Experience levels high for 870th Engineer Company deploying to Afghanistan

Written by  //  June 16, 2012  //  Feature Stories

Soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 870th Engineer Company form up during a deployment ceremony in Crestview, Fla., June 16, 2012. More than 90 Soldiers from the unit will be deploying to Afghanistan for a year-long mission. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

CRESTVIEW, Fla. (June 16, 2012) — When the 870th Engineer Company (Sappers) flies the Florida flag over its base in Afghanistan later this summer, the unit will already be bringing a wealth of combat experience to the deployment.

More than 90 Soldiers from the Crestview-based Florida Army National Guard company were presented with the flag during a deployment ceremony Saturday morning at their armory, prior to a year-long mission in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Nearly a third of those Soldiers standing in formation during the ceremony were already seasoned veterans of combat deployments, according to the unit’s commander.

Florida Army National Guard leaders present the State of Florida flag to the 870th Engineer Company during a deployment ceremony, June 16, 2012, in Crestview, Fla. Pictured are 1st Sgt. James Holland (left), Commander of the Florida Army National Guard Brig. Gen. James Tyre, 870th Commander Capt. Joel Ellis, 83rd Troop Command Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun, and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hosford. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Capt. Joel Ellis, who will lead the Soldiers first to Texas for additional training and later on to Afghanistan, said he is confident in the experience levels of all of his Guardsmen. He called the unit the “cutting edge of our country’s sword” and noted the additional training they’ve received has prepared even the youngest private for their overseas’ mission.

“I’m excited,” Ellis said. “We have a good group of guys and we’ve done a lot of training – especially over these last six months. It has been extremely training intensive.”

While in Afghanistan the Soldiers will be seeking out and clearing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along well-traveled routes.

“Our job is to go out and find IEDs before they find us, other Soldiers or civilians,” Ellis explained.

For Ellis this will be his ninth deployment and his fourth combat tour, but his first deployment to Afghanistan. He previously deployed with the Navy, the Army Infantry, and most recently with the Florida National Guard’s 779th Engineer Company to Iraq.

Of the other veterans in the 870th, Ellis said most of them have experience in Iraq and some of them have performed route clearance missions under combat conditions.

One of those Iraqi Freedom veterans deploying with the 870th is Sgt. Matthew Pikard. Pikard, a team leader, had a 2009-2010 deployment to Iraq.

“A lot of what we did in Iraq was IED recognition, and that is what we are doing this time around in Afghanistan,” he explained.

The veteran said he often reminds his Soldiers who haven’t deployed before to “be ready for anything, stay flexible, (and expect) long hours because you’re going to earn the money you make.”

According to the Florida Army National Guard’s top enlisted Soldier, this deployment experience is now pervasive among the more than 12,000 citizen-Soldiers and Airmen in the state.

“Between the Florida Army and the Air National Guard we’ve done over 15,000 deployments since 2001,” said Florida Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hosford, who provided the State of Florida Flag to the 870th during Saturday’s ceremony.

“A tremendous amount of experience is now nested within the National Guard,” Hosford said. “…Probably more so than at any time since World War II.”