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Posted on Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 5:59 a.m. launches multimedia project following local soldiers heading to Afghanistan War

By Juliana Keeping

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. 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. 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” and follow on Twitter, too, which will be posting reports and videos from the soldiers and their families.

This series is funded by George Polk grant affiliated with the George Polk Awards program at Long Island University.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Follow Viking's War on Facebook and Twitter

Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

For anyone looking to learn more about Kunduz should probably not use the link gives. It links to a news article from the BBC about an Afghan suicide blast. Even wikipedia gives a better picture ... Here are some helpful links: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Megan Schopp

Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 3:22 a.m.

Not many of us know what its like to see a far-off Central Asian country without the safety of our homes. We can change the channel or google something else. My husband is currently in this unit and I think that no matter how much media and videos are out there are, it is hard to even imagine what its like in reality. When you really listen to the soldiers tell you what its like you get a whole different visual of what it could even possibly be like to be there and not have any comforts of our American freedoms we have here. I think listening to the soldiers who have been there tell their story of what it is like is a lot more realistic than googling an image and saying you know what it looks like. I think it is true that many people are unwilling to look. You never know with the 800+ soldiers deploying, the wife caring for her 2 kids alone for the next year may be standing in front of you at the grocery store line, the mother waiting for 2 weeks for a phone call that her son is okay could be in the church pew next to you, or the wife at the lecture hall at the local university trying to stay busy while we wait for our soldiers return. Regardless of how this is ran or how its viewed, I hope it brings more public awareness that the news coverage on tv is far from the realities of this long war. Many Michigan soldiers from the 125 and 126 are coming up on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th deployments . I hope this brings more awareness and support, which is always welcomed during these long deployments. I agree some of the hardships with National Guard deployments tend to be location. I have seen some of the news from Grand Rapids but nothing in the Detroit area news on TV.

Jim Clarkson

Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 7:50 p.m.

I think it is great that you guys will be following my battalions deployment, I live in Ann Arbor and serve with Delta company 125 Heavy weapons out of Big Rapids (currently on a medical hold but I will be joining them again shortly ). But I do feel the need to mention that there are a lot more than 800 soldiers going on this deployment. Not only is the whole battalion of the 125th Infantry going but also the 126th Cavalry battalion which is also from the Michigan guard not too mention several more support comapanies. I can understand the focus on the 125th because of the local soldiers but I feel it is a disservice not to mention all the other Guardsmen that have also left for training leaving thier loved ones and family behind.

Adam Betz

Mon, Oct 10, 2011 : 6:38 p.m.

Clarkson, Mrs. Keeping chose the 125 because she had prior contacts with Soldiers within the 125th. In addition, the 125 will be the 37th Brigades Main Effort element...makes more sense to cover the 125th IN.

Juliana Keeping

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

Hi Jim. Thx for the note. Indeed, about 1,250 soldiers have mobilized to become active duty soldiers.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

&quot;The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history&quot; Really? The U.S. was fighting in Viet Nam for a lot longer. 1956 to 1976. The coverage looks interesting but how will it be presented? Just the facts and let us decide? or typical media left wing propaganda?


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Actually you're off three years from 1956-1959. The focus during this period was Laos not South Vietnam. To say there weren't advisers in Vietnam would be stupid but it wasn't until late 1959 that there was influx of &quot;advisers&quot;. Along with our buddies at the CIA with the Air America directive.

Bob Bethune

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

&quot;What does it look like from the ground in the far-off Central Asian country? Relatively few of us know.&quot; Media coverage of Afghanistan, including video coverage, has been out there in vast quantity since day 1. Go to youtube, enter Afghanistan; today I see 30,500 results. Go to Google Images, enter &quot;Afghanistan war&quot;; as of just now I see 17,400,000 results. It would seem to me that the only reason why &quot;relatively few of us know&quot; is simple unwillingness to look. I don't think another media project, no matter how worthy, will change that.