Since the Sept. 11 attacks nearly 18 years ago, more than 18,000 soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed to the Middle East for what has become this country's longest war. 

"That's a big number," said Col. Ed Bush, director of public affairs for the Louisiana National Guard. "Over the course of those years, we've seen pretty much everyone go over from various units. A lot of people don't realize how frequently we've been deploying, (but) we've been fighting this war for a long time."

The most recent deployment ceremony happened July 31. It included more than 50 soldiers from the National Guard's 832nd Engineer Detachment, 528th Engineer Battalion and 225th Engineer Brigade, all Plaquemine-based units on a deployment to Iraq from nine months to a year.

Their mission will involve general engineering construction work, with units specializing in recovery operations.  

The deployment came the day before national media outlets reported that President Donald Trump's administration could withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan if current talks with the Taliban prove successful. 

But Staff Sgt. Kenneth Quillens, who recently completed a nine-month deployment in Iraq, thinks the U.S. military forces will still have a significant presence in the Middle East for some time to come given the current state of affairs in the war-torn region. 


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"There's not a lot of actual fighting on our part in certain parts of Iraq anymore, but we're still helping them build and train their military forces," he said. 

Quillens is part of the New Orleans-based 3673rd Maintenance Company but was assigned to the Guard's 139th Regional Support Group during his deployment — the first in his 30-year tenure as a guardsman.

Overseas, he served as a liaison between the military and civilians in Iraq and helped with day-to-day operations at one of the U.S. military bases there. 

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"As of right now, the relationship between us and Iraq is very good," Quillens said. "We're basically helping set them up to be self-sufficient."

About 700 soldiers with the Louisiana Army National Guard and Louisiana Air National Guard are currently stationed in the war-torn Middle East, Bush said. And nearly 1,000 more are pending deployment in the near future.

Ongoing conflicts and political tensions in the Middle East may have faded into the back of the public's minds, Bush said, but the state's contributions to the war have been steady with several units being deployed overseas annually. 

"Unfortunately, the novelty has worn off," he said. "We try to remind everyone, each time we have send-offs, that this is still a big deal." 

Capt. Darren Herring, a commander of the 241st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, returned from a nine-month deployment in August 2018. His mission was to try to keep American citizens apprised of what American troops are doing in the Middle East through sharing pictures and videos on social media and in news releases. 

Those pictures and videos also serve as a way for family members back home to keep tabs on their loved ones during deployments. 

"Even though they can't be physically there, it allows them to have interactions with their loved ones and that can make the time go quicker," Herring said. 

Bush said every unit of the Louisiana National Guard has been deployed with many soldiers, like him, having completed multiple deployments to the Middle East within short time frames. 

Louisiana guardsmen have remained in heavy rotation compared to deployment levels in other states, Bush said.  

The Guard's full infantry brigades have been deployed twice, Bush said, which accounts for approximately 3,000 soldiers. Many of the state's transportation and engineering units also were frequently called upon, he said. 

"Here in Louisiana, it so happens we have a good bit of everything — those units most needed overseas," Bush said. "We keep a very big footprint over there."


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com