Missouri National Guardsmen of the Macon-based 1438th Engineer Company train on a bridging system at Fort Leonard Wood that is similar to the bridges they will be dismantling as part of their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. (Matt Wilson photo)
MACON, Mo. - The Macon-based 1438th Engineer Company of the Missouri Army National Guard has received mobilization orders for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The order from 1st Army Headquarters affects more than 180 Soldiers of the bridge-building unit with a mobilization next summer.
Nicknamed the "River Otters," the 1438th is a subordinate unit of the Cape Girardeau-based 1140th Engineer Battalion and maintains a detachment in Kirksville. The unit is commanded by Capt. McClellan H. Gaono, of Cape Girardeau, who is also the 1140th battalion training officer.
"It was inevitable that we would be deployed because the last time this unit deployed was 2005," Gaono said. "So with that in mind we've actually been preparing for this deployment since I took command of the unit in January of 2011."
The 1438th will replace bridge-building units from the Louisiana and California National Guards, but won't be building any bridges.
"Actually we'll be dismantling bridges," Gaono explained. "We'll be tearing down bridge sections, packing them up and preparing them for shipment back to the United States. There are a lot of temporary bridges in Afghanistan so the pace of the mission to tear them down has been somewhat overwhelming for the units there now."
To prepare for the mission several dozen Soldiers of the 1438th recently underwent specialized "popup training" at Fort Leonard Wood, familiarizing themselves with the bridging systems similar to those they will be working with in Afghanistan. Those Soldiers will train the rest of the unit.
"This is a new type of bridging system designed by the British military," Gaono said. "We were fortunate to have been able to get that training at Fort Leonard Wood so we could work out any issues that might arise in-country."
Gaono said the 1438th might also assume a secondary mission of palletizing military supplies and equipment for shipment back home.
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