Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 5, 2013

Local soldiers heading back to Afghanistan

Tim Preston
The Independent

OLIVE HILL — Local soldiers bound for Afghanistan ask only that their friends and family members keep them in mind until they come home in December.

The Kentucky National Guard conducted two departure ceremonies for the soldiers of the 149th Vertical Construction Company over the weekend as they prepare for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The 149th Vertical Construction Company is a unit within the 201st Engineer Battalion, which is made up of soldiers whose skills include masonry, carpentry, electrical and other vocations needed for jobs including the construction of barracks, offices and other buildings. The company, based in Cynthiana with a detachment in Olive Hill, is expected to return home sometime in late December.

“This will be the first time in Afghanistan for some of them,” said 1st Lt. Michael Hamblin, who explained the company’s basic mission there will be “to provide stability” within that nation. Many members of the unit deployed previously in 2008-2009 as part of the 201st Engineer Battalion, as well as supporting last year’s tornado recovery efforts in Salyersville and Menifee County.

As a platoon leader, Hamblin said he will make it a personal priority to provide local soldiers with access to communication resources whenever possible while in Afghanistan.

“Just keep us in your thoughts and we’ll try to maintain contact as often as possible,” Hamblin said.

Kentucky National Guard spokesman David Altom noted the mission of the local soldiers is considerably different than during their last stay in Afghanistan, explaining the primary mission of the 201st, landmine removal, commonly put soldiers in dangerous situations.

“As a vertical construction company they will be doing a totally different job than removing landmines, but it’s still a war zone,” Altom said.

State Sen. Robin Webb, who spoke during Sunday’s departure ceremony at West Carter High School, said she could not escape the reality of the moment.

“It was an emotional day for me because some of these kids ... I call them kids but they are young men ... are very close to me and I watched them grow up,” Webb said, adding she assured each soldier and soldier’s family they would collectively “celebrate when they all return safely.”

Webb stressed she is aware of the hardships faced by the families of deployed soldiers and encouraged those with an active soldier in the family to ask for help if they find themselves in need of assistance.

“We want to be the support system for the families. Many people do hesitate to ask for help when they really need it,” she said.

Local soldiers bound for Afghanistan will convene at the armory in Olive Hill for a “load up and weigh in,” later this week, with local departure set for “the next couple of days,” Altom said.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at

tpreston@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2651.