- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - For the first time since 2002, the South Carolina National Guard has no Army or Air Guard combat units on overseas deployments that began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“It’ll the first time now in a little over a decade that all those soldiers and airmen will be back on American soil,” Brig. Gen. R. Van McCarty said in a brief interview. “It’s real good news for us.”

McCarty said the Guard estimates there have been 18,000 deployments by individual soldiers and airmen in the 11,000-member Guard in that time.

The one-star Army general is the No. 2 commander of the state’s Army and Air National Guard and is in charge of keeping its units trained, ready and equipped.

McCarty said the returnees are about a dozen members of the 132nd Military Police Company based in Edgefield and due back over the weekend. Most of the unit came back in August after an eight-month Afghan deployment.

“I think it’s an important marker and it reflects what has occurred with the state of deployments overall,” McCarty said, referring to the declining pace of American military operations since the end of combat in Iraq and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush declared the “war on terror” after 9/11 and deployments began.

They have come at a cost. Sixteen South Carolina Guard members died during the deployments, said spokesman Maj. Cindi King. Every morning, Guard leaders got updates on the status of their overseas forces.

“It’s been a real nail-biter,” King said. In one attack, three soldiers died from an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.

Most of the deployments involved engineer, aviation, and military police units, King said.

McCarty said he had just encountered one soldier who had deployed five times. People deploying two or three times had become common. McCarty spent a year in Afghanistan in 2007 as the commander of a field artillery brigade headquarters.

King said the South Carolina combat missions in the post-9/11 era began in 2002, when F-16 jets with the 169th Fighter Wing were sent to Southwest Asia to support the fighting in Afghanistan. By 2003, nearly all 400 airmen from the 169th were deployed to support missions in Iraq, she said.

King said the first South Carolina Army National Guard unit sent overseas came in 2003 when the 122nd Engineer Battalion from Edgefield was deployed to Iraq. That unit has been one of the state’s most active, with separate deployments to Iraq in 2003, 2005, 2009 and then to Afghanistan in 2010.

McCarty pointed out that the deployments are not done, with another one set for January. And overseas humanitarian missions are ongoing, such as its work training mechanics from Colombia’s military forces.

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Follow Susanne M. Schafer on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/susannemarieap

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