MADISON (WKOW) -- A small team of highly trained Wisconsin Army National Guard members said their goodbyes Monday as they prepare to leave for Afghanistan.
Gov. Scott Walker, military leaders and family had a special sendoff for 16 Wisconsin National Guard members.
They are all part of the 104th Security Force Advise and Assist Team (SFAAT)—a group that has only existed for about three weeks now.
"It feels awesome. I feel proud," says First Lieutenant John Conley, a member of the security team. "I've got that special feeling that I'm a part of something great."
This small unit will play a big role in the next step of the mission to turn the fight over to the Afghans, mentoring Afghan security so they can take the lead when U.S. troops leave.
The first U.S. troops left Afghanistan last summer as part of the drawdown in the country. Today, there are about 68,000 troops left in Afghanistan.
SFAAT is expected to head to Afghanistan in early January.
"I am a field artillery officer," says First Lieutenant Joseph Reese. "So, my primary focus is going to be mentoring and coordinating fire support."
"You really build up their confidence. For many Afghan soldiers, this is their first impression of being a soldier or military person, so this is a great opportunity for them to learn from our experienced soldiers," says Major General Don Dunbar, the adjunct general of Wisconsin.
Dunbar says instead of the usual year or two year notice, the Wisconsin Guard got the official word about this mission a month ago.
"Normally we would have time to train before we deployed. But the Army is very smart, so we're mobilized now but they'll have extra time at their stations [before leaving]," Dunbar says. "So, we'll get everything done. I have absolute confidence they'll be ready."
At the farewell ceremony, the governor presented the security team with the state flag, sending them a clear message.
"No matter what people think of the politics of what's going on in Afghanistan, in the end we support our men and women in uniform," Walker says.
SFAAT is headed to Camp Shelby in Mississippi then Fort Polk in Louisiana for about a month of training before leaving for Afghanistan.
Watch Lysee Mitri's reports on 27 News at 5 and 6 tonight to see the farewell ceremony.
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