WEST FORT HOOD — Lt. Gen. Mark Milley asked the soldiers of III Corps to give it their all over the next year in Afghanistan as they prepared to board a flight at Robert Gray Army Airfield.
“That’s what we owe to the fallen soldiers, and the fallen Afghans,” said the commander of III Corps and Fort Hood early Monday morning.
About 160 soldiers were on the flight. In total, about 500 members of the Phantom Corps are deployed to Kabul, where the unit will serve as the headquarters of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, overseeing all operations in theater.
“While we are training, advising and assisting, we will also draw down forces and redeploy people and equipment,” Milley said.
The number of American service members will drop from 65,000 to 34,000 during the next year, he said. All forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Milley encouraged soldiers to take time during the deployment to assure their families they are safe.
“It’s important they know day in and day out that you’re OK,” he said.
To the families, he said to be proud of their soldier.
“None of this is easy. It never is,” Milley said. “They should be confident that they’re well-trained, that they’ll be taken care of while over there and that their contribution to the overall war effort is going to be critical.”
Over the course of the next year, III Corps will also help secure the country for elections in April. A successful election will show the Taliban and insurgent forces the Afghan government is a legitimate authority, Milley said.
“A successful election is fundamental for the strategic purpose for what NATO and the United States are trying to do,” he said. “Maybe at that point they’ll put their weapons down and reconcile.”