GREEN: They are the 1 percent.
As the commander of an Ohio Army National Guard unit stood before his troops and their families in a hangar at Akron-Canton Airport on Tuesday, he used the images of the Occupy Wall Street protests to drive home a point.
The 70 medical support soldiers of Company C, 237th Support Battalion, are now counted among a tiny minority of Americans, said Capt. Marshal A. Bickert.
“As I watched over the last few days the protests that have occurred around the country, I see protesters carrying signs saying we are the 99 percent,” Bickert said as he stood in the chilly, drafty MAPS Museum hangar.
For the protesters, the 1 percent refers to the nation’s richest. But Bickert was making a different reference.
“If our soldiers sitting here today were carrying signs, their signs would say we are the 1 percent, the 1 percent of Americans who can and do put on that uniform and serve their country.”
He was addressing the soldiers and a few hundred family members, friends and supporters who gathered for the ceremonial send-off. They were surrounded by historical military aircraft along the walls and many more sitting outside the wide-open doors.
The departing unit trains at the armory on North Hawkins Avenue in Akron and is part of the Ohio Army National Guard’s 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
About 3,500 soldiers are part of the deployment to Afghanistan over the next few months, with about 2,100 from Ohio and 1,400 from Michigan.
The vast majority of troops in the 37th will arrive in Afghanistan after the beginning of 2012.
This will be one of the 37th’s largest deployments in recent years. The 37th was deployed in World War II with 9,560 soldiers and during the Korean War with 6,824 soldiers.
In 2008, the 37th mobilized 2,528 soldiers to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The 37th will replace the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
The Akron unit was last deployed from December 2007 to December 2008 in Iraq.
The deployment occurs at the same time that the U.S. is reducing its troop levels in Afghanistan.
According to Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, there were about 98,000 U.S. troops in all branches in Afghanistan as of the first week of October. By the end of the year, Speaks said, that number will be 90,000 as about 10,000 “surge” troops are brought home.
By the end of September 2012, Speaks said, all surge troops will have left Afghanistan with 68,000 troops remaining.
“The process of transition will continue as Afghan security forces move into the lead, and our mission will shift from combat to support,” Speaks said. “By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. But the schedule of troop reductions beyond 2012 has not yet been determined.”
Unit is medical support
The North Hawkins unit is a medical support unit that supplies other front line units with medical personnel, among them physician assistants, registered nurses and combat medics, and they have their own medical professionals used by the brigade, said Ohio National Guard public affairs spokesman Capt. Matthew J. Molinski.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy O’Brien, a Springfield, Ohio, fireman, spent time with his wife, Rebekah, and their two children before the send-off.
“The main focus is on the kids,” said Rebekah, whose husband went on his first overseas deployment to Iraq in 2003.
Gearing up for his first deployment was Pfc. Kyle Czaplenski, 25, of Stow, a combat medic and University of Akron nursing student.
In the audience watching him were several members of his family, including two sisters and his parents, Natalie and James Czaplenski of Maple Heights.
Pfc. Czaplenski said he had wanted to be in the Army since he was a kid and is excited about the deployment.
Training in Mississippi
The soldiers will first train at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
Natalie Czaplenski said her family will rely on prayer in the coming months as her son goes overseas.
“We have given it to God,” she said. “It is in God’s hands.”
Capt. Bickert told his soldiers that as their lives unfold in the decades ahead, they will know they accomplished something big because of what they are about to do.
“When you see a protest on TV, when you go into a church, when you go to vote, think for a second, I had something to do with that,” he said. “I made sure those benefits of being an American continue.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.