Largest call-up in a decade be­gins with weeks of train­ing at Fort Bliss in Texas

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Elvia Malagón [email protected]­

Jonathan Lo­ge­mann plays with his two daugh­ters, Eleanor, 3, and Maya, 1, upon ar­riv­ing at their Rockford home. Lo­ge­mann, along with about 400 sol­diers from the Illi­nois Na­tional Guard, will be de­ployed to Afghanista­n this week­end, the largest call-up in a decade. “I’m not wor­ried about me at all. I’m go­ing to be very busy enough,” Lo­ge­mann said. “But (I’m) just mak­ing sure that all the bases are cov­ered at home be­cause we are go­ing from like a two-par­ent house­hold to like a one-par­ent house­hold.”

On a re­cent morn­ing, Terry O’Neill’s 4-year-son TJ posed a ques­tion out of the blue that seemed to sig­nal he re­al­ized their lives were about to change.

“‘Daddy, are you go­ing to send me things from Afghanista­n?’ ” O’Neill said his son asked. “And I’m like, ‘Of course, bud. I’ll send you stuff.’ ”

O’Neill, a father of four who lives in sub­ur­ban La Grange, is among an es­ti­mated 400 mem­bers of the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard who will be leav­ing this week­end to be­gin a more than year­long de­ploy­ment to Afghanista­n in sup­port of Amer­ica’s “Op­er­a­tion Free­dom’s Sen­tinel.”

Of­fi­cials say the de­ploy­ment of the 1st Bat­tal­ion, 178th In­fantry Reg­i­ment — head­quar­tered on Chicago’s South Side with com­pa­nies in El­gin, Wood­stock, Joliet, Kanka­kee and down­state Bar­tonville, near Peo­ria — marks the largest mo­bi­liza­tion of Illi­nois Na­tional Guards­men and women in nearly a decade.

The sol­diers will first spend a few weeks un­der­go­ing ad­di­tional train­ing in Fort Bliss, Texas, be­fore head­ing to Afghanista­n around the time of its planned pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Sept. 28.

The de­ploy­ment also comes as U.S.-led peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Afghan Tal­iban con­tinue.

But peace has been elu­sive: The United States has had troops in Afghanista­n for 18 years, adding up to the coun­try’s long­est in­volve­ment in any war. More than 2,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers have died in op­er­a­tions in Afghanista­n, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense. Ex­perts es­ti­mate hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars have been spent on the con­flict.

And while the num­ber of U.S. troops in Afghanista­n has de­clined in the past decade, there are still about 14,000 U.S. ser­vice­men and women there.

In Illi­nois, the lat­est de­ploy­ment means the fam­i­lies of the hun­dreds of Na­tional Guard mem­bers will be dis­rupted. O’Neill’s fam­ily sold their home in Chicago’s western sub­urbs to down­size to a one-bed­room apart­ment to be closer to rel­a­tives who can pro­vide sup­port to his wife and chil­dren while he is away.

An­other Guards­man, Jonathan Lo­ge­mann, re­signed from the Rockford City Coun­cil in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his de­ploy­ment. An un­cle plans to step in to help his wife with the cou­ple’s two daugh­ters, who are 1 and 3 years old.

“I’m not wor­ried about me at all. I’m go­ing to be very busy enough,” Lo­ge­mann said. “But (I’m) just mak­ing sure that all the bases are cov­ered at home be­cause we are go­ing from like a two-par­ent house­hold to like a one-par­ent house­hold. There is a lot of fam­ily sup­port, and I think that’s what re­ally im­por­tant be­cause it’s the whole fam­ily that kind of de­ploys.”

‘Not our job to do the fight­ing so much any­more’

For O’Neill, 39, the de­ploy­ment will be his third tour of duty to the re­gion. In 2003, he served in Iraq when the U.S. in­vaded. Then in the late 2000s, he was de­ployed to Afghanista­n as then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in­creased the num­ber of troops on the ground.

But O’Neill ex­pects this de­ploy­ment to be dif­fer­ent. A decade ago, the com­bat fight­ing was done by U.S. troops, but now more of that has trans­ferred to the Afghan army. The team he was on, which worked on city re­con­struc­tion, no longer ex­ists, he said.

Ahead of the de­ploy­ment, O’Neill was part of a group from the Guard that vis­ited Afghanista­n in April, and he no­ticed even the lo­gis­tics of U.S. troops have changed. For ex­am­ple, troops now generally fly rather than travel by road to get around the coun­try.

“It’s not re­ally our job to do the fight­ing so much any­more,” O’Neill said. “Our role is ad­vis­ing them on how to ac­com­plish cer­tain tasks. We are try­ing to em­power the Afghan army and the Afghan gov­ern­ment to de­fend it­self and gov­ern it­self.”

Lo­ge­mann said he an­tic­i­pates that Guard mem­bers’ role will pri­mar­ily be one of se­cu­rity.

“I think the tempo of the war is chang­ing,” he said.

Up­hill bat­tle for U.S. troops

Op­er­a­tion Free­dom’s Sen­tinel, which the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard is sup­port­ing, is in­tended to fo­cus on coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions against groups such as al-Qaida and ISISaf­fil­i­ated groups within Afghanista­n, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional re­port. Troops are also in the coun­try to train, ad­vise and as­sist the Afghan army “to build their in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity.”

U.S. forces in­vaded Afghanista­n weeks af­ter the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, aim­ing to top­ple the Tal­iban regime and fight off alQaida. Nearly two decades later, the Tal­iban in­sur­gency re­mains re­silient, ac­cord­ing to a 2019 Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions re­port.

And although U.S. troops aren’t en­gag­ing in as much com­bat as they pre­vi­ously were, sol­diers still face an up­hill bat­tle, said Robert Pape, the direc­tor of the Univer­sity of Chicago’s pro­ject on se­cu­rity and threats.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment is viewed as a “pup­pet gov­ern­ment” and widely seen as cor­rupt, which is among the rea­sons the Tal­iban has man­aged to re­gain power and sup­port in parts of the coun­try, Pape said.

“This is a war that we’ve been los­ing,” Pape said. “We’ve haven’t just been fight­ing it for (nearly) 20 years, we’ve been los­ing it for the last 15. And that’s re­ally the chal­lenge that any new de­ploy­ment is go­ing to face, and the U.S. gov­ern­ment, our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and our mil­i­tary lead­ers haven’t wanted to change strat­egy yet. … So what that means is it makes it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult as every year goes by for the new ro­ta­tion of troops to deal with the prob­lem be­cause it’s worse each year.”

While the troops should be cred­ited for ful­fill­ing a pa­tri­otic duty, they face a daunt­ing task be­cause of how few Amer­i­can ser­vice­men and women are serv­ing in a coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 34 mil­lion, Pape said. He noted that, by com­par­i­son, the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment has about 13,200 of­fi­cers to po­lice a city of 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple.

“So we are try­ing to take roughly the same size po­lice force that we have for the city of Chicago and con­trol all of Illi­nois, all of In­di­ana and a big hunk of Wis­con­sin,” Pape said. “It’s just not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Pape au­thored a re­port and penned an opin­ion col­umn for the Bos­ton Globe ar­gu­ing the U.S. should shift to an “over-the-hori­zon” strat­egy that would even­tu­ally re­move U.S. troops but pro­vide sup­port from re­gional bases as well as po­lit­i­cal, in­tel­li­gence and eco­nomic as­sis­tance.

O’Neill knows peo­ple have strong sen­ti­ments about the war in Afghanista­n, but he doesn’t want to let that in­flu­ence his work.

“There’s a lot of ques­tions about what we are still do­ing there, but, see … none of those things re­ally mean any­thing to me and my job,” O’Neill said. “So it’s not my job to have an opin­ion one way or the an­other. My job is to do what I’m told as a sol­dier, my job is to per­form my role within my unit, and I feel like to be a suc­cess­ful sol­dier in per­for­mance of our du­ties, we can’t re­ally let all that into what we are do­ing as long as we are do­ing the right thing.”

‘Alexan­der the Great was here’

Lo­ge­mann, O’Neill and the other sol­diers from the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard learned in De­cem­ber that they were be­ing de­ployed to Afghanista­n in late July.

“It’s like, Merry Christ­mas,” Lo­ge­mann said with a laugh as he re­called re­ceiv­ing the news.

Lo­ge­mann, 32, comes from a fam­ily with mil­i­tary his­tory, in­clud­ing his grand­fa­ther’s in­volve­ment in World War II and his un­cle’s ser­vice as a chap­lain dur­ing the Gulf War.

Lo­ge­mann’s wife, Sarah, said her hus­band first saw mil­i­tary ser­vice as a backup plan in case he didn’t get a job af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin atMadi­son. He ended up mov­ing to Chicago to work as a teacher, but he was still in­ter­ested in serv­ing in some ca­pac­ity.

“Since I was teach­ing in pub­lic schools, I thought I was do­ing my civic duty too,” Lo­ge­mann said. “I was learn­ing more about the Na­tional Guard, and I was like, ‘oh, I can do both.’”

Af­ter start­ing their fam­ily, the cou­ple moved to Rockford to be closer to rel­a­tives. Sarah Lo­ge­mann knew her hus­band’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Guard meant he had to be away from home some week­ends, but she didn’t nec­es­sar­ily think he would be de­ployed.

“Part of it is just he’s re­ally good on fo­cus­ing on the pos­i­tive,” she said, “so that was log­i­cally a pos­si­bil­ity, but he didn’t put that much em­pha­sis on that.”

In Rockford, Jonathan Lo­ge­mann was elected to serve on the city coun­cil. He was in the mid­dle of his first term when he re­ceived no­tice about the de­ploy­ment.

“I just de­cided that I think peo­ple and democ­racy need to be rep­re­sented, so I fig­ured that (step­ping down) was the best course, most ap­pro­pri­ate and proper course of ac­tion for peo­ple in the 2nd Ward of Rockford,” Lo­ge­mann said.

Nick Meyer, the le­gal direc­tor for the Rockford City Coun­cil, said a re­place­ment for Lo­ge­mann hadn’t been de­ter­mined. He can’t re­call in re­cent his­tory any other Rockford City Coun­cil mem­bers step­ping down to serve over­seas.

“We are proud to have one of our elected of­fi­cials serv­ing a larger pur­pose,” Meyer said. “We surely wish him well in a safe re­turn.”

Lo­ge­mann also left his job at a Rockford pub­lic school ear­lier this year to fo­cus on train­ing that re­quired him to travel to the in­fantry’s head­quar­ters in Chicago.

Like O’Neill, Lo­ge­mann also trav­eled to Afghanista­n ear­lier this year to see where the in­fantry would be based. He was fo­cused on learn­ing how the base op­er­ates. But he did stop, for a mo­ment, to think about the con­text of where he would be spend­ing a year of his life.

“I’d take a step back and say, ‘Wow, we’re in Afghanista­n. … Alexan­der the Great was here,’ ” Lo­ge­mann said. “I taught his­tory in Chicago, I taught about this stuff (and) wow, I’m here.”

‘At least I’ll be able to watch them grow up’

O’Neill was sur­prised to learn he was go­ing back to Afghanista­n, par­tic­u­larly be­cause the de­ploy­ment was only months away from when he re­ceived the no­tice. He’s spent the past cou­ple of months fo­cus­ing on weapon train­ing, tak­ing cour­ses to re­fresh his knowl­edge of mil­i­tary skills and to learn about Afghanista­n.

His mother-in-law plans to take a leave of ab­sence from her job to have more time to help the cou­ple take care of their two small boys, a 4-year-old and a 6-mon­thold.

His two teenage daugh­ters from his first mar­riage aren’t happy about the de­ploy­ment, O’Neill said.

“My old­est is go­ing to be a junior in high school, and you know how crit­i­cal that year is in a stu­dent’s high school ca­reer,” O’Neill said. “So she’s not happy about that.”

His 14-year-old daugh­ter gave him an al­bum of fam­ily pho­tos, and she plans to send him more through­out his de­ploy­ment, he said.

“She said, ‘Daddy, every month I’m go­ing to send you ac­tual pic­tures so you can fill the photo al­bum up,’ ” O’Neill re­mem­bers his daugh­ter telling him. “I thought that was a re­ally cool idea.”

O’Neill also is­pack­ing Father’s Day cards and tak­ing his cell­phone with him, some­thing he wasn’t able to do in past de­ploy­ments. He thinks he might even be able to FaceTime with his fam­ily, a dras­tic shift from his time in Iraq when he was able to call home twice.

“You might not have a roof over your head, you may be liv­ing in a tent, but you have in­ter­net,” O’Neill said. “It made me feel a lit­tle bit bet­ter about leav­ing the boys. They’ll be able to see my face, I’ll be able to see theirs. Be­cause when you don’t get to see your loved ones for that long, it’s rough, es­pe­cially when you have kids, but at least I’ll be able to watch them grow up.”

“There’s a lot of ques­tions about what we are still do­ing there, but, see … none of those things re­ally mean any­thing to me and my job.” — Terry O’Neill, a father of four and mem­ber of the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard



Jonathan Lo­ge­mann throws his daugh­ter Eleanor, 3, into the air at their Rockford home on July 17. He is a mem­ber of the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard.

Lo­ge­mann kisses Maya, 1, while his wife, Sarah Clery-Lo­ge­mann, holds Eleanor at their home July 17. He will de­ploy to Afghanista­n.

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