GREENSBURG (KDKA) – A group of National Guardsmen will head off to Afghanistan following an emotional goodbye to their families Saturday morning in Westmoreland County.
This weekend, Army National Guardsmen Evan Melendez, with the 28th Military Police Company, is leaving his children, and Aaron Orto will be parting from his wife. They are among six members of the unit preparing for a six month mission in Afghanistan.
“I told them that daddy’s going to war and we just take it from there,” said Melendez. “We will be doing a lot of Skyping – a lot of internet communications – so, that should alleviate a lot of the home stress.”
“He hasn’t even left yet and I’m already worried,” said Tonya Orto of her husband.
For the first time, Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen and Air National Guardsmen will work jointly with a team of Lithuanian soldiers to train Afghanistan police officers.
“It’s about relationships,” said Major Gen. Randy Marchi. “We work together to make the mission.”
Major Gen. Marchi says since Sept. 11, 2001, 17,000 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says support at home makes it all possible.
“Our missions have been all successful and they would not have been successful without the support of the families,” Major Gen. Marchi added.
While the guardsmen admit that it’s tough to leave their families, they say there is a job to be done.
“We know what we signed up to do,” said 1st Lt. Tod Kegarise. “We volunteered for this so we know what we’re getting into.”
Several guardsmen have already served in Iraq and are volunteering for a second tour of duty.
“I anticipate a medium threat if you will, but I believe my Iraq tour prepared me mentally,” added Melendez.
There are about a dozen members of the 28th Military Police Company that are currently serving in Afghanistan. But the six soldiers won’t be going there immediately.
They travel to Fort Polk in Louisiana for about two months of training first, and then they’ll spend another month in Lithuania before arriving in Afghanistan in early April.