California National Guardsmen are readied to go on a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, as the top American military commander there said he needs more troops as soon as possible to stabilize the region.
"Pray for their safety; pray for the success of our mission and pray that God speed us a safe and quick return," said Major Daniel Anderson, unit commander.
The unit, whose members span the entire state, will be going to an increasingly dangerous area. Violence throughout Afghanistan is on the rise because waves of foreign fighters have been coming in from the lawless regions of neighboring Pakistan.
"I think we are in a tough fight. So the idea that it might get worse before it gets better is certainly a possibility," said NATO Commander General David McKiernan.
More U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan already this year than in any year since the 2001 United States-led invasion.
The soldiers being deployed specialize in medical evacuations. They say they can't think about the increased risk.
"I just go over and do my job. I try not to think about things like that and do what I'm trained to do: Bring as many guys home as I can ... alive," said Sergeant Aaron DeCanio, Calif. National Guard.
But their families must prepare for the worst.
"It's hard. I don't want to think like that. But you tend to a little bit, and you wonder what you're going to do. What would you do? How would you do it?'" said Margo Smoot, a wife of a guardsman.