Guard company prepares to deploy

About 170 Kansas National Guardsmen are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, but before they ship out, community members and state officials will have the chance to wish them farewell.

The 226th Engineer Company of the Kansas Army National Guard, based out of Augusta, has spent the last year preparing for its mission and will travel to Fort McCoy, Wis., next week to finish training. It is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in February.

A farewell ceremony is set for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in Pioneer Hall at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina. Lt. Gov. Troy Findley and Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting will speak at the event, which is open to the public.

"This allows state leadership to come down and pay their respects to the unit that's deploying,'' said Capt. Brian Henning, the company's commander. "It also gives friends and families of the soldiers a chance to be there and say their goodbyes."

Although the company has its headquarters in Augusta, it also has detachments in Pittsburgh and Cherryvale, and some troops from other companies within the same battalion will also be deployed with the 226th.

After arriving in Afghanistan, the soldiers will spend the next 11 months building infrastructure to support troops stationed there. Henning said the company will work on a variety of projects ranging from general base improvement to building housing, wash facilities and guard towers for soldiers.

"Our job is to make sure they (other soldiers) have the housing and facilities they need to do their job," he said. "We give them the infrastructure to protect themselves and fight from."

The 226th was last deployed in 2003, when it helped construct fuel lines to support the ground invasion of Iraq. Some soldiers in the company were also deployed to Iraq in 2005 as part of a larger battalion deployment.

Henning, who works as a critical care nurse at Via Christi Health when not serving, said it's tough leaving behind friends and family. But after a year of training and anticipation, it feels good to finally be deploying.

"We're ready to go," he said.