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      Illinois guardsmen and women prepare to deploy

      The State of Illinois is in the midst of its largest overseas deployment of Illinois National Guardsmen and women since World War II.

      Right now about 3000 citizen soldiers from 30 units across the state including here in the Tri-States are preparing for deployment to Afghanistan as part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

      Three units have already been deployed. The rest are completing their training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina before leaving for Afghanistan at the end of November and early December.

      These soldiers are part of the gradual increase in forces to the war-torn country in support Operation Enduring Freedom.

      KHQA's Melissa Shriver went to Fort Bragg for an inside look at their mission and why officials say it's important to the end of operations in the Middle East.

      These Illinois soldiers with the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are going to a place where anything and everything could happen. And that's exactly what they must prepare for. When they arrive in Afghanistan, their mission is to train and mentor the Afghan National Army and Police Forces.

      Quincy National Guardsman and Commander of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Colonel Scott Thoele says it's a critical mission to the future of this war-torn country.

      Col. Thoele said, "If we don't get the Afghan security forces to stand on their own two feet, they'll never be able to secure their country. That is part of the exit strategy. Once we get the Afghan security forces trained, then the United states can start pulling back. And we can start pulling troops home. It's a long process. Afghanistan is a very poor country. It's been destroyed by 30 years of war."

      Col. Thoele continued, "When we actually mentor and train the Afghans we'll do this kind of stuff, live fire exercises and things like that but the biggest thing we'll do is our soldiers will actually accompany Afghan police forces and Afghan army forces into the field on operations against the enemy so that's where they look to us for our expertise and our support."

      But while their mission is to teach, soldiers will have to be ready at a moment's notice to defend themselves against Al-Qaeda attacks, in a country where hostile forces could lurk in every village and behind every hill.

      Ever since these soldiers learned of there deployment last fall, every minute has been spent training for this mission. Right now, they're wrapping up 57 days of training at Fort Bragg, some of the most intense training they'll ever experience on everything from how to recognize improvised explosive devices to defending a base of operations against an attack. The last 10 days is like their final exam -- a time when soldiers are driven hard. They get little sleep and face high stress situations, close to what they'll have to face in Afghanistan.

      Quincy National Guardsman, Captain Jason Steinkamp said, "S oldiers are adapting well to the things they need to do. Every day we're experiencing new challenges soldiers are doing what they need to do to get the job done."

      Just to reinforce how dangerous and important this training is, three of the 30 units that make up the 33rd have already been deployed. Three soldiers with those units have already lost their lives.