On a late July day, soldiers from the 329th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion based in Parsons, Kansas aren't on a picnic or at the pool - they're training at Camp Crowder for deployment to Afghanistan later this year. The Army Reserve soldiers have been in Neosho for the past week, training as they prepare to mobilize.
In Afghanistan, the 329th will provide logistics support, managing food, water, fuel, gear, supplies, ammunition and building materials.
"Our focus right now has been the train-up," Captain Alex Borgardts, Army Reserve, said. "It's a combination of things collectively, our ability to be ready to go to Afghanistan based on the soldiers' individual readiness."
Readiness, according to Borgardts, includes updating administrative items including life insurance, beneficiaries, emergency contact information and pre-deployment health assessment which includes vaccinations.
"We make sure everything is good to go, especially dental," Borgardts said. "Stuff that's hard to do in Afghanistan, we do it ahead of time."
The majority of the men and women training in Neosho are from Southeast Kansas but others hail from Nebraska, Washington, Georgia and Missouri. Sergeant First Class Tommy R. Morris is a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer in civilian life. His assigned area is Newton and McDonald counties in southwest Missouri.
"I'm going to be the only local," Morris said. Morris has been with the battalion for an estimated 15 years.
"Right now, I consider myself in the role of support operations, getting revved up for mobilization," he said.
During the week, the group has undergone a variety of training including land navigation, night time driving, a counter IED course, first aid and medical response and escalation of force.
"A lot of these are skills the soldiers are already proficient in," Borgardts said. "But, because we are reservists, this week provides opportunities to refresh and retrain on some things."
Among those who will deploy in late September are the Vandyne brothers, a duo who originally hails from Southeast Kansas.
"We grew up in Independence, Kansas," Mark Vandyne said, who now calls El Paso, Texas home. "I was a medic, active duty for 12 years, got out and did some mechanic work - that's what I did before the Army and then decided to go back to school. I'm in school full time."
Mark Vandyne is support operations and serves as a systems technology specialist.
His brother, Matt Vandyne, now calls Pittsburg home.
"I've been in Pittsburg long enough to call it home, twenty years," he said.
In the Army Reserves, he's a transportation officer.
Both brothers will deploy with the unit - and it's not first time.
"I deployed out of Independence and Pittsburg in 2003," Mark Vandyne said. "I went on my Army career and been around the world. He (Matt) said he was deploying and needed someone to watch his dog. I decided I wasn't going to watch his dog - I was going to go with him."
On the civilian side, Matt Vandyne calls Pittsburg home.
"I have history in Pittsburg," he said. "I graduated from Pittsburg State University with an automotive technology degree and I've work with Mastercraft there in Pittsburg. I've actually worked for Mastercraft longer than I've been in the Army. I came late to the show."
Mark Vandyne described what the unit's primary role will be in Afghanistan.
"We're a logistics organization, bullets and beans, that type of thing. It's essentially provided the life support for a small city that includes Americans, local nations, NATO forces. We're making sure we get people fed, that they have a place to sleep, that they have ammunition, that we've got fuel - that runs everything we do. Water is a big one - we used lots of water and then there's the building supplies. Supply of the Army is our mission and we provide it to everyone who is in Afghanistan."
Lieutenant Colonel Doug Wagner commands the 329th.
"I'm the battalion commander and I've been commander here for a little over two years," he said. "This will be my 4th mobilization to the Middle East."
During his thirty-seven year career, he's been stationed around the world in places that include Honduras, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Syria, Jordon and all over Europe. He calls Lincoln, Nebraska home. Wagner spoke about life when deployed.
"Once you mobilize, you're part of a a family," he said. "You're close and you don't care if you're Republican or Democrat. Once you're in a group like this, it's all about the teamwork and the camaraderie. I like the structure of it."
Most important, however, is the safety of the soldiers.
"Sadly, we've all lost friends going over so it's all about the wellbeing of my soldiers. We're trying to give them the best training we can while we're here. It's important that we train as we fight so the more realistic training we can give them now, the better off we'll be in the future."
Borgardts agreed. "Our focus, number one, is ensuring safety of our soldiers and unit, especially going into mobilization into Afghanistan and especially while we're there. Part of this training is to ensure that we're ready, that we're the most lethal and effective force we can be."
Although the 329th's role is supply, the troops must be ready to face whatever challenges may arise in Afghanistan.
"We're not the guys going out on patrols, kicking in doors," Mark Vandyne said.
One type of training the troops underwent at Camp Crowder is escalation of force.
"We use a phrase," Borgardts said. "Shout, show, shove, shoot, shoot. When we come across someone, we don't know if they're hostile. We don't know what the circumstances are but it could be hostile. So the first thing we do, especially if we're on foot, is to shout stop, halt, usually in a local language. Then we'll show a weapon, that we're armed, to try to figure out if they're a threat to us. If they're in close proximity to use, we push them back, that's the shove. If it's safe, we'll fire a warning shot. All of that takes place before any sort of lethal action. It's important that soldiers keep that in mind as they go through this training exercise."
Camp Crowder is a National Guard base but the Army Reserve unit trained at the site.
"The post itself is a National Guard post and we're federal reserve forces, so we're lucky and privileged to have access to their post," Borgardts said. "It's really nice, they have a lot of good infrastructure, the buildings are nice."
Plans are for the unit to mobilize in late September, which brings them into active duty. After a few days spent at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Parsons, they'll head to Fort Hood.
"That's where we prove we're ready," Borgardts said. "It's usually a couple of weeks there."
A typical deployment lasts about a year.
Support to those who provide support to the troops in Afghanistan is vital.
"We couldn't do without the support of the families," Wagner said. "This is a great area. It's very rare that someone doesn't thank us for our service. We appreciate all that support we get from our hometowns. It's good to raise awareness to let people know we're here and that people from our communities are going to be mobilized."
The 329th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion is based in Parsons, Kansas. This will be the first deployment since the unit relocated from St. Louis, MO to Parsons. A community send-off will take place when the troops mobilize in late September