SL soldiers join Freedom’s Sentinel deployment

Friday, July 31, 2020
More than 20 Storm Lake Iowa National Guard soldiers will depart August 2 for year-long deployment in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Photo from a welcome home ceremony in Storm Lake after the last deployment of the local unit overseas in 2011. / Pilot photo by Dana Larsen

Many of the soldiers from the Iowa National Guard Unit in Storm Lake are about to deploy to year-long assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the Storm Lake unit is not considered deployed, the departing local soldiers will be attached to a Fort Dodge group that is part of a call-up including about 330 Iowa soldiers from 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and 34th Infantry Division. They will support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

Soldiers will also be departing from Spencer, Estherville, Charles City, Johnston, and Alexandria, Minn. Another 400 Iowa soldiers will be mobilized for NATO support in the Republic of Kosovo, including soldiers attached to the Sioux City Guard unit.

While the exact number of Storm Lake soldiers being sent to the middle east is not being made public, more than 20 are involved, local unit spokesperson SSG Robert Bork told the Pilot-Tribune.

The Storm Lake unit, nicknamed “The Red Bulls,” has not been deployed since a 2011 call to Afghanistan. “From 2001 to 2011, the unit was called up multiple times, it seemed like every couple of years,” Sgt. Bork said. They served stateside, in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. A few soldiers at a time have since volunteered to join various other deploying units.

In the 2020 departing group, some of the Storm Lake soldiers volunteered for the duty, and others were selected based on specific skills and job duties.

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel mission succeeded Operation Enduring Freedom in a continuation of the global war on terrorism. It has two components - counterterrorism and working with allies as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission which began in 2015. As of June, over 16,500 NATO troops were located in the Afghanistan region.

There will be no formal sendoff for the soldiers departing Storm Lake. A modified sendoff is planned for the Fort Dodge departure August 2 at noon with social distancing in place. A virtual sendoff, not open to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, will take place that evening at 6 p.m. from Camp Dodge, and will be live streamed on the Iowa National Guard Facebook page @IowaNationalGuard.

Soldiers will then be sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas or other sites for final training and readiness checks before being transported overseas.

Lengthy deployments create stress on the service members and their families. “We have learned a lot since the deployments of the early 2000’s. Before deployment we go through Yellow Ribbon training and there is also family readiness training. We will still have full time staff at our Storm Lake armory to help them. There is a lot more training involved, and the deployed people are much more aware of all the services that are available to help them if they need it,” Sgt. Bork said.

Yellow Ribbon training promotes well-being of service members and their families during deployment, and helps to prepare soldiers for reintegration afterward,

Deployment in a pandemic, however, is even more complex than a normal departure.

“It has affected the timetables for deployment a little, and every time they are transported from one location to another there will need to be health checks, as well as buffer time built in so that anyone who may test positive for COVID-19 will be able to quarantine,” he said.

The Storm Lake unit is well prepared to send a good portion of its members into full-time service. “Our strength is actually over 100 percent of the numbers we are rated for, and has been for quite a few years,” Sgt. Bork said. “We seem to have a good mix of younger kids joining up and older, more experienced people, and also a good mix of local people from our community and people coming in from farther away to serve with us.”

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