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Local Guardsman member of elite team

Soldier to train in Indiana, Poland before going to Afghanistan

AMBOY – National Guard 1st Sgt. Johnny O'Brien is destined to be a member of an elite team in Afghanistan for 6 months or more, but Saturday he was just a dad worried he'll miss his daughter.

O'Brien was the guest of honor at a deployment party at Wittenauer Used Farm Machinery. About 60 people crowded the small building to drink beer and wine, eat snacks, and send off O'Brien.

The party was "humbling," said O'Brien, 36, of Rockford, who graduated from Amboy High School in 1994.

O'Brien leaves Feb. 4 for training in Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Atterbury, Ind. He will be there for about 2 months before going to Poland to train with Polish soldiers. He then will go to Afghanistan with Polish and Ukraine forces on a security mission in Operation Enduring Freedom.

In Afghanistan, O'Brien will be part of an elite Bilateral Embedded Staff Team, on a mission for which only about 20 Guardsmen in the state were chosen based on their skills and training, said Sgt. Michael Camacho, spokesman for the Illinois National Guard.

In Afghanistan, they will work with their European counterparts as International Security Assistance Forces and with Afghan soldiers to stabilize the nation, Camacho said.

Their duties will include mentoring and suppporting the Afghan army and its programs to disarm illegally armed groups, Camacho said.

The team will be part of Task Force White Eagle, which includes more than 3,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from the U.S., Poland and Ukraine, Camacho said.

In the past, the task force has kept roads between Kabul and Kandahar safe and has reduced the insurgent influence in the area. It will do similar tasks in this deployment, Camacho said.

His partners on the team will make the deployment – his first to Afghanistan – easier, O'Brien said.

"The group of guys I'm going over with are experienced and knowledgeable. I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys to go with."

He plans to keep in touch with his 4-year-old, Samantha Nauman of Amboy, over Skype, but says missing her will be one of the hardest parts of his deployment.

Trying to sell his house in Rockford also will be hard, said O'Brien, who plans to move to Springfield when he returns. He will work in the state's capital with the Illinois National Guard on a recruiting and retention team.

O'Brien is a "good leader and mentor" to the young people he recruits, said his brother, Michael O'Brien.

"I'm very proud of what he's doing and what he's accomplished," Michael said. "He's uniquely gifted at being able to touch the people around him."

Joyce O'Brien of Amboy is Johnny's mother.

"I'm very proud of what he's learned and what he's capable of," she said. "Not everybody can do it."

Mike O'Brien, Johnny's father, said his son has been very dedicated to the National Guard, although in his first few years of service he was not thrilled with his experience.

"Something happened, because not only did he re-enlist, he went full time," his dad said. "It's been his life ever since."

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