The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

July 2, 2012

Okla. National Guard unit prepares for deployment

TULSA — While Spc. Trent Patterson spent the last several months training with the 120th Engineer Battalion at Camp Gruber, there were preparations being made back home for the next year.

Aponi Patterson, his wife, said at the unit’s deployment ceremony Saturday that she is ready.

“It’s going to be rough, but we’re making it through,” she said.

Sitting with their 5-year-old daughter in the Mabee Center of Oral Roberts University on Saturday, she held a tissue and wiped away tears as Oklahoma National Guard leaders assured them their loved ones were ready and would be in good hands and that they would be taken care of back home.

Hundreds gathered at the Mabee Center to wish their loved ones luck and say goodbye before their nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan.

About 200 soldiers with the 120th Engineer Battalion will leave this week for Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas, for training.

“The soldiers are ready,” said Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma. “I know there is apprehension with the families and soldiers, but they work as a team. And that’s how they do their jobs.”

After training, the units will deploy toward the end of summer to southern Afghanistan, where they will provide command and control for about 10 engineer route clearance companies and are trained to provide support for forward combat elements. The battalion will work with the Afghan National Army to help with the transition into leading the security effort in Afghanistan.

The Oklahoma National Guard unit will command about 1,000 soldiers during the deployment. They will join national guard units from Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas and Missouri.

But at Saturday’s ceremony, the focus was on the 200 soldiers and their families and making sure they are all taken care of, said Lt. Col. Jackie Ritter, Task Force Outlaw commander and a corporal with the Tulsa Police Department’s Gilcrease Division.

“Be prepared to take care of the home front as we take care of the war front,” Ritter said to the families.

Ritter’s own family is also preparing for the deployment. His wife is also a soldier, but she is staying home to look after their two children.

It won’t be easy on him.

“The younger they are, the harder they take it. Or the harder it is on me,” Ritter said.

One of his children is 18 months old.

“A year to an 18-month-old is colossal,” Ritter said. “I’m going to try to be as part of that as I can.”

Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Pineda and his wife, Mary, of Okmulgee, said Saturday was bittersweet. Ricardo Pineda was excited to get started with the mission but leaving his family would be difficult.

“It’s never easy,” he said.

It will be Pineda’s second deployment. That puts him as a mentor to some of the younger soldiers who have not left before.

“I have a lot of people come to me who need advice,” he said. “We have to be a master of all trades.”

The 120th Engineer Battalion last deployed in March 2004 and served in and around Fallujah, Iraq, for more than 10 months.

As with the 3,000 soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who returned a few months ago, the leaders said the entire state would be behind them.

“When the guard deploys, the community deploys as well,” Deering said. “I can’t wait to join your family and friends early next year to welcome you home.”

The soldiers are set to return to Oklahoma in the late spring or early summer of 2013.

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