Local guardsmen prepare for combat deployment

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By Donald Richie

Soldiers from Cynthiana's National Guard Unit are now in western Kentucky going through specialized training for their upcoming deployment.

The 201st Engineer Battalion of the Kentucky Army National Guard, which is made up of units from Ashland, Olive Hill, Cynthiana and Prestonsburg and is commanded by Lt. Col. Michael Ferguson, arrived at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Muhlenberg County on Saturday Feb. 9.

While there, they will be trained in close quarter marksmanship with both the M-4 carbine rifle and the Beretta pistol, according to National Guard public affairs officer Col. Phil Miller.

It's something the Kentucky National Guard began doing when the first troops began going to Afghanistan in 2001.

"This is a type of training that is over and above what the Army provides," Miller said. "The commanding general at that time, Gen. Youngman, recognized the fact that this is the type of training that is needed for this type of combat situation."

Miller added that close quarter marksmanship's use in real combat has made a difference for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It has actually been credited by a number of returning troops as the difference in being able to carry out the mission and come home alive," he said.

While in Muhlenberg County, the soldiers will also go through mobile engagement training that was developed right here in Kentucky.

Simply put, that training is a computer-controlled pop-up target roadway which runs through a 300-meter range. It allows soldiers to go through the range in a vehicle and engage moving targets.

"The main thing is to provide them with the familiarity of being able to shoot on the move," Miller said. "That comes into play a lot with missions that require, say convoy escorts and security."

The blend of the two trainings are designed to equip soldiers with tools to adapt to whatever mission they have while in Afghanistan.

"We will ensure that they all go through that," Miller said, noting the soldiers will also have simulation training.

In early March, the 201st will move to Ft. McCoy, Wisc. for about two months of additional, more mission-related training.

That will last a couple of months, then the soldiers will leave for Afghanistan, where the unit's primary mission will be road clearing and construction, removing obstacles and ensuring the main roads remain open.

"In that part of the world... one of the tasks that the U.S. military is undertaking is ensuring not only the security of the road system, but ensuring that the roads are themselves viable," Miller said. "Because everything travels by truck because of the long, long distance between cities."

Keeping those roads open is key to the Afghan economy, he added.

With such a large group - 450 soldiers in the four units - Miller said there will be departure ceremonies both locally and in battalion headquarters in Ashland.

The local event will be 4 p.m. on March 3 at the Cynthiana Christian Church. The larger ceremony takes place two days prior in Ashland.