Local National Guard unit heads to Afghanistan

After watching his son, Aiden Riddle, try to place his cap back on his head Casey Riddle says he's "ready to go and come back." Riddle is a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard's 1223rd Engineer Company who held their deployment ceremony on June 22, 2013 at the Summerville National Guard Armory. The unit is scheduled to go to Texas for pre-deployment preparation then continue to Afghanistan to conduct deconstruction missions. Casey Toth/Staff

National Guardsman Terrell Stevens said it hasn’t hit him yet that’s he’s going to Afghanistan for his first deployment.

“It’s just surreal,” the 23-year-old Stevens said. “But we’re ready and prepared.”

More than 150 S.C. National Guardsmen from the 1223rd Engineer Company in Summerville left Saturday for deployment to Afghanistan after training for the past year.

The unit will head to Texas for a month of additional training before spending the next year in Afghanistan on deconstruction projects.

“These heroic South Carolinians will deploy to Afghanistan at a pivotal time, and they will have a critical mission,” Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., adjutant general of South Carolina, said in a media release. “I am grateful for their families’ sacrifices.”

Unit commander Capt. Jay Sirman said the deployment ceremony Saturday at the Summerville National Guard Armory was an event for family and friends.

“Emotionally I’m not ready, but I know this is what he signed up for. This is what I expect,” said Stevens’ wife, Shyde Stevens, 22, who is also in the military. The couple have a 17-month-old daughter.

Sirman, a 2002 Citadel graduate and commander of the unit for two years, advised family members that the Guard is here as a support system while their loved ones are away.

Guardsman Michael Wallace, a Charleston native, will be leaving behind his wife, Bethany, a 2-year-old-daughter and a baby on the way. His wife and daughter will be staying with family in New York while he is away. He said he hopes he can get time off for the birth of his child in November. “I know they’re in good hands,” he said.

The unit will be involved in dismantling bases and other military sites as part of the U.S. drawdown, which is expected to conclude by the end of 2014.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the S.C. National Guard has deployed more than 17,000 soldiers and airmen in support of combat operations. The S.C. Guard has more than 600 members deployed.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@post andcourier.com.