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Service and sacrifice
National Guard commander wants Georgians to celebrate soldiers as they return from tour of duty
0210William Nesbit
Maj. Gen. William T. Nesbitt, Georgia’s Adjutant General, commands the Georgia Army and Air National Guard.
After a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, it's time to welcome back the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Its mission has been to organize, train and prepare Afghanistan's security forces to manage their own nation's security operations. Taking on this daunting task in the middle of a renewed Taliban insurgency has been quite a challenge. However, 10 months after the 48th Brigade's entrance into the country, Afghanistan's security forces have seen tangible progress.

In an address to Congress in December, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said there will be about 134,000 Afghan soldiers and just more than 100,000 Afghan police in place by this fall. By July 2011, there should be roughly 300,000 total Afghan security forces, between soldiers and police. The skill sets and confidence instilled in these early AFA and AFP forces by the 48th and other U.S., forces has been, and will continue to be, critical to a self-sustaining and stable Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders are stepping forward en masse, courageously volunteering to protect their country against an enemy that has shown a persistent desire to do anything and everything to ruin the establishment of a stable Afghanistan.

In recent months, we have watched as thousands of Afghans moved on from training to conducting numerous operations vital to their own nation's security. Operations included one that took place this month, where the 48th IBCT mentored an Afghan National Army unit as it conducted its first ever IED route-clearing mission.

Another example of the improved standing of Afghan forces is the success of Operation Mountain Delivery, where joint Afghan and coalition forces, to include Georgia Guardsmen, used air assaults to assure the capacity for quick resupply needs within the region.

And, still another substantial development, our citizen-soldiers recently worked with tribal leaders representing more than 170 villages in the historic Shinwari Jirga to sign a clause which imposes severe consequences for anyone giving safe harbor to Taliban or anti-Afghan forces.

Our guardsmen in the 48th IBCT have also taken on several noncombat duties while serving abroad. Soldiers of Police Mentor Team 1, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, have provided medical assistance to children of the Kuchi nomadic tribe who were staying in the area and needed medical care.

Soldiers of 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment opened two radio stations in the Muhmand Dara and Shinwar provinces to give the people of those regions a voice to counter Taliban propaganda. This new media program is an initiative of the International Security Assistance Force counterinsurgency process, and will belong entirely to the Afghan people.

Several soldiers of the 48th volunteered their personal time to help with Operation Outreach, a program that provides humanitarian aid to Afghan villages. Georgia Guardsmen, in conjunction with Operation Outreach, helped to provide thousands of blankets to Afghan villagers.

Our citizen-soldiers have also been actively involved in civil-military projects designed to create Afghan jobs and offer military-age men a paying alternative to joining the insurgency. As Georgia's 1/108th "Roughriders" have come to learn, such initiatives, in addition to bolstering the economy, have also led to increased cooperation and security.

These are just a few examples of the good work our citizen-soldiers have been doing during their yearlong mission overseas. Gen. McChrystal recently noted that the National Guard's effort in Afghanistan has been "extraordinary," adding that guardsmen bring "unique skills and maturity" which are critical to the mission. I couldn't agree more with his assessment.

But tragically, not all of our soldiers will be returning home to us. Georgia lost eight of its own this past year. These fallen heroes, and their families, made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure freedom for the Afghan people and greater security for the rest of the world.

We also have several warriors who were severely wounded. Just a couple of weeks ago, a suicide bombing attack on a U.S. combat outpost in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border injured five soldiers of the 48th. Their injuries will forever serve as a reminder, to themselves and others, of their great courage and dedication to the cause of freedom and the fight against tyranny.

The families of all deployed Georgia guardsmen have also sacrificed much. Families have given up their loved ones for an entire year now, and I know that they are eager to have them back. We all are.

Also important, has been the sacrifice of the employers of these guardsmen. Unlike regular Army, most guardsmen are not full-time soldiers; they are citizen-soldiers, with civilian jobs. The skills and leadership learned by these soldiers allow us to return them to their employers more mature, worldlier and better prepared to handle today's challenges.

As our citizen-soldiers from the 48th return, I hope that their tremendous service, devotion and sacrifice - as well as the sacrifices of their loved ones and employers - will continue to be recognized, honored and respected by the great state of Georgia. After all, it was to ensure the security and welfare of the people they left behind that our Guardsmen set out for Afghanistan a year ago.

Congratulations 48th Brigade on a job well done! You have made all Georgians exceptionally proud.