St. Louis Public Radio News
9:03 pm
Thu September 3, 2009

Mo. Guard unit heads to Afghanistan

Jefferson City, MO – More Missouri National Guard members are being deployed to Afghanistan, and their families today bid them farewell at a ceremony in Jefferson City.

The 60 soldiers and airmen in the unit will form an Agricultural Development Team. They will be based in the Nangarhar Province, where they'll help the local population grow food crops and develop other agricultural projects.

Sergeant Rebecca Argilagos is one of three medics with the group. She says she's well aware of the dangers they'll face in a war zone.

"Well, I'm not going to lie to you...I'm a little afraid, but the Army's given me good training, and I believe in this mission," Argilagos said.

Argilagos' 12-year-old daughter Christiana is concerned for her mother's safety, but she says she's confident she'll do great.

"My dad got me this (device) for Skype, and I hope that I can see her on the computer," Christiana said.

Each member of the unit was personally greeted by Governor Jay Nixon and U.S. Senator Kit Bond before their deployment ceremony. They're scheduled to be gone for one year.

Major Chris Jackson is the unit's Executive Officer whose wife, Terri, came to see him off.

"There's always a concern (about being in a war zone), but statistically, we're just as safe over there as we are back here," Jackson said.

"It (won't be easy), but I've done it before...my kids are a little bit older this time, so I can handle it," Jackson's wife, Terri, said.

Specialists John and Jessica Byrd are husband and wife, and are being deployed together.

"It's very recent that as of 2006, the military just started allowing husbands and wives to be on the same deployment together," John Byrd said.

"We're lucky...because we're the same rank we can be together in the same unit, (because) different rank structures don't allow that," Jessica Byrd said.

Her husband then added, "For nepotism reasons."

The Byrds are both medics who will travel with the Agricultural Development Team as they work among the local Afghan population.

The Missouri Guard unit will travel first to Camp Atterbury in Indiana before leaving for Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province.

The province's Agriculture Director traveled last month to the Missouri State Fair, where he formally thanked the state for the work carried out by other Missouri Guard Ag teams.