistan we will have set addresses and be able to get packages from home on a regular basis,” said Sanders. “It does a lot for morale to come back to barracks and have a note from home and some goodies.”
The 858th is made up mostly of heavy equipment operators and engineers. During their last deployment their unit was recognized for their work in and around Victory Base outside of Baghdad. Among their achievements, they worked 92 days straight and cleared and grading 60-acres of land.
President Barack Obama has already ordered the Pentagon to draw down US troops throughout the country from 63,000 currently to some 34,000 by February of next year.
According to the Congressional Budget Office the U.S. has spent more than $443 billion in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011. Since 2002, Congress has spent more than $90 billion on humanitarian and reconstruction programs in Afghanistan.