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American Forces Press Service

Reservists Deploy to Help Build Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, July 13, 2011 – As much of the nation focuses on drawdown plans in Afghanistan, Army reservists from the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion are preparing to deploy there this week to ensure security progress made has the opportunity to stick.

The unit, with headquarters in Encino, Calif., will deploy to Kandahar province to help Afghanistan extend the reach of its national and provincial governments to provide infrastructure and services to the Afghan people.

With almost a month of mobilization preparations and pre-deployment training now under their belts, the soldiers say they’re ready to get on with the mission so they can make a difference.

“I think this is the best way we can contribute to a positive outcome,” said Army Cpl. Joseph Cruz, a former Marine about to deploy for the first time as a civil affairs soldier.

Although he said he expects to draw on his combat experience while in Afghanistan, Cruz, a civilian private investigator, said he’s now looking forward to tackling some of the challenges there non-kinetically. “This is more people-oriented, and you get tangible results,” he said during the unit’s mission rehearsal exercise here last week. “You know that what you are doing is helping.”

Army Staff Sgt. Hugo Rivera, a history and education student at the University of California Los Angeles deploying for the third time since 2003, has seen firsthand how civil affairs activities -- from building schools and medical clinics to providing wells and electricity -- can help to change a country.

“As a team, I think we have a big piece of the pie,” Rivera said, recalling his last deployment, to Afghanistan’s remote Nuristan province.

“When we got there, they had no roads and no electricity,” he said. “But by the time we left, they had roads, electricity, a brand-new cell phone tower and even a radio station.

“We set them up for success,” he added. “When we took a step back and looked, we saw that we had left the place better than when we found it.”

Rivera said he looks forward to making a similar impact in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, birthplace of the Taliban and once a hotbed of insurgent activity.

“Our training dictates that we are there to change the way [the Afghans] think and feel, and to help guide them in the right direction,” he said. “We give them the basics and help them with projects that provide water and electricity, and then we train them so they can use what we give them.”

As citizen-soldiers, the reservists bring not only military skills, but also civilian-acquired career skills to the table.

Army Reserve Sgt. George Rodriguez, who served as point man during a training exercise here last week, oversees production of $1.5 million to $3.5 million in Frito Lay products every week. Staff Sgt. Jacob Sierra is a correctional officer. Sgt. Joseph Sexton is a heavy equipment operator.

Rivera called leaving his 13-year-old son and his studies behind to help Afghanistan succeed as a nation “a small sacrifice.”

“I love my country, and I really love my job,” he said. “This is my way of giving back.”

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