BARTONVILLE — It'll be a time of firsts for Alec and Zachary Dumyahn.
The twin 21-year-olds are both set to deploy to Afghanistan with Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment. The two natives of Zion are going on their first deployment together. They've got the same rank — specialist. They are both infantrymen but in different platoons.
"We've had three hard years of training, so for that to not pay off would have been a bummer," said Alec Dumyahn, who added it was an amazing feeling to have completed their training and know it was done well. "If we didn't do it right, then we would not have gotten to go."
Zachary Dumyahn said it was "like a blessing" to have his brother there along with him.
"I believe that the Lord has blessed us to get to go and deploy together. I know we are gong to do great things," he said.
They and about 50 others from the Bartonville-based unit are leaving for training at Fort Bliss, Texas, before deploying to Afghanistan. The National Guard bureau in Springfield said about 100 soldiers with ties to central Illinois are part of the statewide deployment.
Alpha Company members are deploying with four other companies that compose that first battalion for yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. The deployment is in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the latest operational name for the ongoing effort there.
The soldiers were sent off as heroes on Monday by a crowd of family and friends who filled the stands at the Limestone Community High School football field to cheer on their soldiers. It was the standard fare for departure ceremonies except that Alpha walked past the commanding officers who looked on. The feeling was of great optimism.
Alpha's commander, Capt. Michael Halles, who hails from the Naperville area, was "ecstatic." He's spent his entire Army career with the 178th, starting as a platoon leader and working his way up the ranks to company commander. That, he said, makes it so special, as he has known many of the soldiers for years. That gives it a more of a family feel, he said.
In all, about 400 guard members from across the battalion will go.
This isn't the unit's first time there. In 2008, they went to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Phoenix, an ongoing effort to train the Afghan National Army and security forces. The 178th is part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team that sent 2,700 soldiers from all over the state to Afghanistan. It was the largest deployment of the guard in Illinois since World War II. Eighteen soldiers died on that yearlong deployment, according to guard records.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has dropped in the past decade, but there are still some 14,000 U.S. servicemen and -women there. And while the number is lower, the danger is real. Earlier Monday, it was announced that two U.S. service members died while serving with the NATO mission there, according to Newsweek. The news magazine said 12 GIs have died in Afghanistan this year.
Sgt. Tyler Rue, who deployed with the 178th back in 2008 and 2009, said he feels honored to go back. Yes, the country has changed and yes, they are going to a different part of it, but he said he feels honored the unit was entrusted to go back and finish the job.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.