Local soldiers leave for Afghanistan

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- More than 40 Valley soldiers are heading out in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

The 539th Military Police Detachment specializes in law-and-order operations and will be in charge of maintaining peace and performing garrison-style law enforcement and customs operations on various forward operating bases and camps in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"The purpose of this unit is to provide regular law and order on a military installation," Capt. Jonathan McElhaney explained. "We'll … operate basically like a regular police department does in the city, but we'll be doing that on a military installation."

The soldiers left the reserve center Monday morning for pre-deployment training and eventual deployment into the theater of operations.

After several weeks of training at Fort Bliss, Texas, the unit, which has members from Arizona, Nevada, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, is slated to spend nine months in Afghanistan. They expect to be in place by June.

The soldiers agree that the hardest part of deployment -- every time -- is leaving their families behind.

"I don't think that it gets easy," McElhaney said. "The tasks become easier through repetition, but the separation from family and from the regular situation here [at the Reserve/National Guard Drill Center], it doesn't. Not for these soldiers."

While some members of the unit are veterans, others are young first-timers.

This is the first deployment Army wife and Melanie Morales, who will give birth to a baby girl in August, has experienced.

"Hopefully we'll be able to Skype a lot and he'll be able to see the baby and everything," she said.

This is the second deployment for the 539th Military Police Detachment. The unit was sent to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and 2006.