Vancouver-based reservists are ready to serve

Surgical team will soon deploy on medical mission to Afghanistan

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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The mission of the 915th Forward Surgical Team is patently unselfish. They leave their families at home and head into a war zone to operate medical facilities so other soldiers may return home to their families.

The reality of that sacrifice was not lost on those in attendance at a farewell ceremony held for the 14 reservists of Vancouver-based 915th who will soon deploy to Afghanistan.

State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said he would be "blunt" in his statements regarding the unit's departure.

"Many will not know of your service," Harris said to the unit in front of a crowd of some 200 family members and fellow military personnel in attendance.

"But I do know who will know of it: those that you save."

Col. Peter Gould, the sending commander of the unit, told those in attendance that the arrival of the unit in Afghanistan in October will bring with it a sense of security.

"Some may not know it, but there are those that believe it to their core … that if anything happens, we will be there to care for them," he said.

Cameron Dunbar-Yamaguchi, a sergeant with the unit who is making his first deployment, posed for photos with his family after the ceremony as he held his 3-year-old and 10-month old sons in his arms.

"I'm pretty excited to do this," he said. "We medics, we want to be out there.

"We want to take care of others and get them home to their families."

As for his own family, he believes he's tempered for the deployment that will last some nine months and well into January 2014.

"I think we'll be ready for it," he said.

"There's some things you don't speak on in the lead-up (to deployment)," said Capt. Gary Bilendy, the

surgical team commander who will lead this team on the ground in Afghanistan.

"But you work through them," he said.

"And there are things you do say when you get back."

The speeches by Gould and Bilendy at the farewell ceremony touched on the reality of life away from home. And they stated their missions are to make sure the team returns from services and that they and their families receive support beyond the 90-day deployment.

The bottom line, according to both officers, is that this team is "the backbone" for surgery operations on the front lines.

As Bilendy puts it, "we pack quite a punch."

The reality of this deployment is that troops continue to fly into Afghanistan, a country where the United States military has been active for over a decade.

The belief among the military personnel in the unit is that this war will likely end in 2014, but that this unit is unlikely to be the last deployed.

Regardless of the timeline, they all say they're ready to serve when called upon.

"We'll be there until the last foot leaves," Gould said. "The very last one."

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com