Answering President Barack Obama's call for 30,000 additional troops to serve in Afghanistan, National Guard soldiers across the United States are preparing for future deployments. In the Midwestern state of Illinois, National Guard soldiers just completed a deployment to Afghanistan.
The cost of the war in Afghanistan is visible in Sergeant First Class Christine Kelly's office at the Illinois National Guard Armory in suburban Chicago.
Her friend and fellow soldier, Sergeant Simone Robinson, was severely injured by a suicide bomber in January, during their recent deployment to Afghanistan.
"She was refueling her vehicle, and the person that came by that detonated it, detonated it with the fuel truck, and it blew up, and she just happened to be there at that particular time, and she sustained injuries from that," Sergeant Kelly said.
Robinson died from her injuries on March 1, one of 18 casualties the Illinois National Guard suffered during an Afghanistan deployment that ended in October. Robinson's friends and family, including her two-year-old daughter, continue to struggle with the loss.
"She went to school full-time also. She was a full-time mom. She was a good soldier," added Kelly.
With a new strategy in the war in Afghanistan, more National Guard troops across the United States will answer President Obama's call for additional forces to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Part of that mission includes training the Afghan army, something Master Sergeant Eric Drakes knows well. His job during the recent Afghanistan deployment was training Afghan army officers in vehicle maintenance and security.
"The soldiers that I was with, the Afghanis, they respected us and they liked working with us, and they very much liked our help as far the officers everything that we've presented to them as far as helping them and showing them things… they took it in very well," he said.
Chief Warrant Officer Hau Ling says one of the hardest parts about being a soldier in the National Guard - a responsibility that is usually a part-time commitment - is not the work, but being away from family.
"I think the hardest part is separation," he noted. "Everything is unknown, especially the first deployment. That would be the hardest part, because we don't know what the future is going to be."
Ling is a 30-year veteran and now full-time member of the Illinois National Guard. Originally from Hong Kong, he joined the Guard after coming to the United States shortly after the Vietnam War. The recent tour in Afghanistan was his first deployment, and he thinks probably not his last.
"I strongly believe that we will deploy again because that's the Army's plan, and there is no secret about that," he said.
According to President Obama's new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, U.S. troops will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2011. Though that timetable could spare soldiers like Kelly from serving another deployment away from family and friends, she says she is ready to do what her country and commander-in-chief asks of her.
"You wear this uniform, so you do what you have to do," she said.