BA Guard unit shares Thanksgiving greetings
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2012
11/22/12 at 9:46 AM
Oklahoma soldiers in Afghanistan prepare not just themselves but their families for the separation during the holiday season.
About 200 members of the 120th Engineer Battalion of the Oklahoma National Guard, based in Broken Arrow, will have their own celebrations halfway around the world Thursday and will be sure to contact their families back in the states.
"We encourage them to make an extra effort over the holiday season," said Lt. Col. Jackie Ritter, commander of the 120th Engineer Battalion Task Force Outlaw, in an interview with the Tulsa World last week from Afghanistan. "We make an extra effort to plan holiday events here to the extent that we can. Just to keep the holiday spirit alive."
The 120th Engineer Battalion began their nine-month Afghanistan deployment in August. The 120th is providing command and control for about 10 engineer route clearance companies and are trained to provide support for forward combat elements.
Ritter said that during the holidays, personal contact back home makes the separation easier. He said he is encouraging his soldiers to sit down and write their loved ones an actual letter, and for the families back home to do the same.
"Email can be quick, but a handwritten letter or card takes thought," Ritter said. "And everybody likes a handwritten letter."
But beyond the holidays, the support the soldiers get from back home throughout the deployment helps immensely, he said.
"I've said time and time again that the support we get from Oklahoma means a lot," Ritter said. "The support has not stopped. That, in itself, helps a soldier get up in the morning and put on their gear and make that walk or make that drive."
The unit's missions have been as the unit expected and generally what the training prepared the unit for, Ritter said.
Their missions focus on coordinating logistics between the large bases in southern Afghanistan and the forward operating bases in more isolated parts of the country. The unit also does some construction projects in the region.
"I think we're doing a little more than the unit that was here before," Ritter said. "No surprises have made for an easy transition into taking the lead from the guys before us."
Ritter said the unit keeps busy, with vital work done nearly daily as the only route-clearing company and one of the few engineering companies in Regional Command South of the International Security Assistance Force.
With one other engineer battalion there, "we have a lot of route clearance and a lot of construction," Ritter said.
The unit's missions have continued with a few adjustments after a rash of so-called insider attacks by Afghan security forces or insurgents posing as such. More than 50 coalition forces have been killed by Afghan military, police or people wearing the uniforms of the units.
Ritter said the unit has stepped up its precautions when dealing with Afghan forces - like all coalition forces have done in the past few months - but it hasn't affected their mission.
"We certainly have a heightened awareness when we have forward operations," he said. "We have things to help mitigate some of those risks that are inherent with forward operations. I wouldn't say our mission has changed."
Ritter said the soldiers will stay vigilant and do their best to stay safe and complete the mission so they can spend the next holiday with their families.
"We certainly wish everybody back there the best of holidays, given the circumstances for our loved ones," Ritter said. "We want them to enjoy the season and holidays and carry on the best they can, and we'll be there next year."
Original Print Headline: BA Guard unit shares holiday greetings
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Spec. Gabriel Atwell, left, from Tulsa, Spec. Sean Singley from Oklahoma City; Spec. Rose Diaz from Broken Bow, members of the 120th Engineer Battalion of the Oklahoma National Guard, are served Thanksgiving dinner while stationed in Afghanistan. Courtesy
First Lt. David Bell from Noble and First Sergeant Scott Lasiter from Eufala serve Thanksgiving dinner to Spec. Sean Singley from Oklahoma City and Spec. Rose Diaz from Broken Bow, members of the 120th Engineer Battalion of the Oklahoma National Guard stationed in Afghanistan. Courtesy