JOPLIN, Mo. -- The Missouri Army National Guard 203rd Engineer Battalion will deploy this fall to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Of the unit's five companies, three will deploy for one year, including its headquarters company out of Joplin, its field support company out of Neosho and its sapper company out of Kansas City.
"The 203rd has received orders to mobilize on Sept. 18," said Lt. Col. Anthony Adrian, battalion commander. "The Houn' Dawgs will be clearing roads in Afghanistan to assure mobility for coalition forces."
Monett and Pierce City units of the 203rd, the 276th Engineering Company (vertical) and the 117th Engineer Team (asphalt), are not deploying. A number of soldiers living in Monett and Pierce City who are in the headquarters element of the headquarters company and forward support company are deploying.
The 203rd will command, control and support three sapper companies in Afghanistan -- its own 1141st Engineer Company out of Kansas City, the 211st Engineer Company out of South Dakota and the 810th Engineer Company out of Georgia. The unit will report to the 372nd Engineer Brigade of the Army Reserves from Minnesota, under the 82nd Airborne Division. This is the 203rd's second overseas deployment in the past five years.
"The most recent deployment for the 203rd was in 2003," said Capt. Bob Spurgeon, headquarters company commander in Joplin. "The unit returned from that deployment to Iraq in 2004. In the past five years, the 203rd has been training and preparing for this deployment to Afghanistan."
Some of that training has been very specific to the work expected of the 203rd while in Afghanistan, such as convoy training and teaching soldiers to watch out for improvised explosive devices.
"Our training over the last five years, since the 203rd returned from Iraq, has been focused toward the defeat of tactics used by our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Capt. James Vaughn, field support company commander of Neosho. "We have also sent a substantial portion of our soldiers to specialized schools to gather the latest information pertaining to the missions we expect to conduct in theater."
Among those included in the call-up is Army Reserve Spec. Brandon C. Austin, formally of Monett, who has deployed to a forward operating base in Afghanistan to support the mission of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Austin is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist, focusing on decontamination issues. Austin is normally assigned to the 484th Movement Control Battalion in Springfield. He has served in the military for three years.
The son of Donald W. Austin of Monett, Austin graduated in 2005 from Monett High School.
Many soldiers deploying this fall with the 203rd deployed to Iraq in 2003. Since that time, some have deployed with other units for third and fourth tours of duty.
For Master Sergeant John Bounous, of Monett, this will be his second trip to the area, having been part of the 203rd's original to Iraq. Bounous will be going as a production controller, working in equipment maintenance. He did not know if he would be working with other military companies but suspected he would probably stick with the 203rd.
Asked for personal feelings about going to Afghanistan, Bounous said, "It comes with the job."
Deployment is scheduled for mid-September. Bounous is planned to be away for a year. His wife, Judy, and son, Andy, will stay in Monett. His daughter, Cassandra, is in Japan.
Others in the battalion have never deployed.
"I have mixed emotions about this deployment," said Spc. Chris Palmer of Joplin, now in his second year with the Guard. "As a soldier, I'm excited about it because I'm finally fulfilling my duties as a soldier; this is what I signed up to do. But as a family man, I really feel bad, leaving my wife and children."
Palmer's wife, Samantha, said she wishes her husband wouldn't worry about her and their children, as she is more worried about him.
"It's scary, knowing where he's going," said Samantha Palmer. "I'm worried it could be the last time I see him, and I don't want our kids to grow up without their dad.
"I am very proud that he wants to fight for our country," she said. "This is the first time I've ever seen him so passionate and so confident about anything. He really shows no fear at all, and I don't' think I'd have the strength to do what these soldiers are doing."
Vaughn said he's confident the soldiers of the 203rd will successfully complete their mission because of the support shown to them by the communities where they live.
"We appreciate the support our communities have already shown for soldiers and their Families representing the Missouri National Guard," said Vaughn. "We realize and appreciate the sacrifices our civilian employers and others in our communities make to ensure we are able to do our job."