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Fredericksburg-area Guardsmen adjusting to challenges of life in Afghanistan's Ghazni province
Having given up the comforts of home, members of the Fredericksburg-based 229th Engineer Battalion are blowing up weapons caches in Afghanistan.
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Date published: 11/9/2004
"It's amazing how these people live," said Siebels, a 28-year-old who lived in Spotsylvania and worked as a VDOT road engineer before being deployed. "They've been dealing with war for years and years. It's more of a way of life to them than what we expected."
Siebels and other members of the 229th witnessed that battle-hardened mind-set up close.
Afghanistan is one of the world's most heavily mined countries, and the 229th was called to dispose of one. When the unit arrived, Siebels said villagers were just milling around the deadly weapon.
Siebels admitted feeling nervous. But the villagers already had peeled open the mine, removed its explosives, and used them to blast rock at a nearby quarry.
"They just deal with it and live with it," he said.
Siebels would not comment about whether his soldiers had seen any action, but said it had suffered no casualties.
The 229th is attached to the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry, which arrived in Afghanistan in July. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Blake Ortner of Stafford County, said he'd hoped the 229th would make it sooner because engineers are badly needed.
As the country's first democratic election approached in October, the Virginia National Guard increased its security patrols and assistance to local police and the Afghan National Army.
With the elections complete--and with none of the major disruptions threatened by former Taliban forces--the guard is changing its focus, Ortner said.
Though he wouldn't elaborate for security reasons, Ortner said Virginia soldiers will work to eliminate threats to coalition forces, including improvised explosive devices.
The booby-trap bombs are fashioned from old mortar rounds and artillery shells. Two Virginia Guardsmen were killed by the devices in August.
Given the number of old Soviet weapons caches and mines that need to be destroyed, the engineers are important, Ortner said.
"Their services, their duties and abilities are critical for the success of our mission here," he said.
Siebels knows that means the tempo won't slow down.
"It's fast-paced, seven days a week, 24 hours a day," he said. "It's always there, it's nothing else."
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