By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsApril 10, 2013
FORT HOOD, Texas (April 10, 2013) -- III Corps cased their colors at a ceremony here, April 4, marking the final step before the nearly 600 headquarters Soldiers begin a year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
This will mark the corps' sixth deployment, but its first to Afghanistan. Once in country, III Corps Soldiers will join other NATO nations to form the International Joint Command, the corps-level headquarters element that controls the ground war.
Phantom Warriors of III Corps will help set the conditions for the hand off to Afghan forces, currently slated for the end of 2014, as well as for the nation's elections that are scheduled for next year, III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said.
"During the upcoming year, we will ensure that the Afghan people are ready to defend their young democracy against the terrorists who seek to destroy it," Milley said.
III Corp's mission, and the timing of the deployment are crucial as Afghanistan prepares to assume responsibility for its own security, the general said.
"We are deploying to Afghanistan at a pivotal time in our nation's history and at a pivotal time in Afghanistan's history," Milley said. "The sacrifices that our nation has made and will make this year will bring an end to decades of human suffering in that country as the Afghan National Security Forces take over the defense, and a rightful defense, of their nation."
To those who wonder if America's sacrifice in Afghanistan has been worth it over the past 12 years, Milley asked that some facts be considered.
"I was one of those privileged enough in the early years to be there; and if you were in Afghanistan 12 years ago, you would have seen in the area of education very, very few children going to school. You would have seen no girls going to school," he explained. "Today, there are 8 million children in school in Afghanistan, and 40 percent of them are girls. The international community, led by the United States, has built 4,000 schools. We have certified 140,000 teachers."
Besides advances in education, Milley noted several economic improvements to an Afghan economy that was a shattered one 12 years ago.
"There were no banks whatsoever," Milley said. "Today, there are 17 banks that are operational and 90 percent of the population has access to banking."
He also noted agricultural advances, noting Afghanistan is currently self-sufficient in wheat production.
"That is a statistic that hasn't been seen in 40 years in Afghanistan," Milley said.
U.S. and NATO-led efforts have also improved Afghanistan's infrastructure and healthcare.
Electricity has grown from 243 megawatts in 2002 to 1,028.5 megawatts currently on the grid, Milley said. More than 2,500 miles of paved roads have been built since the fall of the Taliban.
Life expectancy for an Afghan male has gone from 42 in 2002 to 62 years old today, and infant and maternal child birth deaths have dropped significantly.
The most telling statistic of the progress in Afghanistan has been the citizens' "voting with their feet," Milley said, noting that 5 million of the 8 million refugees in surrounding countries have returned since 2001.
"We, the United States, we, the international communities, we, NATO have a lot to be proud of and the time has come now for transition and that is what III Corps is getting ready to do," Milley said, noting that efforts the corps are about to assume are team efforts that include not only those deploying, but those staying at Fort Hood, and more importantly, the families left behind.
"Every one of you, every one of our Soldiers, whether you are going or not, has consciously and voluntarily chosen to serve our nation in a time of war," Milley said. "You truly represent the best that our nation has to offer -- both the Soldiers who are headed off to war, the Soldiers who remain here and train for war, but most of all, the families who sacrifice in much less visible ways back here at home."
The general thanked the families for their continued support and assured them the Central Texas community was here to support them while their Soldiers are away.
"When we deploy it is you, the loved ones, that we leave behind, who bear the heaviest burden and make the greatest sacrifice," Milley said. "Remember that Fort Hood and Central Texas community are there for you. They support you and they embrace you with open arms."
To those already in Afghanistan, who left a week earlier as part of the advance party, and to those about to deploy, Milley said he is confident that his Soldiers are trained and ready to add to III Corps' legacy in combat.
"The 'Phantom Warriors' have a long and distinguished history of defending democracy that goes back a 100 years, and we will maintain that history," he said. "I have absolute faith in our competence, I have absolute faith in our courage and I have absolute faith in our determination."