Oklahoma soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan again
CAMP GRUBER — The history of the Oklahoma National Guard deploying for missions all over the world goes back nearly 100 years. “All the way back to World War I,” said Lt. Col. Mike Urrutia. “I think it shows the kind of flexibility we have.”
The Guard is preparing for its fifth deployment to Afghanistan in the past decade. However, the role the soldiers will fill on this deployment is different than anything they have done in the recent past.
About 500 members of the 1st Squadron, 180th Cavalry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are in the midst of training. They are scheduled to depart in December on a mission to provide security and support to train Afghan Security Forces as part of the NATO-led Operation Resolute Support.
“Our mission will be less combat this time, as our military has taken on more of a role as advisers,” said Urrutia, who is from the Oklahoma City area. “Our job will be ensuring the security of those advisers.”
The new job means new training. The soldiers began working in the summer at Fort Riley in Kansas. They were mobilized Oct. 5 for more instruction at Camp Gruber near Braggs.
Final training will be conducted at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.
“Put into football terms, our training at Fort Riley was like preseason training,” Urrutia said. “It was like pre-training, getting ready to start more difficult training.
“We're now in the training like putting on the pads and hitting. When we get to Fort Bliss it'll be the final tuneup for the game.”
The group will deploy from Fort Bliss sometime in December. It is scheduled to return to the United States next fall.
Urrutia said the overwhelming bulk of the soldiers are from Oklahoma. This will be the first mission for about 70 percent of the group.
“I can't say enough about the motivation level of the soldiers,” he said. “There is a real feel of eagerness and enthusiasm.”
Urrutia, squad commander of the 180th Cavalry Regiment, will be on his fourth deployment. He also served in Iraq and two previous missions in Afghanistan.
“We have a proud history here in the Oklahoma National Guard of being one of the most deployed,” Urrutia said. “We have a lot of experience in many different roles.”
The history of the 180th Infantry Regiment dates back to the fall of 1918 as part of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France during World War I.
In recent years, it has performed missions in every major conflict and been deployed to help in disaster relief missions, such as a recent mission to support relief efforts in Texas after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast in late August.
“It shows our diversity,” Urrutia said.
This mission to Afghanistan will be another new role.
“This is such a different type of mission for us. We have traditionally done more combat-oriented missions,” Urrutia said.
Soldiers are working through 16 different tasks before training on mission sets based on the operation.
“We're working on the overall picture of what we'll be doing in Afghanistan,” Urrutia said. “We have an excellent training environment (at Camp Gruber). We're able to work on individual skill sets before starting to train for our in-theater role.”
Urrutia believes the mission will be more centralized and in more populated areas of Afghanistan as advisers move about the country.
“This is a true testimony in answering the call,” he said.
Our mission will be less combat this time, as our military has taken on more of a role as advisers. Our job will be ensuring the security of those advisers.” Lt. Col. Mike Urrutia on the pending deployment
Specialist Hunter Capers, of Coweta, works on a short-range marksmanship drill as members of the Oklahoma National Guard train for deployment to Afghanistan.
Members of the Oklahoma National Guard train for deployment to Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Nichael Oakes, of Alva, sleeps while waiting to take part in a drill as members of the Oklahoma National Guard train for deployment to Afghanistan. In the foreground is Specialist Colten Kistler of Altus.