For some, it was their first deployment. For others, it was one of many. One soldier said she was being sent to Afghanistan for her sixth time. Last weekend also marked the first time Air Force fighter jets were deployed.
It is not unusual for Air National Guard units to support deployment operations in Afghanistan or even Iraq. Unlike other units, however, the Capital Guardians are charged with deploying overseas to Afghanistan while being ordered to maintain a full presence for and take responsibility of air defenses over the National Capital Region (NCR)--the District of Columbia and surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia.
Since September 11, 2001, the 113th Wing has maintained a 24/7 watch over the NCR. Pilots, maintenance crews and equipment "stand at the ready" to respond to emergencies and potential threats. F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, loaded with live weapons, are prepared to launch when and if necessary.
While some 113th Wing members will return from the current Afghanistan deployment in late December, others will stay in Afghanistan for a longer period of time. Although it is not known exactly how long some Capital Guardians will remain, but however long, the period of time can be excruciatingly long when loved ones are left behind. And, likewise, it is tough for those at home when family and friends are flying into "harm's way" to fight an unpopular war that has lasted way too long and cost way too much in blood and treasure for most Americans.
According to officials, the decade-long Afghanistan war has resulted in the deaths of 1,700 military personnel and more than 14,000 wounded. Also, this war has the distinction of being America's longest war. Consider that at 10 years, the American-led Afghanistan war has lasted longer than the American Revolution, longer than the Civil War, longer than World War I, longer than World War II, and longer than the Vietnam Conflict. On top of all of that, hundreds of billions of tax dollars have been spent on the war which helps give rise to angst and fuel to protests that denounce any further spending.
The October 2011.org, Occupy DC and other Occupy Wall Street protests are sprouting up and making their presence known around the country. Last week, the District became a "hot bed" gathering place. McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza are now staging areas for hundreds of protesters who from around the country.
Anti-war sentiment is at the top of the protesters' lists. As the nation continues fighting in Afghanistan, more "Stop the War" protests propelled by the desire to cease spending tax dollars on an unpopular war, are inevitable.
As the country continues to collect its fair share of taxes from District residents and while the country continues to send District residents, men and women, to fight and possibly die in a 10 year old war, District residents still lacks full voting rights in Congress.
On Saturday, October 15, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will lead a rally and march for self-determination beginning at Freedom's Plaza at 10 a.m. The demonstration was previously planned to take place during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication that was cancelled in August due to Hurricane Irene.
Gray said, "We embrace Dr. King's declaration that 'now is the time to make real the promise of democracy' and '...to make justice and freedom a reality for all citizens in the District of Columbia' by promoting awareness of the District's struggle for self-determination, autonomy and statehood through the "DC Full Democracy Freedom" March. It will symbolize our desire and hope to enjoy the same freedom and democracy as other Americans."
Undoubtedly, further deployments are planned for the Capital Guardians. One of the biggest ironies may be that District residents are deploying, fighting and sometimes dying to support an Afghan government that will eventually offer its residents what District residents cannot get--voting rights.