Reservists Get Ready for Afghan Mission on Veterans Day

Flowers decorate a fence outside of Fort Hood's east gate on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Killeen, Texas, in honor of those killed and wounded in the Fort Hood shooting on April 2.

CEDAR RAPIDS -- While some spent Veterans Day honoring friends and relatives who have served in the armed forces, 35 Army Reserve soldiers spent the day training for impending deployment to Afghanistan.

The soldiers are part of the Cedar Rapids 649th Regional Support Group and will provide logistical and administrative support of soldier services on a base camp in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

While combat operations ended in that operation about a year ago, the United States has maintained a presence in Afghanistan -- training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.

The 649th is part of the 103rd Sustainment Command based in Des Moines and has units in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The reserve soldiers have trained since October, preparing to mobilize in Fort Hood, Texas, before heading to Afghanistan a month later for a yearlong tour, said Maj. Robert Hood, who helps train the group for duty.

To these soldiers, training on Veterans Day is symbolic of the years of service veterans have dedicated to the country, he said.

"It's an honorable cause, and it just goes to show the dedication of the unit to be prepared for our mission," Hood said.

Training involved simulated shooting exercises, basic lifesaving measures and teaching how to react in various situations to ensure soldiers are prepared for more training at Fort Hood.

While overseas, the duties will include making lodging assignments, managing repairs and coordinating other military units and private contractors.

With the unit leaving soon for Afghanistan, the reservists will miss the holidays -- something that's just a fact of life for veteran servicemen.

First Sgt. John Rose joined the Army in 1989, served in Bosnia in 1996, spent 22 months in Afghanistan in 2010 through 2012 and participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He has missed two Christmases, a wedding anniversary and six birthdays. And like the rest of the unit, he'll miss this Christmas with his family, too.

But technological advances such as video chat and Facebook have made the separation more bearable.

"God bless America for technology," he said. "It makes it a lot easier to deal with the separation, especially during the holidays."

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