Military • coalition drawdown in Afghanistan is reducing the demand for Utah Guard soldiers.
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Thirty-five Utah National Guard soldiers bound for Afghanistan left Wednesday, one of the last of the Guard's expected deployments to the war-torn nation.
The soldiers of the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based at Camp Williams, were far fewer in number than earlier expected, said Lt. Col. Hank McIntire, spokesman for the Guard.
This winter, the 204th was looking to send 300 to 400 engineering and artillery soldiers to Afghanistan and Kosovo. Instead, there will be fewer than 100 on yearlong deployments to those nations. Several dozen soldiers from the same brigade will deploy to Kosovo within several weeks.
The reduced demand on Utah's Guard is indicative of the drawdown, McIntire said. In his State of the Union address in February, President Barack Obama said he plans to bring home more than half of the U.S. troops 34,000 in the next year and the rest by the end of 2014. All coalition troops are to be out of Afghanistan by then.
Also in Afghanistan for the Utah Guard are four pilots and two crew members of a C-12 aircraft, Detachment 50, who are working with U.S. Central Command. They left on a nine-month deployment in February.
Expected home in several weeks are 130 soldiers of the 624th Engineers of the 204th. They left in June.
Once they return, Utah will have fewer of its Guard soldiers deployed than almost any time since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, McIntire said.
The soldiers who left Wednesday will be at Camp Shelby, Miss., for several weeks of training before heading to northern Afghanistan, where they will conduct base operations and provide defense for U.S. military installations.