AnnArbor.com launches multimedia project following local soldiers heading to Afghanistan War
The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history.
What does it look like from the ground in the far-off Central Asian country? Relatively few of us know.
Several Michigan National Guard soldiers have agreed to show us. Outfitted with video equipment, they’re going to document for roughly one year what the longest war in history sounds, feels and looks like from the ground.
AnnArbor.com is calling the project Viking’s War.
It’s named for Michigan Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment. Its call sign is the “Viking Battalion.”
Eight hundred Viking Battalion soldiers are preparing for a deployment right now. It will be the biggest single-unit deployment from Michigan since World War II, said Lt. Col. Ryan Connelly, the battalion’s commander.
Among the participants in Viking’s War is 1st Lt. Adam Betz, with Flint-based Headquarters Company, one of six companies under the umbrella of the Viking Battalion. I wrote about Betz today in a piece that explores how post-9/11 conflicts have shaped his adulthood.
AnnArbor.com has received funding from the George Polk Program at Long Island University to outfit Betz and others with video equipment they’ll take to training and then to Afghanistan. They’ll be shipping footage back and corresponding as much as it makes sense. I’ll package their observations into reports.
Betz, 30, is single, while other participants are newly married and never deployed, or facing a second deployment and leaving family, including children, behind. Spouses are participating in the effort, too, letting us know what it’s like to be the one left behind.
And for the first time in history, the vastly male Viking Battalion is taking a number of women on its deployment. The female soldiers will be a part of a new initiative of the Michigan National Guard called female engagement teams. We will be hearing from them, too. The engagement teams are charged with carrying out humanitarian missions, as well as to search and question women in the conservative Islamic country at check points and in other situations.
In June, President Barack Obama announced a troop drawdown that began in July.
Yet the country is far from stable.
August marked the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers the war had ever seen. Civilian deaths hit record numbers in 2010.
Media reports note that northern Afghanistan is growing increasingly unstable, particularly in Kunduz Province, which will be a main area of operation for the Viking Battalion.
For now, the Viking Battalion is scheduled to deploy “some time after the new year,” Connelly said. They begin training today at Camp Grayling, a sprawling National Guard training facility that spans three counties in northern Michigan.
Training will continue for several months at bases throughout the U.S. before the deployment. Orders may change at any time.
Check back in the coming weeks for introductory reports and videos on the other soldiers participating in this project. I'll be heading to Grayling toward the end of September. More reports on the soldiers will follow leading into the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, which is Oct. 7.
In the meantime, there are several ways to follow Viking’s War.
You can “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for links to stories as well as supplementary material and photos. Make sure to “like” AnnArbor.com and follow AnnArbor.com on Twitter, too, which will be posting reports and videos from the soldiers and their firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter