Three thousand citizen soldiers from across Illinois, including here in the Tri-States, are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
These soldiers make up the largest overseas deployment of Illinois National Guardsmen and women since World War Two.
They're scheduled to leave later this month to train and mentor the Afghan police and army. Now they're wrapping up training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. KHQA's Melissa Shriver went to Fort Bragg just last week.
She discovered the leader of *all* three thousand Illinois soldiers with the 33rd Combat team calls Quincy home. She spent some time talking with this local hero, learned more about the pressures he faces, and about the pride he takes in his soldiers.
Infantry Brigade Combat Team Commander, Colonel Scott Thoele of Quincy doesn't *always* wear army fatigues to work.
This husband and father of four normally wears a suit and tie to work at First Bankers Trust in Quincy.
Like all soldiers here, he serves his country when called upon, leaving his loved ones behind at home.
What is the most important thing that you miss from home?
Col. Thoele said, "I miss my wife and kids, I miss the ability to lay on the couch and watch football on Sundays. I miss that. I miss watching the Cubs at the end of October. I guess I didn't miss much because they lost 3 games in a row. So that was disappointing."
As commander of the combat team, Thoele carries the burden of leading these men and women into an important, yet potentially dangerous mission. Three Illinois guard units already have deployed; three soldiers have been killed in the line of duty.
Col. Thoele said, "The hardest part of the job is losing soldiers. I've already lost three soldiers. One is being buried today at Arlington National Cemetery. It's very sad and very hard for a commander when you lose a soldier. So that's the worst part. Those three soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice and they leave behind very young families and young widows and it breaks my heart when that happens. And that's why this training is so very important to us. So we can minimize the chances of our soldiers being killed."
How is your men's morale?
Col. Thoele said, "Morale is good but it's not like being home. We live in a place called FOB patriot, days are long, we go to bed about midnight and get up around 5 in the morning. So it's keeping everyone busy which makes the days go pretty fast."
Are your soldiers prepared?
Col. Thoele said, "Yes. I did a site survey in Afghanistan in September and I was there about 2 weeks. We have a pretty good idea of the missions we'll have to accomplish over there so we've patterned this training after the likely scenarios we will be facing in Afghanistan. So this is as close as we can get without doing the real thing."
These soldiers and their families know that freedom isn't free. Still, they're ready and willing to serve their country and complete their mission in war-torn Afghanistan.
While deployment is tough for our military men and women, it's also very hard for family members left behind. KHQA also talked with Colonel Scott Thoele's wife Paula who lives here in Quincy.
She says it is tough to be away from her husband so much, but its even harder on the children in military families.
Paula says its her faith in the Lord and faith in her husband and his mission that gets her through.
We also spoke with some of Colonel Scott Thoele's co-workers at First Bankers Trust. They're holding his job in the compliance department until he returns.