March 22, 2004, Volume 1, Issue 53
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Illinois National Guard Still Prepared to Offer Disaster
Camp Shelby to Become Mobilization Platform
Huge Guard Deployment Changes Face of Front Line
Guam National Guard Unit Readies for Deployment to
Some Homecomings, but Many
Idahoans Get Ready for a Trip
to the War Zone; ‘It’s Not Just Preparing for What You’ll Do, but What You’ll
A Proper Send-off; If You’re Sending Care Packages to
Soldiers Overseas, Be Sure to Know the Rules
Local Soldier Braces for Change
Guard Unit Returns from Iraq
Soldiers Expected Home Soon;
Mobridge-Based Guard Members’ Families Reflect on War’s First Anniversary
Guardsmen Come Home from Iraq
Marching Home/ A Delayed
Military Homecoming Raises Fears, But Response Adds Hope
National Guard Couple Returns
from Iraq; N.D. Soldiers Weathered Trials of War Together
GUARD IN IRAQ……………………………………………………………………………… 26
105th Unit to Leave Iraq in Early May
Area Soldier Killed
Changed by War,
Proud They Served
2 Million Miles,
Makeshift Armor And No Fatalities; A Virginia Guard Unit Survives Iraq’s
Chicago Loses Its
2nd GI to Year-Old War in Iraq; He Called Home Days Before Blast
New Guard Role on
Danger Second Nature To Md. Civilian Soldiers
Also Felt at Home
Burden is Heavy on Reservists, Guardsmen
With Parents in Baghdad, Daughter Still Soldiers
On; 11-Year-Old Making Do After More Than a Year
Employers Adapt When Workers Are Called to Duty
Returning Home: Soldier Struggles with War’s Aftermath
Lucky to be Alive, but Living in Pain
Home for Good Tired of Absences, Guard Member Will Leave Military
Anatomy of a Wounded Soldier; After 2 Wars, Decorated with 6 Purple
Hearts and Layers of Scars, He’s Still Ready for Battle
Hundreds Mourn Soldier; Spc. Joce Carrasquillo, the First N.C. Guardsman
Killed in Iraq, is Buried
Returning U.S. Armed Services Personnel Take Time to Adjust Back to Life
Bomb Survivors Recall Experience
DoD Temporarily Extends TRICARE Eligibility Following
Active Duty to 180 Days
State Proposal Would Maintain Benefits to Soldiers
Stateside “Space A” Travel Test Extended
Military Recruiters Filling Spots
ANG Woman Wing Commander
Doesn’t See Herself as Pioneer
Guard Bureau Honors Heroes of
Water Taxi Tragedy
Schwarzenegger ‘Pumps Up’ Deploying Guard
TRICARE website for information on health benefits:
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your suggestions in an e-mail to [email protected].
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois
National Guard’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom has not taxed the state’s
defense force, an official said.
Guard spokesman Tim Franklin said the ongoing war on terrorism has not hurt,
for example, the Guard’s ability to provide disaster relief assistance during
the annual flooding of the Mississippi River.
Franklin estimates that 13,500 Illinois residents are members
of either the Army National Guard or Air National Guard. Franklin said at any
given time at least 1,000 Guard members are deployed, whether they are
providing airport security or taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This
leaves more than 10,000 citizen-soldiers available to provide help, he said.
He said the real challenge is faced by family members left
behind, who must struggle to pay bills and care for children.
“It’s a challenge for all the families that have loved ones
who are mobilized,” he said.
While only a fraction of Illinois National Guardsmen have been
sent overseas, the agency has experienced its share of casualties. Of the 21
Illinois soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, two have been members of
the Illinois National Guard.
National Guard Spc. Brandon Ramsey, 21, of Calumet City, was
killed after the vehicle he was traveling in rolled over while chasing a
suspicious vehicle in Tallil, Iraq. Ramsey was assigned to the Chicago-based
933rd Military Police Company.
On Nov. 2 2003, 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas’ Chinook helicopter was
shot down near Fallujah, Iraq. Slavenas was a member of the Peoria-based
Company F, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation.
The Illinois National Guard estimates that 2,300 Army and Air
Guard personnel have taken an active role in Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring
Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. For Guard members and U.S. Army reservists that are
serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other related combat operations,
Illinois politicians have stepped up to provide support.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline,
launched the Military Family Relief Act, which sets up a fund for donations to
help affected families pay expenses such as rent or utility bills. Taxpayers
can donate to the program through a check-off box on their state tax forms.
get the fund started, the state deposited $5 million into the program and
received $83,000 in charitable contributions. Quinn estimates that 1,800
families have received $1,041,500 from the fund.
Earlier this month, Quinn visited Rhode Island to promote the
“The Military Family Relief Fund is a voluntary and direct way
for people to show their appreciation to the men and women in the National
Guard and reserves who have answered the call of duty,” he said in a press
South Carolina and California are pushing similar measures.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich also signed legislation requiring all
full-time employees of local governments or school districts be granted leaves
of absences for military service. Affected employees would continue to accrue
seniority and benefits while serving in the military. State employees already
receive this protection.
By Kevin Maurer, Staff Writer
North Carolina National
Guard soldiers leaving for Iraq Tuesday said they are not afraid to deploy
days after the guard lost its first soldier there.
Spc. Jocelyn Luis Carrasquillo, 28, of Wrightsville Beach, was
killed Saturday near Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle.
was a unit supply specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry
Regiment which is based in Wilmington.
He was the first soldier from the North Carolina National
Guard’s 30th Heavy Separate Brigade to die in Iraq.
More than 200 guardsmen assigned to the 30th were at Pope Air
Force Base’s Green Ramp on Tuesday preparing to leave for a one-year deployment
The brigade, which is headquartered in Clinton, is made up of
close to 5,000 soldiers. More than 3,000 of them are from North Carolina.
The brigade is attached to the 1st Infantry Division, which is
replacing the 4th Infantry Division. The guardsmen will be based in several
forward operating bases north of Baghdad, said Capt. Robert Carver, a spokesman
for the North Carolina National Guard.
News of Carrasquillo’s death came as a shock to most of the
soldiers and their family members.
Spc. Pearl Maynard, 38, of Dunn, said she feels sorry for
Carrasquillo’s family. And even though the news was in the back of her mind,
she was anxious to board the plane.
”I just want to get over there so I can come back home,”
Her sister, Marla Wilson, said the news made her more nervous.
She worries about her sister’s safety.
”I just want her to come back safely, not just Pearl, but
everyone,” she said.
While the soldiers said they mourn the death of their comrade,
some of them said they weren’t focusing on the bad news.
Staff Sgt. Dwayne Hunt, 33, of Pembroke, said he is not afraid
to go to Iraq. ”I put my faith in God. Things happen for a reason. If you have
faith in Christ, you can get through anything,” he said.
Hunt is a vehicle mechanic assigned to the 230th Support
Battalion. This is his first deployment. Hunt’s wife, Carol, and their three
children were at Green Ramp to see him off.
The Hunts said they draw strength from their faith. ”I’m not
nervous. I am just going to miss him,” Carol Hunt said.
Spc. Lee Janney, 23, and his wife, Lynelle, are expecting their
first child. The couple has been married six months.
Janney said he was trying to put Carrasquillo’s death out of
”That’s what happens over there, but I am not dwelling on
it,” said Janney, who is from Cameron.
His wife said she is trying to keep a positive attitude. ”I
know not to dwell on the negative things because that will make it all that
much harder, ” she said. “I just know he will come home.”
The majority of the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade left for Iraq
in February as part of a deployment of fresh troops to Iraq, the largest
movement of troops since World War II.
”The families were already apprehensive and concerned about
their loved ones,” said Capt. Sherrell Murray, the North Carolina National Guard’s state family program coordinator.
She said Carrasquillo’s death brings the dangers of Iraq
closer to home.
The National Guard has assistance centers in Fayetteville,
Raleigh, Charlotte and other locations to help families deal with deployment.
Murray said the centers have had an increase in calls since
March 17, 2004
Shelby to Become Mobilization Platform
By LYNDA EDWARDS, Associated Press Writer
It was hard work by the Mississippi National Guard and not political arm twisting that landed Camp
Shelby a designation as a Department of Defense mobilization center for troops
heading to Iraq and other points, Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday.
About 6,500 troops from Tennessee and New York will report to
Camp Shelby over five months, beginning with several hundred in May, for
training, classification and deployment.
Word of the selection was first made public on Monday.
About 17,000 National
Guard and reserve troops normally train at Camp Shelby each year, and many
of these units will now shift to other facilities, including the Guard’s Camp
McCain near Grenada.
Barbour, a longtime Washington insider who brought big name
Republicans down for his successful gubernatorial race last year, said he could
not take credit for the coup.
Mississippi contracts a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. to
represent Mississippi’s military bases threatened with closure, but Barbour
said the lobbyist had no part in negotiations with the Department of Defense
with regard to the National Guard
owned Camp Shelby.
“When I was elected, I promised to lift the National Guard above politics; I think
that’s been a problem in other administrations,” Barbour said. “The National Guard gets all the credit for
winning mobilization status by modernizing the facility.”
Barbour described the state’s military training camps as the
“economic jewels” of Mississippi because they generated jobs and
revenue for nearby towns.
Brandi Brown, Grenada’s director of tourism, said she received
a call Monday from a local National
Guard commander telling her to expect “a big economic impact for
Grenada from 400 to 1,200 extra soldiers who would train at Camp McCain from
May through August.”
Camp McCain employs 125 people and has an annual economic
impact of $8 million on Grenada, according to Grenada Chamber of Commerce
executive director Phillip Heard.
Guard Brig. Gen. James “Ike” Pylant said a spinoff
for Fort McCain will be a dramatically larger training force. He said 600-900
trainers will relocate to the Grenada area to help with the increased work
“Although Camp McCain is a training
facility, we were concerned when we heard last year it was under consideration
for closure due to budget cuts,” Heard said.
Camp Shelby is scheduled to complete a $24 million range
complex next month where tanks and helicopters can test artillery.
Pylant said the 1st Army contacted him in January about making
Camp Shelby a mobilization center.
“We put together a feasibility study; we’re very
surprised and happy things happened this fast,” Pylant said.
He said Camp Roberts near San Luis Obispo, Calif., had also
been in the running for the designation.
Camp Shelby opened in 1917 and was named for Isaac Shelby, the
first governor of Kentucky, by the 38th Division. The camp was closed after
World War I and was reactivated in 1940.
The camp, which fans out over 134,000 acres in the tall pine
forests of south Mississippi near Hattiesburg, served as a mobilization
facility in past wars and conflicts, including both world wars and Desert Storm
While the facility will serve as a federal mobilization
facility, Camp Shelby will still be operated by the Mississippi National Guard.
Three National Guardsmen who led a heroic action in
Afghanistan after training in Mississippi camps shared the stage with Barbour.
Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Evans of Brandon, and Sgt. Maj. Edwin
Tudor and Spc. Chad Nix, both from Pearl, helped seize the biggest cache of
enemy weapons recorded during the Afghan conflict. The Guardsmen stood at
parade rest during Barbour’s speech which included praise for Free File
Alliance, an organization that donates tax preparation software to low income
and active military families.
March 18, 2004
Huge Guard Deployment Changes Face of Front Line
By Ray Rivera
FORT IRWIN, Calif. The two soldiers standing guard could
almost be father and son.
Staff Sgt. James Bowen is a 53-year-old Vietnam vet. He was in
a foxhole long before his 26-year-old buddy, Spc. Carlos Arellano, was born.
Bowen works at a seed company; Arellano is an aspiring rapper.
When Bowen thinks of family, it’s four children, three
stepchildren, seven grandchildren, four marriages and an 83-year-old dad. For
Arellano, it’s his parents and eight siblings.
Bowen and Arellano have recently left this desert training
base for Baghdad. As soldiers in the National
Guard’s 81st Armored Brigade they are part of the largest call-up of
citizen soldiers since the Korean War.
“My son tells me if something happens to me he’s going to
kick my butt,” Bowen says. “He doesn’t want to raise his children
without their grandpa.”
The 4,500-member 81st _ mostly from the Northwest _ is part of
a massive troop rotation that is critically needed as the United States begins
its second year of occupying Iraq.
By spring, some 40 percent of the roughly 110,000 U.S.
soldiers heading into Iraq will be from the National Guard and Reserves.
The growing dependence on these citizen soldiers is making for
a military force of vastly different ages, education and backgrounds:
high-school teachers and college students, ministers and police officers,
grandfathers and newlyweds, wrinkles and acne.
Military officials say the mix of maturity and skills will
give these soldiers an edge in dealing with civil unrest in Iraq as the United
States prepares to turn over power to a new governing council.
But critics worry the part-time soldiers are not as well
trained as their active-duty counterparts, less physically fit, more prone to
health problems and more likely to carry with them the emotional worry of the
lives they left behind: children, spouses, jobs and mortgages.
“The Army is stretched to the breaking point and is under
tremendous pressure right now to put numbers onto the battlefield,” says
retired Col. David Hackworth, a military analyst. “Ready or not.”
As the members of the 81st have prepared over the last several
months _ moving from Fort Lewis to Yakima to California _ the transition from
home life to soldiering has been a physical and psychological challenge for
During a two-mile training run, every senior sergeant in one
company failed to finish, said Hackworth, a decorated veteran who has been
monitoring the training of the 81st.
Along with complaints of equipment shortages, the 81st has had
the added burden of having to convert from an armored brigade of tanks and
Bradley fighting vehicles to a mechanized infantry brigade reliant primarily on
“That’s like taking a basketball team and making them a
football team and telling them they’re going to play in the Super Bowl,”
Hackworth says. “And this is a lethal Super Bowl.”
Lt. Col. Christopher Fowler, a Seattle police officer who
commands a battalion of about 400 infantry troops in the brigade, dismisses
“These guys are getting the best training and equipment
money can buy,” Fowler, 39, says. “They’re well-led, they’re
motivated, and I think their maturity and life experiences make them more
adaptable to different situations.”
As a Seattle police officer, Fowler is an example of the type
of soldier who brings a wealth of professional experience to the field. Once in
Iraq, the battalion will be working in and around Baghdad, involved in a wide
range of duties, including security escorts and patrols.
“We have teachers, doctors, people who work at waste- and
water-treatment facilities,” he says. “Can you imagine how useful
these skills will be to a country rebuilding?”
Sgt. 1st Class Mike Alfred, a high-school teacher from
Redmond, Wash., says the life experiences in the brigade can only help.
“You get a wide gamut of society, so you have 8,000 ways to look at a
problem,” says Alfred, 34, a Gulf War veteran. “It works out well;
you’re not in that brainwashed military mentality.”
Problem solving has been a focus of their training. On a
recent afternoon at Fort Irwin, mock demonstrators lined a fence at Fowler’s
compound, demanding the United States live up to promises of food, water and
Most of the demonstrators were Fort Irwin soldiers who
specialize in playing the enemy during war games. Adding to the realism, the
crowd was laced with about 100 Arabic-speaking Iraqi Americans hired by the
Army to assist in the training.
Lt. Wade Aubin, 34, had to work through an interpreter as he
tried to calm them, a challenge as tensions grew.
“It went from ‘Give us food or our families will die,’ to
‘Give us food or your families will die,'” says Aubin, a Desert Storm
veteran who in civilian life is a geologist, a husband and father of two from
Albion, Whitman County. “I had to tell them we didn’t have any food to
give them but that the U.N. would be setting up a food-distribution center in
the next 24 to 48 hours.”
The crowd was not satisfied, and that night mortars rattled
the training compound.
“I’d never been through anything like this,” Aubin
says. “In the back of your mind, you know it’s just training, but I also
tried to see where they were coming from.”
Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, Fort Lewis commander, was responsible
for ensuring the 81st was ready for Iraq. “What we’ve taken are all the
lessons learned in Iraq over the last year and applied them here in these
scenarios,” Soriano says.
“I’ve watched them go through physically and mentally
demanding scenarios in a very stressful environment,” says Soriano, a
three-star general, “and I’ve got to tell you, it was stressful, and they
held up great.”
While the 81st troops have trained in the dead of winter,
they’ll arrive just as the temperatures in Iraq begin to soar, hitting up to
110 by summer.
But there are bigger challenges. The soldiers are well aware
that of the more than 550 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, more than three-fourths
have died since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat had
“You’ve got to be a fool to say you’re not scared,”
says Ky Ha, 25, of Renton, Wash. “People are bombing you and you’re
fighting an enemy that’s mixed in with civilians. You can’t see them.”
At his guard post one drizzly morning, Bowen _ the grandpa of
seven _ says he has held up fine so far. Bowen is among a handful of Vietnam
veterans in the unit.
He spent “11 months, three weeks and three days” as
an artillery soldier there. He drives supply and fuel trucks for the Guard now
and is confident his age won’t be a hindrance on convoys and foot patrols his
unit will perform in and around Baghdad.
Arellano, the aspiring rap artist from Concord, Calif., says
he doesn’t worry that the man in the foxhole next to him has children older
than him. “I trust him,” Arellano says. “He’s been there when
bombs and bullets are flying.”
Both say they feel duty-bound to go to Iraq _ not to their
leaders as much as to fellow soldiers.
“I’ve got a lot of friends here … ,” Bowen says.
“I wouldn’t feel right not going.”
Adds Arellano: “It’s a confusing war. They haven’t found
weapons of mass destruction, but our guys are out there and I know if I’d been
there for a year, I’d want to be replaced.”
When the soldiers are troubled, they turn to another of the
unit’s 50-somethings: Sgt. Charles Yost. The 52-year-old pastor left his church
in Colville, Wash., to serve as a chaplain’s assistant. He’s spoken of with
reverence for another reason: his past in Vietnam.
Guard members of the 81st Armored Brigade provide security during an
exercise at Fort Irwin as the brigade undergoes training for its deployment to
Part of a secretive special-operations unit, Yost ran deep
reconnaissance missions into Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam to disrupt enemy
supply lines. For years after, he would awake in the middle of the night curled
in the fetal position, soaked with sweat. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
and using drugs, Yost says, he “was a mess.” The nightmares continued
until one evening a friend coaxed him into attending a church service. “It
sounds weird, but I had an experience, and I never had another attack.”
Since then, Yost has counseled other veterans _ most recently,
his oldest son, a member of the 82nd Airborne who was in on the invasion of
Iraq one year ago. “After he came back, he was angry, sick of
everything,” Yost says. “The thing he felt worst about was that he
didn’t feel worse about killing people.”
It was emotional territory Yost knows well.
“War lowers your inhibition to taking human life, and it
takes a while to return to normal.”
Yost has been kept busy since the unit was activated. Most
soldiers come to him with family issues or problems with a superior or other
soldiers. Surprisingly, he says, few have come to him with expressions of fear.
“Everybody has some anxiety of the unknown, but honestly,
they’ll mention it in passing, but it isn’t their primary concern.”
While some might expect the younger soldiers in the unit to be
more gung-ho or as soldiers today call it, “hoo-rah” in this unit
it’s a mixed bag of those who are eager to go and those who would rather be
Spc. Edward Wright, 27, of Seattle, is one of a handful of
former Marines in the unit. He says he enjoys the military, but for someone
with an 8-month-old son at home and hopes of joining the Border Patrol after a
series of odd jobs, this deployment came at a bad time.
“It actually took me and my wife by surprise,”
Wright says. “We just barely had a baby and everything. It really kind of
turned our world upside down.”
The timing was right for 2nd Lt. Nicholas Miller. A member of
the active Army, the 24-year-old Texas native volunteered fresh out of infantry
school to join the 81st for a chance to go to Iraq.
“You meet officers and enlisted soldiers who’ve been in
for years and never gotten to deploy somewhere,” he says. “Who knows
when you’ll get another chance. … And how am I going to lead these guys when
I’m a captain or a major if they’ve all been there and I haven’t?”
For Cpl. Justin Maddox, 48, and Master Sgt. Elmo McLean, 43,
it’s not a chance to boost their part-time Guard careers, but to put a cap on
Sitting at a table after chow, the two old friends gab about
their wives, who are also friends. Maddox, a medical technician in Spokane, is
a battalion medic. McLean, a construction worker from Springville, Stevens
County, is an operations sergeant. Between them, they have 40 years of military
experience, but this will be the first time either has gone into hostile
“I’ve done Mount St. Helens, I’ve done the floods, done
the fires,” says McLean. “This’ll be my chance to do the real federal
mission. It’ll be a good career wrapper.”
Maddox, who like McLean has four children, echoes his friend’s
sentiments: “Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be home tucking in my kids,
but it’s an honor thing.”
The two men figure their age and experience _ including the
experience of having raised children will help them in watching over younger
soldiers and in lending a sympathetic ear to Iraqis trying to feed their
families and rebuild their cities.
“For us,” says McLean, “it’s a different kind
March 19, 2004
National Guard Unit Readies for Deployment to Africa
Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on terrorism, more than 100 Guam
soldiers will be deployed to Djibouti, Africa later this month. Guam Army National Guard Public Affairs
Officer Captain John Guerrero says the unit is expected to be deployed up to 18
months, with at least a year in the Horn of Africa.
soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry will be mobilized at the end of
this month, expected to leave to Hawaii for training for a couple of months in
mid-April. The deployment is part of the Combined Joint Task Force as U.S.
military forces provide force protection to create a lasting and peaceful end
to the global war on terrorism. Brigadier General Robert Cockey says the unit
is poised and ready for the challenge.
is the second unit to be mobilized from the Guam National Guard in the past six
March 21, 2004 Sunday MO1 EDITION
Homecomings, but Many Departures
By Dana Hull; Mercury News
One year after the United States invaded Iraq, many of the
soldiers who spent months patrolling the villages around Baghdad are heading
But the relief their return brings to loved ones also signals
a new wave of anxiety for other families whose sons and daughters, mothers and
fathers are needed to replace them.
With major combat officially over but the occupation moving
into a second year, U.S. armed forces are in the midst of their largest troop
rotation since World War II. Nearly 120,000 people are essentially trading
”We’re sending people, Humvees, weapons,
trucks,” said Col. Terry Knight of the California National Guard. ”It’s
unbelievable how much stuff is going and coming. We have about 1,500 guardsmen
there now, and a lot of them are scheduled to come home within the next few
months. But we also have about 900 people going over.”
Families such as the Sullivans of Gilroy are caught in the
logistical churn. Marine Lance Cpl. David Sullivan, 21, is among the second
wave of Bay Area soldiers who are back-filling for returning troops. Sullivan,
a graduate of Valley Christian High School in San Jose, arrived in Iraq late
Hallie Sullivan finds some peace of mind in knowing that her
son’s deployment brings comfort to another military mother.
”They sent him over there so that other people could come
home,” said Hallie Sullivan, ”and that makes us feel good.”
David Sullivan expects to be deployed for about seven months,
although nothing is certain. Until then, the Sullivan family is relying on his
e-mails, digital photos and telephone calls from his base near the western
Iraqi town of Hit.
”Thank God for e-mail and digital photos,” Hallie Sullivan
said. ”As a mother it’s so heartening to see the pictures. I can’t imagine how
parents did it in World War II.”
For the Sullivans, the anxiety is new. But for other military
families, such as the Johns of Granite Bay, the anguish is all too familiar.
Lance Cpl. William Johns, a 20-year-old Marine based at Camp Pendleton, was in
Kuwait and then Iraq from February to July 2003. A few weeks ago, he was sent
back to Iraq for a second tour of duty. He will be gone nine to 14 months.
”It’s not any easier this time around,” said his mother,
Deborah Johns. ”None of them wanted to go back. I cried for four days
Deborah Johns said she has found support groups helpful and
was planning to join other Marine Moms who were gathering Saturday at a
”They are sending back 20,000 more Marines,” she said. ”But
if you watch the news all you ever hear is that three more soldiers were killed
today. You don’t want to be the one who gets home from work and there is a
white car in front of your driveway.”
The Greenfield family of Reno, Nev., also is dealing with a
second tour of anxiety.
Marine Cpl. Stuart Greenfield was in Iraq last year from
January to May. He came home on Memorial Day weekend for 30 days, and then
headed back to Camp Pendleton. He left for his second tour of duty in Iraq on
”You got him back the first time and you say: ‘Thank You
Lord,’ ” said his mother, Marge Greenfield. ”And then you have to send him
back to a place where there is still a lot of unrest.”
Lance Cpl. O.J. Santa Maria of Daly City knows better than
most the dangers of being part of an invading force in a foreign land.
Santa Maria’s upper right arm was shattered by shrapnel during
a gunfight in the southern Iraqi city of An-Nasiriyah a year ago. Several
surgeries later — first in Spain and then at the National Naval Medical Center
in Bethesda — he is recovering.
Santa Maria, who became a national hero when President Bush
stood next to him as he received his citizenship papers, decided that he wanted
to return to the Middle East.
”He was getting bored being at home,” said his father,
Robert Santa Maria. ”He wants to be with his unit and his buddies.”
Santa Maria, who is doing mostly administrative work, is
supposed to return home the last week in May.
”We’re nervous and proud and worried all at once,” said his
mother, Marybel Santa Maria. ”But we were more worried when he was in Iraq. At
least now we know he won’t be in the battle.”
March 20, 2004 Saturday
Idahoans Get Ready for a Trip to the War Zone; ‘It’s Not
Just Preparing for What You’ll Do, but What You’ll Leave Behind’
Ask Staff Sgt. James Mace how he feels about
possible deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and he says he’s “leaning
forward in the saddle.”
It’s an old cavalry expression, he says, that
means anticipating what lies ahead and being prepared. The 28-year-old Meridian
man is one of 2,600 Idaho Army National Guard soldiers with the 116th Cavalry
Brigade who received an alert order on Feb. 29. He knows he could be deployed
any time in the coming months, and he’s ready to go.
“We try to stay on top of it anyway, because we want to
be ready,” Mace said.
And there’s a lot to do.
Sgt. Gregory Brown of Emmett completed a will shortly after
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I anticipated something would go and that we could be
deployed anytime,” he said.
Brown, 49, hasn’t been deployed in his 18 years of military
service. When he was put on alert three weeks ago, he talked to his wife about
the bills so she would make all the necessary payments each month.
Then he talked to his four children, ages 12 to 17.
“The first thing I did was identify all their support
groups,” Brown said.
His children know to call certain friends, aunts, uncles and
other relatives if they are scared, need help or just want to talk, he said.
Dental records must be up-to-date before soldiers are
mobilized. Outstanding medical issues must be resolved. Soldiers must designate
someone to pay their bills while they are gone. Parents who could be deployed
must have a plan to ensure their children will be cared for while they’re away.
All soldiers must submit a list of people who should be contacted if they are
killed or injured . Mace’s list includes his parents and his girlfriend.
Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) will be held next month to
ensure all these issues are handled, Lt. Col. Tim Marsano said . During the
SRP, soldiers make sure their equipment works correctly, verify that
identification is current, ensure a family care plan is in place and handle
other matters relating to health, finances and family.
“It’s not just preparing for what you’ll do, but what
you’ll leave behind,” Mace said.
Mace was nearly deployed to Bosnia two years ago, he said.
Five days before he was scheduled to leave Idaho, doctors took an x-ray to rule
out an ear infection. Instead, they discovered a brain tumor . It wasn’t
cancer, but the tumor had to be removed because it would have spread and caused
serious health problems. He had to stay home until he could return to active
duty in Idaho seven months later, he said.
Mace, a bodybuilder, is mapping out a plan to help him
maintain his fitness level if he’s deployed.
He lifts weights for 90 minutes five days a week and runs or
does other cardiovascular work for up to 45 minutes three or four days a week.
Now he’s working with other body builders in his unit to craft a fitness
regimen they can follow if they are mobilized. They’ll make their own pull-up
bars and other strength-building equipment, he said.
“We’re only limited by our own creativity,” he said.
Soldiers try to prepare for the physically demanding
conditions they could face if deployed by challenging themselves during routine
exercises, Mace said. When his unit is walking to the rifle range, for example,
they wear all of their gear, he said. Soldiers in combat situations can wear an
estimated 60 pounds of gear while walking miles in the desert.
In May, soldiers from the 116th Cavalry Brigade throughout
Idaho will travel to Boise’s Gowen Field for their annual two-week training.
It’s usually held sometime between June and August, but this year, soldiers
will complete training earlier , Marsano said.
“We’re looking to get our soldiers as trained as possible
in case a mobility order does come down,” Marsano said.
During training, soldiers live in a desertlike environment
designed to simulate a combat situation. They eat the standard-issue Meals,
Ready to Eat (MREs) that soldiers receive after they are deployed. They drive
tanks. They complete drills to demonstrate they can quickly get into a chemical
protection suit. It’s all designed to ensure the soldiers can spring into
action when called to duty.
Brown said he considers the preparation for deployment just
another part of the job .
“To me it’s just something I’ve got to do,” Brown
said. “I chose this.”
March 20, 2004 Saturday
A Proper Send-off; If You’re Sending Care Packages to
Soldiers Overseas, Be Sure to Know the Rules
ARDEANA HAMLIN OF THE NEWS STAFF
Janice Ouellette of Bradford knows what to send her son Army
Sgt. John Ouellette, who is stationed in Iraq: “Anything that lets him
think about home is what he wants,” she said. Most recently he wanted an
electric razor, which she sent packed in 100 “hot balls,” an
individually wrapped hard candy. But what he likes best of all, she said, is
She freezes cookies and vacuum-packs them with a home sealing
device she bought at a local department store. “That way they stay fresh.
His buddies were all fighting for those cookies,” she said, laughing.
Her son also has asked for recent family photos and recently
he e-mailed a request for light bulbs. “They can’t get them fast enough
through military channels,” Ouellette said. “He said his platoon
would chip in to help pay for the light bulbs.”
But before anyone sends anything to a soldier in Iraq, she
suggested talking to the soldier to make sure the item is OK to send. Certain
food items contrary to Islamic dietary laws are not allowed.
The parcels Ouellette sends her son usually cost about $10 to
send by priority mail. The packages are sent to an APO address and cannot
include her son’s military rank. It took 16 days for the electric razor packed
in hot balls to reach her son.
“Anything any of us here can do has got to help them
[over there],” she said.
When Sgt. 1st Class Rory Eldridge was in Iraq, his mother,
Suzanne Morrison of Orono, sent him homemade trail mix containing peanuts,
almonds, cashews, dried fruits, coconut and raisins, which she packed in small
bags containing a half-cup each. She said her package took eight to 10 weeks to
reach her son, who finished his tour of duty in Iraq and is now stationed at
Fort Campbell, Ky.
Those who send packages to Maine soldiers serving in Iraq need
to observe the rules, said 1st Sgt. Barbara Claudel of the Maine Army National
Guard’s Family Support Services office.
The first rule is that one may no longer send a
package addressed to “Any Soldier.” For security reasons, a soldier’s
name and address must be on the package. The Maine Army National Guard cannot
give out the names of soldiers serving in Iraq. If you know a soldier serving
in Iraq, it’s a good idea to contact the soldier to discuss what items to send
and to receive permission to do so.
The second rule is to make sure the packaging is durable. It
takes two to six weeks for a package to arrive in Iraq. But it could take
The third rule is to follow U.S. postal regulations which
state that one may not send obscene articles, bulk quantities of religious
materials contrary to the Islamic faith, pork or pork byproducts, weapons,
drugs or tobacco.
First Sgt. Carroll Payne spent six months in Iraq, from March
to September 2003, with the Maine Army National Guard 112th Medical Co. Air
“They’re doing a bang-up job,” he said,
“medevacing Iraqi children, Iraqi prisoners of war, U.S. soldiers with all
types of injuries and victims of burns.”
“Don’t send chocolate,” he said. “It arrives
melted.” Temperatures in Iraq can exceed 100 degrees F. He suggested
sending hand cream, trail mix and books. Maine soldiers also like to get spices
with which to “doctor up their mess hall food”; LED flashlights that
you squeeze to turn on – “It’s very dark in the desert”; and Maine
souvenir items, such as postcards and lobster magnets. Small packages are
better than large ones because units often are on the move.
Maine soldiers in Iraq sometimes bring with them personal
“We found out real quick that the floppy disks we went
with got destroyed by the sand,” Payne said. CDs, zip disks and memory
sticks are appreciated.
Soldiers in Iraq, Payne said, sometimes stand in
line three or four hours to use a phone. Phone cards from home containing 240
minutes will yield only 24 minutes in Iraq. A better way, he said, is for
family members to purchase phone cards to use to call soldiers serving in Iraq.
That way, they get to use the full number of minutes on the card.
Claudel suggests sending these items to soldiers in Iraq – Wet
Ones baby wipes, lip balm, international phone cards, disposable cameras,
travel-size toiletry items such as shampoo, deodorant and talcum powder,
playing cards, AA and D batteries, and cribbage boards.
Currently, Claudel said, Maine has 1,100 soldiers deployed in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Cuba.
“Thousands of Mainers are directly affected by a
soldier’s absence,” Claudel said, and they need support, too.
Guard families have a number they may call when they need
help. Those wishing to provide services, either free or discounted, to
soldiers’ families, may call toll-free (888) FMLYCTR. When a call for
assistance is received, a family will be matched with the appropriate service.
Services needed include general home repairs, plowing, shoveling snow,
electrical and plumbing.
Several Maine National Guard funds are available to aid Guard
families. Donations to those funds are welcome, Claudel said, as are donations
of international phone cards.
Gift certificates earmarked for Guard families also are
To learn more about how to assist Guard families, call Linda
Newbegin, Maine Army National Guard Family Readiness, at 650-2796, or e-mail
Ardeana Hamlin can be reached at 990-8153 or
Soldier Braces for Change
NICOLE STRICKER, Post Register
EDITOR’S NOTE: A year after the war in Iraq began, the nation
is still struggling to rebuild itself. Some of your friends and neighbors are
in Iraq, helping rebuild that country or keeping it safe. This week’s series
continues with more of their stories.
The National Guard only recently alerted Idaho soldiers they
may be mobilized and sent to Iraq, but Spc. Scott Mackowiak has been mentally
preparing for 12 years.
Now the Idaho Falls man is making concrete plans for a potential
18-month deployment. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Defense
notified his unit, the Army National
Guard 116th Cavalry Brigade, that it might replace soldiers
returning from the Iraq occupation and the war, which started one year ago.
About 2,600 Idaho Army National Guard soldiers were put on
alert. A National Guard spokesman said he could not say when the guardsmen
might be called to serve. If and when they are called, they would spend a
couple of months in training before going overseas, Lt. Col. Tim Marsano said.
This is the closest Mackowiak, who specializes
in combat engineering, has ever come to being deployed.
During his childhood in Firth, Mackowiak, 30, said he had
visions of being an Air Force pilot. He ended up enlisting in the National
Guard when he was 18.
“I graduated from basic training the day we invaded Iraq
the first time,” Mackowiak said. When his initial eight-year contract
ended in 1999, he did not re-enlist. But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
triggered a change of heart.
“I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to get back in,'”
Mackowiak said, noting, “I’ve got a wife and four kids so there’s a lot
more at stake this time.”
Mackowiak said his kids – a 6-year-old girl and three boys
ages 5, 2 and 2 months – are not yet old enough to understand why he might
leave. But his wife, Carrie, grasps what’s in store.
“Obviously the fact that’s she’s going to have to wear
both hats for however long worries her,” Mackowiak said.
The couple has been trying to anticipate how his absence would
impact their lives. Mackowiak has put their legal and financial affairs in
order and familiarized his wife with the location of key computer files,
warranties and car maintenance information, he said. He also set up e-mail
accounts so his wife and children can write him.
The Mackowiaks also have planned for holidays – “who’s
going to put up the Christmas tree?” Carrie wondered – and key family
“My daughter will turn 8 and will be able to be
baptized,” Mackowiak said. “If I’m gone when she turns 8, who’s going
to do it? She’s got grandfathers and a myriad of uncles so I asked her, ‘Who do
you want to do this?'”
As the family has prepared for Mackowiak’s possible
mobilization, they are grateful for their extensive support system, including
their families in Firth and Preston and the ward of their church. The National
Guard also has a Family Assistance Center and a Family Support Group, which is
composed mostly of soldiers’ wives.
March 21, 2004, Sunday, BC cycle
Unit Returns from Iraq
DATELINE: SIOUX FALLS, S.D.
The first South Dakotans called to support Operation Enduring
Freedom are back on U.S. soil.
Members of the 727th Transportation Company of the Army
National Guard landed in Colorado Saturday night after spending more than a
year away from home.
“We’ve got three busloads and a lot of smiles on a lot of
faces,” said Capt. Robert DeJong, the unit’s commander. “It’s just a
good feeling to be back in the United States.”
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bekaert said he’s happy to be back, but
he’s also proud of the work his team accomplished.
Soldiers hailing from Elk Point, Brookings and Watertown spent
long, hot days completing missions throughout Kuwait and Iraq. Their efforts
helped the 727th earn the Presidential Navy Citation.
“It’s a highly decorated award,” Bekaert said.
“There’s not too many Army units that wear a Navy or Marine Corps Presidential
Citation, so it’s a pretty good award for the South Dakota National
Bekaert said the 727th has helped give South Dakota a good
“I think the South Dakota pride is going to be heard all
over Camp Pendleton,” he said. “It has our name on a plaque with our
unit from the state of South Dakota.”
The unit should be back in South Dakota in about five days.
Then they’ll get 60 days off to spend with family and friends.
DeJong said his soldiers have appreciated all the support from
“I just want to take a little time to thank everyone from
South Dakota and the neighboring states for their continued support,” he
March 20, 2004 Saturday
Soldiers Expected Home Soon; Mobridge-Based Guard Members’
Families Reflect on War’s First Anniversary
Russ Keen; American News Writer
Bitterly cold winds froze tears as they ran down cheeks in
Mobridge 421 days ago today.
Thirty-nine men and women from a South Dakota National Guard
detachment based in Mobridge boarded huge Guard trucks that climbed the steep
hill east of Mobridge to depart for the sands of Kuwait and Iraq. That was Jan.
Today – the first day of spring and the first anniversary of
the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq – the Mobridge area is filled with hope these
same Army-green vehicles will descend that very same hill when its clothed in
green grass a few weeks down the road, bringing the soldiers home.
Some were injured, even critically. But all 179 members the
200th Engineer Co. of the South Dakota National Guard are alive and well;
Detachment 2 of the 200th is based in Mobridge.
Similar to the hills east of town, life since the departure
has been “a roller coaster,” said Bonnie Thorstenson of Selby, mother
of Sgt. Shane Thorstenson, 23, of the 200th. “It has been real stressful.
But we’ve always been hopeful. Prayer is powerful.”
The 200th, which built bridges during the war, is currently in
Kuwait preparing its equipment to be loaded on a ship for the trip home, said
Roger Thorstenson, the sergeant’s father.
Yvonne Helm of Java, the mother of Spc. Jonathan Helm, 29, of
Detachment 2, said she has hopes she might see her son by Easter. Sgt. Tom
Forbes, the recruiting officer stationed at the Mobridge National Guard Armory,
had this much to say about the date of the return: “It’s getting down to
It can’t come too soon, he and others said. The war time has
crept by slowly, according to those left behind. “They say every year has
365 days,” Forbes said. “But this time I’d have to say they lied to
Yvonne said she has written 236 letters to her son since he
left. “I would stay up until 3 a.m. if necessary to get a letter
off,” she said. “I never have gotten much sleep since he left. It has
been tough. Sometimes I would just be sitting in the living room and burst out
Yvonne sacrificed attending her 35th high school class reunion
in California, her native state, to send care packages to Jonathan. “I
saved $1,000 over three years to go to that reunion, but I spent it all on
Jonathan,” she said. Bug spray, beef jerky and sunflower seeds were among
the items she regularly shipped to her soldier.
No huge party is being planned for the homecoming, at least
not for the moment they step off the bus. That’s because soldiers have
indicated what they want most at first is quiet time with their families.
“So we should just let them rest and do their
thing,” Yvonne said.
Some waits just beginning: For many area military families,
loved ones have only begun their time in Iraq.
“We figure about this time next year our sons will be
coming home,” said Mary Ann Osborn of Redfield. She and her husband, F.
James Osborn, are the parents of Sgt. 1st Class Jack Osborn, 39, and Sgt. Scott
Osborn, 36. Both are members of the 2nd Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, South
Dakota National Guard. The 2nd has units based in Aberdeen, Miller, Redfield,
Sisseton, Webster and Watertown.
Mary Ann and F. James have been saying goodbye and welcome
home to soldier sons for more than two decades – ever since their oldest son
Chuck, 41, joined the Guard at age 18.
“That was probably the worst time, seeing that bus leave
Redfield with Chuck on it,” Mary Ann said. “This is nothing new for
us, so this war is probably not as traumatic for us as it is to some.” The
absence of loved ones is probably hardest on Jack’s two teen-aged sons and
Scott’s boys, ages 5 and 3, Mary Ann said.
Sons Chuck, Jack, Scott and Tim were all Marines. Chuck served
overseas in Desert Storm, and Jack was also in the Persian Gulf at the time – a
time more difficult than now because staying in touch was tougher, Mary Ann
“We didn’t know where Chuck was, and we didn’t hear from
him. There was no contact for a long time,” she said. The widespread
prevalence of e-mail and chat rooms makes the current situation easier than
Desert Storm, she said.
Some families have yet to learn when and if loved ones will
serve in Iraq. The Aberdeen-based 452nd Ordnance Co. of the Army Reserve was
placed on alert in early November. Officials with the Army’s 96th Regional
Readiness Command in Salt Lake City said late last year the 452nd could be
activated in January or February. That didn’t happen.
But the outfit is still on alert “to my knowledge,”
said Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Donat of the 452nd.
For some, wait is over: Then there are families who have
already experienced the joy of embracing a loved one home safely from the war
that started a year ago.
“I’m pretty proud of her,” said Gene Parrow of
Britton, father of Spc. Shannon Parrow. She returned home last week with some
other members of the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion of the North Dakota
“She went over there, got her job done and came home in
one piece,” Gene said. Shannon was gone 14 months, and is now busy
sprucing up a house she bought in Havana, N.D., since her return.
“I counted the days,” said Lisa Petersen, soon to
become Gene’s wife and Shannon’s stepmother. “The hardest part was not
knowing whether she was safe.”
Though the Thorstensons of Selby anticipate welcoming their son
home this spring, that will not and should not be the end of concern, Bonnie
“We all should continue to pray for those still
serving,” she said.
Come Home from Iraq
BYLINE: By TRACY DASH
Cheers erupted Friday night as a bus carrying two dozen
members of the Mississippi Army National Guard’s 890th Engineer Battalion
rolled into the parking lot at the armory in Wiggins.
For many guardsmen, it was the first time they
have seen their families in more than a year.
Yellow bows, American flags and giant “Welcome Home”
posters made by elementary students adorned a chain-link fence and the outside
wall of the armory.
The troops were deployed to Iraq in February 2003. They
returned stateside last week, going to Fort Stewart, Ga., in the first phase of
the demobilization process.
Six hundred troops deployed; 599 are returning. Spc. James
Chance III, 25, of Kokomo, is not among them. He died Nov. 6 when he stepped on
a land mine.
The battalion was deployed primarily in the tumultuous Sunni
Triangle, rebuilding roads, schools and public buildings damaged or destroyed
during last spring’s war.
They arrived home at 9 p.m., about 12 hours after their
initial expected arrival time. Family and friends kept busy talking to each
other, channeling restlessness into conversation.
They gathered in the parking lot, dressed in patriotic clothes
and waiving American flags, when the soldiers arrived.
Some relatives, including Ruth Taylor, began their armory
vigil at mid-afternoon.
“I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” said Taylor,
who was waiting to see her 32-year-old son, Spc. Ronnie Dale Taylor.
Ronnie Dale Taylor, who works for the Wiggins Fire Department,
joined the Army National Guard shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
His mother said she and her only son talked on the telephone a
few times while he was in Iraq but mostly communicated by mail.
March 20, 2004 Saturday,
Home/ A Delayed Military Homecoming Raises Fears, But Response Adds Hope/
While any delay simply extends worry, there is reason for
relief in the most recent news that Buffalo’s 105th Military Police Company
faces only an extra three weeks in Iraq, and not an extended stay.
That should come as immediate relief for the
families of the Army National Guard unit’s members, who had earlier been hit
with a Pentagon announcement that traded “shock and awe” for
“shock and dismay.”
Activated in February 2003, sent to Iraq last
May and told they would be coming home in mid-April, the soldiers — and their
families — more recently were told they had to stay indefinitely because the
unit that is supposed to replace them wasn’t yet ready.
The Pentagon, in other words, was asking these troops to
suffer for the worst of military reasons: poor planning.
Clarification came after the families planned and announced an
unprecedented protest rally to be held in front of the unit’s home
headquarters, the Masten Avenue Armory. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary
Rodham Clinton were told Wednesday that the unit would leave Iraq around May 4
and then, after debriefing, would release its members from active service as
previously scheduled on June 17.
The protest may now
become a celebration, but the unit is still serving an extra three weeks on the
front lines. While it is most critical for morale to have a definite departure
date circled on the calendar, Iraq remains a dangerous place.
About 170 citizen-soldiers from this area have been
confronting that danger for a year now. Two of them, Sgt. Heath McMillin of
Canandaigua and Spc. Michael Williams of Buffalo, were killed by roadside
bombs. The 105th has shouldered a full share of the burden that is Iraq, and
Having made this new
promise, the Army must now live up to that obligation.
March 21, 2004 Sunday
Guard Couple Returns from Iraq; N.D. soldiers Weathered Trials of War Together
Elissa Grossell; American News Writer
The yellow ribbons at the Wall household have been replaced
with a bright bunch of balloons and a banner.
That’s because Erik Wall and Leah Levey have come home.
The couple, both specialists with the North Dakota National
Guard’s 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion, served together in Iraq for 11 months.
All told, they’ve been away from home for 14 months.
Not many couples have weathered a war together, and they say
it’s made them stronger.
“I think that’s probably about the hardest thing you ever
have to go through,” said Levey, 22, about their deployment. “We’ve
seen each other at our worst.”
And now that they’re actually home, they say it’s hard to
believe. “It doesn’t really seem real,” said Wall, 24.
The approximately 630 members of the 142nd have been serving
in Iraq since April 2003, spending most of their time upgrading a former Iraqi
air base about 50 miles from Baghdad into what’s now known as Logistical
Support Area Anaconda. The 142nd is based at armories in Fargo, Wahpeton,
Mayville, Oakes and Lisbon.
The outfit’s troops began departing Iraq earlier this month
and the entire battalion is expected to be home by mid-April. Wall got back
Saturday; Levey returned Tuesday.
Levey, originally from Turtle Lake, N.D., is a medic with the
battalion’s headquarters in Fargo. Wall, an Aberdeen native, is with the company
based in Wahpeton.
They’ve dated almost two years and met through mutual friends
in the Guard.
Levey said she was glad to have Wall there with her in Iraq,
but “it was frustrating at times.” They didn’t have the freedom to
act like a couple, and it was also more stressful because they were constantly
worrying about each other, she said.
Wall agreed. “It was really nice to have her there,”
he said, “but at the same time, it made it really hard.”
Scorching conditions: Their experience being in Iraq is
difficult to describe. “There’s no way to put any of it into words,”
Temperatures averaged 120 to 130 degrees, and
there was a streak when it hit 140 degree, they said. Days when it would get
down to 100 degrees were considered “cool.”
“But it was hot,” Wall said with a smile.
“There’s no two ways around it.”
They didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning, so their
bodies just climatized, they said. Plus, they drank a lot of water. “I
drank 13-15 liters of water a day,” Wall said.
Since they were surrounded by everything military in camp,
Levey said it was easy to forget where they were. But traveling out on the road
– seeing the people and the culture – was a different story.
Southern Iraq revealed primitive, almost Biblical scenes, they
said. There were several shepherds, and people wore Biblical-type garb and rode
donkeys and camels. Some did have cars, but they were about 20 years old.
In southern Iraq, U.S. troops would receive thumbs up and
waves from civilians, the couple said.
But in northern Iraq, “some of those towns hate you, and
you know it,” Levey said.
Being gone so long, Wall and Levey obviously missed a lot of
important events – like the birth of Wall’s niece, Mariah Mae, now 8 months
old. His family sent pictures overseas, but holding the smiling little girl on
his lap, Wall said the photos don’t compare to the real thing.
Wall also missed his uncle’s and his grandmother’s funerals.
“It’s especially hard hearing that over there,” he said. Their deaths
occurred when it was still considered “war time,” he said. It was
only later, when it was considered “peace time,” that soldiers were
allowed to go home for a death in the family, or receive any type of leave.
Levey got to go home on leave to see her family in November.
She said it was weird – when she got home, it was like she’d never left. But
when she got back to Iraq, it was like she’d never left there. And she admits
it was fairly depressing to go back to Iraq.
Explosive experiences: Not surprisingly, their time in Iraq
included plenty of frightening experiences.
“We got attacked by mortars quite a bit in our
camp,” Levey said. It started about the Fourth of July – ironically, she
said, they at first thought it was fireworks – and lasted through November. At
first the attacks scared her, but after a while she got used to them.
Even now, however, Wall admits loud noises like a car door
slamming in the distance sometimes remind him of the attacks. “I do think
twice,” he said.
Attacks on convoys didn’t scare them that much, Wall said. “In
(a convoy) attack, you can protect yourself.”
It was the thought of the unpredictable homemade bombs, which
the military calls “improvised explosive devices,” that were scary.
Thankfully, their battalion didn’t lose any soldiers. “We
were lucky,” Wall said.
Their sister unit based in Bismarck, N.D., however, wasn’t so
fortunate. Three of the soldiers in the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company were
Surreal return: Every day for more than a year now, all they
thought about was going home, Levey said. Now that they are home, it’s a weird
feeling, she said, like there’s nothing more to want.
But they’ve basically slid right back into the lives they left
They plan to live in Fargo. Wall will finish school at North
Dakota State University, and Levey will work full-time for the Guard for now.
And they plan to enjoy the freedom to do whatever they want
whenever they want.
Their homecoming, they admit, has been a bit
surreal and overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean they’d take it back.
March 19, 2004
105th Unit to Leave
Iraq in Early May
By Jerry Zremski News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – The Army National Guard’s 105th Military Police Company will leave Iraq
in early May and complete its tour of duty June 17, top Army officials told
Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary
Rodham Clinton on Wednesday.
news came a day after families of the troops in the Buffalo-based unit
announced plans for a rally Sunday to press for the soldiers’ quick return.
“We are thrilled,” said Melissa Kreiger of North
Tonawanda, whose husband, Spc. Christopher Kreiger, serves in the 105th.
“We had no idea this would happen.”
Actually, the last orders the unit received extended its tour
of duty until June 17. But when the unit got word that it would not leave Iraq
in mid-April as originally planned, family members became concerned that the
105th could end up in Iraq indefinitely.
The Army decided to extend the 105th’s stay beyond mid-April
because its replacement unit would not be ready by that time.
But Schumer said Brig. Gen. Guy Swan, chief of legislative
liaison for the Army, told him that the 105th would leave Iraq around May 4.
The unit will then be debriefed and demobilized, and then
released from active service June 17, Schumer and Clinton said they were told.
“I’m glad they now have a specific date that they and
their families can plan around,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “I’m encouraged
that the Army has responded and look forward to hearing that the 105th is on
its way home,” Clinton, D-N.Y., said through spokeswoman Jennifer Hanley.
About 170 members of the 105th were activated in February 2003
and arrived in Iraq in May.
Two of the unit’s troops have died in roadside bombings. Sgt.
Heath A. McMillin, 29, of Canandaigua, a former Marine and star high school
athlete, was killed on the highway south of Baghdad on July 27.
And on Oct. 17, Spc. Michael L. Williams, 46, of Buffalo, an
investigator for the state prison system, was killed near Baghdad.
uncertainty led family members to organize Sunday’s rally in front of the
Masten Avenue Armory. John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association
of the United States, said it was highly unusual for family members to stage
such an event to press for the troops’ return.
Now, though, it looks like there won’t be anything unusual
about it at all.
“We’re thinking of changing the rally to a
celebration,” Kreiger said.
Guardsman lived in Wrightsville Beach
By Sam Scott
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH – Luis
Carrasquillo figured his younger brother had a good chance of staying out of
harm’s way in Iraq.
“Joce” Carrasquillo was trained for supply work such as distributing
water and uniforms, an assignment that reassured his family as the
Wilmington-based 120th Infantry Division headed off to Kuwait last month.
“Being in supply, we
thought he’d be pretty safe,” his older brother said.
But early afternoon
Sunday, the family received the news that the 28-year-old National Guardsman and Wrightsville Beach resident had been killed
in combat, just three weeks after deploying. The details of Spc. Carrasquillo’s
death were unclear Sunday.
Luis Carrasquillo said the
family had been told little other than his brother’s convoy had been hit some
time in the previous 24 hours. He did not know whether other soldiers were
According to the Los
Angeles Times, a newly arrived National Guard soldier was killed by an
explosive Sunday morning.
Capt. Robert Carver, the
public affairs officer for the N.C.
National Guard, said he could not yet confirm Spc. Carrasquillo’s death,
which would be the 120th Division’s first casualty in Iraq.
The death stunned Spc.
Carrasquillo’s friends. Like Spec. Carrasquillo, many of them spent time in the
Goldsboro area before moving to Wilmington.
Chad Clark, who shared a
Wrightsville Beach apartment with Spc. Carrasquillo, remembered his friend as a
joker and a dancer, with a relentlessly upbeat attitude.
“The world could be
falling apart and he’d find something positive about it,” said Mr. Clark,
standing in his friend’s bedroom Sunday.
“We were like a
family,” said Shawn Smith, a Wilmington Police officer. Like Mr. Clark, he
met Spc. Carrasquillo when they attended Wayne Community College in Goldsboro
in the early 1990s.
“I don’t really believe it yet,” he said.
Mr. Clark said Spc.
Carrasquillo called him last week to tell him he had been assigned to work as a
gunner in a convoy – surprise news to those he was close to who thought he was
going to be a supply officer.
“It was a shock to
us,” said Luis Carrasquillo, who only just found out about his brother’s job
as a gunner. “If we had known that, I’m sure we would already have been
Described by friends as
something of a ladies’ man and a magnet on the dance floor, Spc. Carrasquillo’s
No. 1 woman seemed to be his mother, Isabel. The two had just spoken two days
before his death.
“He loved his
mom,” Luis Carrasquillo said. “He looked after his mother. He pretty
much refinanced her house before he left.”
Spc. Carrasquillo, who
worked at Sam’s Club before leaving, was in the National Guard to earn money for school, Luis Carrasquillo said. He
had three brothers, including a twin, Ronald, who has been in Iraq for more
than a year with the Army Reserves.
March 21, 2004 Sunday
by War, Proud They Served
By Jim Warren; HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
At dawn on March 23, 2003, Marine Sgts. Tim Vickery and Jason
Maguire were perched on top of their huge M-1A1 Abrams tank as it rumbled
toward Nasiriyah, Iraq.
Suddenly, angry puffs of smoke began to pop from the ground on
“We kind of looked at each other and said,
‘What is that?'” Vickery recalled. “We’d never been under fire; we’d
never seen anything like that. And then I said, ‘I think they’re shooting at
Thus did Vickery, who now lives in Nicholasville, get his
baptism of fire in the Iraqi war. He was one of many.
Kentuckians from virtually every walk of life answered the
call to duty in the war, which began one year ago this weekend. They carried
rifles, drove trucks, cooked food, repaired equipment and did all the countless
jobs, large and small, that made victory possible.
Now, many are back home. Some remain in uniform; others have
returned to civilian life. A few might have to return to Iraq.
All have been changed.
Every Kentuckian who served has a story. Here are a few.
The advance on Baghdad might have seemed like a smooth-running
machine, rolling over every obstacle without a hitch, but the front line was
plagued with breakdowns, snafus and holdups.
Tim Vickery, a Marine reservist with Alpha Company, 8th Tank
Battalion out of Fort Knox, missed much of the fighting at Nasiriyah because
his company commander’s tank broke down. The officer took over Vickery’s tank,
leaving Vickery behind while the officer led the rest of the company into
Later in the war, Vickery’s own tank broke down, its tracks
shredded from too many miles on paved roads. “Parts were hard to get. We
had to beg and borrow,” Vickery recalled. “It was very
Once, some of the company’s tanks cut across a field in an attempt
to avoid a dangerous spot called “ambush alley.” Iraqis had flooded
the field, and several tanks bogged down in the mud.
However, the company made its mark. One of its platoons
escorted the Special Forces units that rescued Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Once,
during the fighting at Ambush Alley, one of Alpha Company’s tanks was firing on
enemy positions when one of its own 120mm shells jammed in the gun. Staff Sgt.
Sam Swain of Texas and Lance Cpl. Patrick Hisel had to climb out of the tank,
under fire, and clear the blockage.
“We had rounds clanging off the back of the tank and
landing around us,” said Hisel, who is from Georgetown. “Some of them
were pretty close, but I was too busy to look. We had to clear the gun so we
could keep firing.”
“I wrote to my mother and said, ‘I took 33 guys over, and
I’m bringing 33 back,'” Sgt. 1st Class Tony Simpson says. “But I
didn’t get that mission accomplished … because we lost Darrin Potter.”
Sgt. Darrin Potter and Simpson went to Iraq as members of the
Kentucky National Guard’s 223rd Military Police Company. They had served
together on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, played softball together, become good
friends. They were in the same platoon, although Potter was temporarily working
with another unit at the time of his death. The story still haunts Simpson, 30,
who lives in Burgin.
Potter was in a Humvee with other troops, responding to a
night mortar attack in Baghdad, when the vehicle plunged into a canal and sank.
Simpson, who was at Basra at the time, received the report that Potter was
“We sat around a radio and waited for word,” Simpson
said. “I remember that we kind of joked around, trying to keep our spirits
up, that Potter was lucky and he had probably washed up on shore somewhere, and
some Iraqi female was taking care of him. Then around midnight we heard that
they found his body. We all kept thinking, ‘If we had been there, it wouldn’t
have been like that,'” he said.
Potter, who was 24 and from Louisville, was the Kentucky
National Guard’s first combat fatality since Vietnam. His loss was Simpson’s
bitterest memory of the war.
But Simpson, whose unit returned home last September, says he
isn’t irritated by debates about whether the U.S. invasion was justified.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s why were over there
fighting — so that everybody can have their own opinion. I went over there for
them to have the right to say that. Before we went, the people over there
couldn’t speak their mind.”
For Army Pfc. Michael Pettit of Lexington, the war really
began when he found himself repairing bullet holes in helicopters.
“I remember this one that had a hole through the tail
where an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) had hit without going off,” Pettit
said. “It just missed the hydraulic system. If it had hit that, it would
Later, Pettit, now 19, would be a target himself.
He went to Iraq as a helicopter mechanic with the 101st
Airborne Division, working on the Chinook helicopters. He worked nights —
escaping the 120-degree daytime heat — going almost non-stop after the
shooting began. Frequently, Pettit had to ride with truck convoys that, while
picking up or delivering helicopter parts, became handy targets for Iraqi
“We got shot at a few times,” he said.
“Usually, you wouldn’t see where the shots were coming from. You’d just
keep trucking and try to get away from it.
“Once, we went through this town, and just as we were
leaving, there was an explosion behind us. We heard later that a car bomb had
gone off at a checkpoint we’d just gone through.”
Pettit came home last month and is now on leave. Last week, he
married his fiance, Crystal Lovelace. He isn’t sure whether he’ll stay in the
Army, but he has no doubts about his service.
“When we were in Kuwait, I had no clue. I couldn’t see
it. But once we moved into Iraq and I saw all the oppression and poverty, I
knew why were were over there. I don’t feel bad about it.”
Three days after 9/11, Lexington’s Angela Falkenstine shed
tears at a memorial service on the University of Kentucky campus. Eighteen
months later, she was an Army private first class serving in Iraq.
Falkenstine, now 21, worked as a cook in the 101st Airborne
Division. Cooks usually don’t get into harm’s way, but Iraq was different.
Traveling Iraq’s roads in a truck convoy, no one was safe. Whether driving, or
as a passenger, Falkenstine kept a loaded weapon at her side.
“You had to be constantly alert,” she said.
“You even had to be suspicious of little kids. I love kids, but at the
same time I had to look at them as if they could hurt us.”
Falkenstine remembers getting up at 5:30 a.m. to start cooking
for up to 500 soldiers at a time. When there was a break, she would collapse.
“It was so hot, all you wanted to do was lay on your cot. It was so
The high point, she recalls, was spending three months in an
area occupied by Kurds.
“We went to an orphanage there and took clothes donated
from back home,” she said. “The people were so grateful, warm and
wonderful. I’ll look back on that as a totally great experience.”
The 101st Airborne returned to Fort Campbell last month.
Falkenstine, who has about two years left on her enlistment, says she probably
will go to college when it is over. She says she is glad to have served.
“I hear people say there were no weapons of mass destruction.
But we did capture Saddam Hussein, and we liberated millions of people from
decades and decades of oppression. That’s something we can always be proud
Marine Sgt. Maria Ramirez remembers the little boys along the
roadsides in Iraq, begging for handouts.
“One day it occurred to me: These kids aren’t much bigger
than my own boys,” she said. “I felt really bad for them, and
anything I had I would give to them.”
Ramirez, 24, went to Iraq in February 2003 with Lexington’s
Marine Corps Reserve Military Police Company A, leaving behind her two sons,
Michael, 4, and Dylan, who turns 2 next week. Since she worked in
administration, Ramirez seldom went into combat areas, but her work had its own
One of her duties was pulling the records of Marines wounded
or killed. She was offered the job of opening body bags and helping to identify
remains, but declined it.
“I remember this one particular Marine — I pulled his
next-of-kin information — and they said that when they opened his body bag he
was clutching an American flag. Two of the corpsmen who opened the bag said
they would remember it the rest of their lives.”
The unit returned to Lexington last September. Though glad to
be home, Ramirez says, she has had some struggles.
“I don’t like to be in crowds now,” she said.
“Some kinds of sirens bother me. I don’t like any kind of unexpected loud
noises. It’s kind of a surprise, because I never felt that way before.”
Ramirez’s younger brother, Alex, 20, recently joined the
Marines and says he might volunteer for service in Iraq. She isn’t comfortable
with the idea.
“I’m very proud of him … but I’m like, ‘Alex, please
Ramirez could end up back in Iraq herself. Her unit could be
recalled this summer to relieve units now serving there, she says.
“I have mixed feelings. I have the urge to go, but there
are my children to think about.
“I’m very proud, and I want my children to know that I am
proud, to have gone over there and been part of that operation. But sometimes
when I think about what happened over there, and the people who died …
sometimes I just want to cry.”
March 21, 2004 Sunday
Million Miles, Makeshift Armor And No Fatalities; A Virginia Guard Unit
Survives Iraq’s Dangers
Karl Vick, Washington Post Foreign Service
DATELINE: BALAD, Iraq
Of the many perilous things an American can do in Iraq, the
most perilous of all is driving a U.S. military vehicle in a line of other U.S.
military vehicles, up and down a highway, day after day.
The men and women of the 1032nd Transportation
Company, a unit of the Virginia National Guard, have been doing just that for
almost a year, logging more miles than any other unit in Iraq — about 2.3
million so far, almost all of them on the potholed asphalt of the region north
and west of Baghdad known as the Sunni Triangle.
That the 1032nd came through the past 12 months without a
fatality is regarded as exceptional good fortune by its members, a motley,
good-natured group that includes truckers, students and at least one police
officer, one iron worker, one cell biologist and one bartender.
“We get outside the gate, we keep it to the floor,”
said Spec. Jeff Combs of Jonesville, in far southwest Virginia, near the
Kentucky and Tennessee lines. “So far we’ve been really, really fortunate.”
The absence of fatalities is all the more remarkable, the
truckers say, because for the first three-quarters of their tour, the drivers,
gunners and mechanics routinely traversed the deadliest sections of Iraq
without bulletproof vests.
When a gunman in a speeding black BMW fired an AK-47 assault
rifle into the chest of Spec. Nathan Williams, the slug was stopped by a steel
plate Williams had purchased with his own money and then fitted into a Kevlar
vest designed to stop only shrapnel. Otherwise, the high-velocity slug would
have entered his heart.
“They were $3 apiece,” said Capt. Joe Breeding,
hefting one of the crudely cut, quarter-inch-thick steel plates a colleague had
sent from a workshop in Virginia. The
shortage of body armor for U.S. troops recently emerged as an issue in the
presidential campaign. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive
Democratic nominee, has cited the shortage as evidence that President Bush
cares too little about the welfare of the troops. Bush TV ads, in turn, have
accused Kerry of casting a vote that would have deprived combat troops of body
But it has been a matter of lively discussion for almost a
year in Iraq, especially among the Guard and Reserve units that were called up
to play support roles but found themselves in the thick of a guerrilla war.
“It was disappointing to me to see units that just got
here had vests, and we had been here six months doing without proper
protection,” said Spec. Rodney Pilson from Stewart. “Something like
that makes you feel kind of segregated.”
Breeding, the unit’s commanding officer, said the 1032nd
arrived in Kuwait last year largely ignorant of the state of the art in
personal protection. The Kevlar vests they carried from Virginia were designed
to stop shrapnel or a low-velocity slug from a handgun. But they lacked the
specially designed boron carbide ceramic plates that can absorb a bullet from
an assault rifle.
Too few had been ordered before the war, senior commanders
told Congress last fall, and first priority was given to dismounted infantry,
the foot soldiers most vulnerable in a battlefield setting.
But within weeks, war turned to occupation, and the most basic
assumptions were flipped upside down. “When we got here, it wasn’t as bad.
The war was still going on,” said Spec. Cliff Vance, the bartender, from
An enemy that seldom chose to stand and fight preyed mostly on
military vehicles, employing booby traps and ambushes using small arms.
Transportation outfits such as the 1032nd, which made two runs a day through
Baghdad to and from Nasiriyah, found themselves on the new front line with
equipment designed for the rear.
“We realize they
had a limited number” of ceramic-equipped vests, Breeding said. “One
thing I didn’t think they realized is how the transporters are on the front
Some things the truckers could change themselves. Makeshift
armor was cut from steel plates at the machine shops in the sprawling base set
up on a former Iraqi airfield outside Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Driver-side doors got steel plating, later replaced by sheets of an alloy
called Armox. Kevlar-coated ballistic blankets were laid on cab floors. Cargo
Humvees became battle wagons, their back ends enclosed in steel that protected
the soldier manning the .50-caliber machine gun mounted in the rear.
“You came here and basically you took care of
yourself,” said Spec. David Howard.
The improvised armor made the company, which is due to leave
Iraq this month, the envy of incoming units.
Sgt. 1st Class Kelvin Davenport, who will return to work as a
sniper on the police SWAT team in Bristol, said the newcomers ask, “When
are you leaving? Can we get your vehicles?”
There was a limit, however, to how much the truckers could do
to armor their own bodies. The Kevlar vests had no ceramic plates, and there
was no space between layers of Kevlar to slip in an improvised plate.
Vests with slots to accommodate plates arrived in June, but
the boron carbide ceramic plates did not begin making their way to the unit
until November. The entire company was finally outfitted in January.
“We got that stuff after we got off the road,” said
Sam Stone, a mechanic and part-time driver, shaking her head.
The unit was in fact still driving in January, but by then
much of the military transport was being handled by a civilian firm, Kellogg
Brown & Root Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton. The 1032nd provided the
armed escort, sending its makeshift battle wagons ahead to scout for roadside
bombs — Davenport spotted more than 30 himself — and bringing up the rear,
still the most dangerous position.
“KBR was better equipped than we were,” said Stone,
a student from Chatham. “We used to joke about that. All their drivers had
actual bulletproof vests.”
Many of the unit’s 105 drivers recount close calls. More than
a dozen of their trucks were damaged by roadside explosives. But only five
people were wounded, and all five returned to duty.
Two of the wounded were hit not by roadside bombs but by
mortar attacks around the 1032nd’s original quarters at the corner of Texas and
David Letterman Drive on the Balad base. “I think that was scarier than
driving,” said Pilson, idling with his fellow drivers in the shade of a
eucalyptus the other day. “You wake up in the night to a boom, your heart
stops, man. You’re supposed to feel safe here.”
The men beside him nodded and chuckled. National Guard units
grapple with a reputation as the military’s second-class citizens, frequently
accorded less respect than reservists. But the sense of family so often found
in shared adversity has a more familiar feeling in a unit where the youngest
member is 19 and the oldest 59. The only death in the 1032nd this year was from
cancer. It killed a man who had survived Vietnam.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Spec. Michael Bauman, 40, a
construction worker from Hillsville. “I mean, you consider over 2 million
miles in this area, we’ve been lucky.
“It’s the heat that kills you.”
Loses Its 2nd GI to Year-Old War in Iraq; He Called Home Days Before Blast
By Nikki Usher and Gina Kim, Tribune staff reporters.
Sgt. Ivory L. Phipps wanted to talk to his 5-month-old son
Sunday when he called from Kuwait. So his fiance put Elijah on the phone and
watched their infant son gurgle with glee.
“Whatever he said to the baby, it obviously had him
excited and it brightened his day,” said Phipps’ fiance, LaToya Ragsdale,
30, of Chicago. “And once the baby got to making his sounds, I didn’t want
to snatch the phone from him.”
During the three minutes of the 10-minute phone
call, Phipps told his fiance he loved her and was headed to Iraq.
Phipps, 44, a driver for the 1544th Transportation Company of
the Illinois Army National Guard in Downstate Paris, died Wednesday in a mortar
attack at a U.S. supply base in Baghdad, said Maj. Tim Franklin, an Illinois
National Guard spokesman.
He was the second Chicagoan and 22nd Illinois resident to die
in the conflict. He was the third in the Illinois National Guard to die in
Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Pfc. Cheryl Walker, 36, of Urbana also was wounded in the
attack but has been released back to her unit, Franklin said.
Phipps, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, was the youngest
of eight children and a mama’s boy, said his sister, Flora Greggs. His siblings
called him “Squealy” because he always threatened to tell on them
unless they paid him, his sister said.
An industrious child, he delivered newspapers, shined shoes
and bagged groceries after school. He also loved the military, and played with
his bags of green plastic Army men and watched war movies on television, his
After graduating from Crane High School in 1978, he enlisted
in the National Guard and served off and on for 15 years. He was in Iraq for
the first Persian Gulf War and then re-enlisted in February 2003 to put in a
full 20 years for retirement, Ragsdale said.
He spent most of his life working as a driver for Federal
Express and UPS. Most recently, he worked for Budget Rent a Car cleaning cars,
said his brother, Albert. He was told in April that he would be going to Iraq,
but was able to delay his departure until after Elijah’s birth, Ragsdale said.
The family said Phipps will have a full military funeral.
Services will be held March 27 in Bethlehem Healing Temple, 12 S. Oakley Blvd.,
March 20, 2004 Saturday, 6-7
Guard Role on Front Lines
JESSE HAMILTON; Courant Staff Writer
Sgt. John Noone was approaching a quarter-century in the National Guard, and in
that long stretch had never been sent overseas.
Retirement drew nearer, and he would soon be just John Noone,
Danbury train mechanic.
Then the orders came.
Noone, 42, was one of 130,000 troops sent to fight a war in
Iraq that began a year ago today.
It was a year of sacrifice for all, but especially for members
of the National Guard, who had long been accustomed to the sidelines. They
found themselves doing the same jobs as the professional soldiers, sailors,
airmen and Marines beside them — and dying the same deaths.
The first year in Iraq rewrote some of the basic
tenets of the National Guard, America’s oldest fighting force. The weekend
warriors were suddenly working around the clock, in a transformation of the
U.S. military in need of part-time troops.
About 40 percent of the troops now in Iraq are from the
National Guard or reserves, according to the Pentagon.
“They were intended to be reserves — the backup,”
said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District. “That has not been the case.”
Noone, with a unit of Connecticut helicopter mechanics, has
watched the transformation. More than ever, the force is an international guard
facing a new reality: Being in the Guard won’t keep you from a combat zone, and
once there, it will probably be for an extended stay.
For that reason, Noone thinks the Guard may lose members. For
many, the new Guard is not the duty they signed up for.
Military’s New Look
The U.S. military is rebuilding itself as smaller, faster,
busier. The missions are many, so the military leans harder on its backup —
reserve components that include the Army National Guard, Air National Guard,
Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Forces Reserve and Air Force Reserve.
But the National Guard has a special responsibility that sets
it apart. The 460,000-member Guard is less a single body than a collection of
parts with two heads — federal and state. Federal officials can order the
Guard overseas, but at the same time, each state’s Guard must be available to
its governor in case of fire, flood, storm or civil unrest.
During the war in Iraq, some states saw more than half their
Guard members called for duty. At the peak, Connecticut had about 44 percent
under federal deployment around the country or overseas, with many units
assigned to the Middle East.
In California, more than a quarter of the state’s Guard was
mobilized elsewhere when wildfires began sweeping through the state’s forests
and towns. Helicopters that would have been called to fight fires were
overseas, said spokesman Lt. Col. Terry Knight.
“Our Black Hawks
were in Afghanistan. Our Chinooks were in Iraq,” he said. But remaining
forces and help from other states made up for it, he said.
lack of units may not have led to a crisis in California, but governors still
get nervous watching thousands of their emergency forces getting on airplanes.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, the federal
administrative office of the Guard, has heard their concerns.
“Governors have asked that we ensure they have sufficient
forces in the state,” he told the National Governors Association last
“Our Guard force structure is not properly
balanced,” he said. It’s not just an imbalance between states, but also
between regular and reserve forces, he said.
His goal: At least half of each state’s Guard will be ready
for a governor’s call at any time. No more than a quarter will be deployed
overseas and another quarter will be training.
Predictability is the watchword. In the new system, every Army
National Guard member should expect a major deployment every five or six years.
Everybody in the Air National Guard, which typically deploys more often for
shorter spans, should count on going somewhere every 15 months.
Getting called up isn’t the problem for many. It’s the length
of the call that’s tough.
In their infrequent activations, guardsmen in the past were
put on short assignments, and usually not particularly dangerous ones. They
would fill in for a few months on jobs left behind by active-duty troops
heading for battlefields. They might help run a clinic, guard a base at the
rear, or move supplies. A few, like Connecticut’s 103rd Fighter Wing, would
serve in combat, but usually for a relatively short stint.
When units started getting called up for tours in Afghanistan
and Iraq, they thought they’d be looking at five or six months, like older
members did in the Persian Gulf War. Their orders said to expect a year’s
service, but that’s what the orders always said.
Several months after arriving in Southwest Asia, the soldiers
and airmen got news: Not only would their deployment be a year, but the
“one year” meant 12 months in the war zone and didn’t include the
weeks or months they would spend training, mobilizing and then processing back
“I think that is going to hurt the Guard a lot,”
said Noone, whose unit was frustrated.
“None of us joined the regular Army.”
Larson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, thinks
President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have been too stubborn
to admit they didn’t have a large enough regular Army to handle Iraq. .
Rumsfeld’s answer last month: “The real problem is not
the size of the force, per se, but rather the way the force has been
managed.” Though citizen-soldiers may be deploying longer, less than 40
percent of the overall reserve force has been called up since the terrorist
attacks of 9/11, Rumsfeld noted. And since 1990, fewer than 8 percent has been
called up twice.
If the National Guard has been leaned on too heavily, it may
be because it harbors the exact kinds of units — such as military police and
civil affairs specialists — that are so necessary to stability in the chaos of
a rebuilding nation. Connecticut’s 143rd Military Police Company from Hartford,
for instance, has been in Baghdad for its year. All 13 soldiers wounded in action from the state’s Guard were
from that group.
Rumsfeld has promised to shift more of those duties to the
active forces and pass to the reserves some of the duties in less demand. In another measure, outdated artillery units
are being retrained as military police, and jobs that can be done by civilians
are being contracted, leaving more soldiers for roles like intelligence
analysis. Rumsfeld has said he doesn’t want to hit the Guard and reserves so
The Connecticut National Guard is preparing for changes, too.
Like the Guard in other states, Connecticut’s is under orders to streamline.
The number of troops — about 5,000 — will remain the same, but the number of
units will be reduced and some armories will probably be closed. Maj. Gen.
William Cugno, who leads Connecticut’s Guard, said he expects to have a
consolidation plan ready by April.
“We keep getting smaller and smaller,” Cugno said.
“We’re going to do it again.”
Noone recalled the Guard he joined 25 years ago.
“It was a
different Army back then,” he said. “The guys back then were in it
for the love of it.” It wasn’t about the benefits, he said.
But the Guard had a public relations problem. Years before
Noone joined up, the Guard was known as a place to dodge front-line service in
After Vietnam, changes were made to make the Guard a more
integral part of the military. Essential specialties were moved into the
reserve forces to make sure that the units would be called up. The idea was to
tie local communities to the wars being fought by uncles, daughters and
Still, even though more than 200,000 reservists were called up
for the first gulf war, the force’s load has generally been light. Guard
members got used to the recruiting pitch, “one weekend a month, two weeks
in the summer.” For that, they got a paycheck and benefits that included
help paying for college.
Sgt. Jeffrey Arnold of Glastonbury graduated from Eastern
Connecticut State University in 2000 with help from his Guard benefits. He works
as an account executive for a health care company and fulfilled his contract
with the Guard last year. But when his separation date came up in July, he
couldn’t have walked away if he wanted to. He was already in Iraq with the
248th Engineer Company.
When he gets home, his wife said, he is getting out of the
That’s exactly what the military fears. There are three groups the National Guard
counts on to maintain its numbers: new recruits, people moving over from active
service and existing members who re-enlist.
The Department of Defense has acknowledged its retention of
troops has been weak lately. Capt. Robert Brafford, who is in charge of
recruiting and retention for Connecticut’s Guard, said it’s difficult to say
how many soldiers and airmen will leave after Iraq.
“The bottom line is, I don’t think anybody really knows
yet,” he said.
Considering that a commitment to the Guard lasts eight years,
Brafford said, new recruits and their families are wary customers. At first
glance, the national recruiting numbers look great. According to the National
Guard Bureau’s statistics for last Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, the goals were met for
almost all branches of the Guard and reserves.
But a comparison for the same period of 2002 shows most of the
current goals were set far lower than before.
Although Cugno sees Connecticut recruitment numbers as
“soft,” at about 60 percent of the goal, he’s not worried.
“The Guard is in for the long haul,” he said,
pointing to its origin in 1636. And he thinks members will like a more active
“They want to be worked. They want to participate,”
he said. “Our soldiers join because they want to be a part of it.”
Cugno hates the term “weekend warrior.” He
tirelessly points out that his people have the same training and capabilities
as the regular forces, even if they don’t get some of the latest equipment. And
he sees what his guardsmen have that many regular troops don’t: experience.
Noone headed to Kuwait last March with his unit of highly
specialized helicopter technicians. They arrived, to find no tools and while
they waited, Noone met a civil affairs officer who had a problem. She worked
for the unit that had to get Iraq’s dilapidated rail system back on track.
Noone is a mechanic
and train inspector for Metro-North Railroad. It’s his job to keep trains in
shape for the run between New York and Connecticut.
Noone left his unit for two months and became one of the first
Americans to start rebuilding Iraq as chief of a gruff band of Iraqi railroad
workers. His job was to get trains running out of the port city of Um Qasr. He
had few tools and little money, so he appealed to his crew’s patriotism.
“You’re doing this for your own country,” he told them.
“By the time I left, we had a train a day going
north,” he said.
Opting For Retirement
Lt. Col. Chris Rodney, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said
the Army has 330,000 soldiers in 120 countries. Almost a third of that number
is expected to be in Iraq for another year, and almost half of those will be
members of the Guard and reserves.
In the war’s first year, the Pentagon reported, 78 reservists
were killed. The rest are now coming home in one of the largest troop movements
in U.S. history. Noone was among the first to return to Connecticut, and says
he will probably opt for retirement before he gets shipped out again. His wife
doesn’t want to go through it a second time.
“She would like to see me never do this again,” he
March 21, 2004
Danger Second Nature To Md.
Life has flip-flopped for
Maryland National Guardsmen sent to Afghanistan. With their extended duty, home
is now part time.
By Douglas Birch, Sun Foreign Staff
KABUL, Afghanistan – The August night when three Maryland National Guard
military police units arrived in Afghanistan, several rockets shrieked into the
neighborhood near their Kabul base.
The MPs raced through their mazelike compound, not far from the U.S.
Embassy. They sealed the gates, conducted a hurried headcount and checked for
damage. The missiles went wide, but the assault made a big impression on the
“That night was completely chaotic,” recalled Spc. Michael
Morehouse, 26, a Baltimore native who lives in Bowie, as he sat in the scraggly
shade of a tree a few days ago. “We thought: ‘Oh, we’re not in the States
Last weekend, when missiles were fired toward the Presidential Palace, the
MPs knew exactly what to do. “Now, it’s second nature,” Morehouse
Life for these part-time soldiers, who in quieter times could expect two
weeks of training a year, has been turned upside down. It’s their civilian life
that seems to be a part-time thing now. And because they stand near the shadowy
front line of a hard-to-define war, each day they face a mixture of tedium and
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 290th MP Company, based in
Parkville; the 200th, based in Salisbury; and the 115th, based in both
locations, were activated and told to report for duty at the Pentagon.
For weeks, the Maryland-based military police – many of them police
officers in civilian life – helped FBI investigators hunt for evidence and
retrieve human remains there, and they stood guard as construction workers
rebuilt the shattered structure.
In June, the three units were called up for deployment to Afghanistan.
They arrived in early August, the night of the rocket attacks.
Since then, more rockets, a suicide bombing and other blasts have hit
Kabul. Scores of Afghans and foreigners have died across the country in a
resurgence of violence blamed on al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Most of the MPs work at the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan,
headquarters of Lt. Gen. David Barnow, who directs the 13,500 U.S.-led
coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The MPs are in charge of sentry posts spaced along the walls of the sprawling
complex. They patrol its perimeter in Humvees and stand guard at the gates. The
work might not be exciting. But if foes of the coalition decide to attack in
the Afghan capital, the Combined Forces Command would make a tempting target.
Capt. Robert Estes, a police officer from suburban Richmond, Va., commands
the Maryland MP units. He praised his men for their hard work and
professionalism. But no matter how vigilant, he acknowledged, they can’t
guarantee that they will thwart every attack, especially by suicide bombers.
“There’s just no way to protect against it,” he said.
The headquarters compound consists of several square blocks of a
residential section of downtown Kabul, where the streets have been blocked off.
Outside, it looks like a fortress. Masonry walls are protected by huge,
sand-filled boxes. On top of the walls, the military has placed corrugated
metal sheets, presumably to keep snipers from peering inside. And the perimeter
is ringed with razor wire to stop people from climbing in.
The interior is a small city-within-a-city, much of it off limits to
civilians. Streets are lined with two-story masonry villas – converted to
military uses – and courtyards landscaped with grass, geraniums and pomegranate
The compound swarms with heavily armed men and women. Visitors are
escorted everywhere by rifle-carrying guards. Journalists are required to sign
pledges not to disclose details of the compound’s defenses.
Wearing full body armor and carrying his assault rifle, Staff Sgt. Ronald
Vega, 48, of Parkville – a big, broad-shouldered man with a gentle manner –
strolled through the headquarters compound on a recent night, moving from
sentry post to sentry post. It was his job this evening to keep moving among
the posts, making sure that each one was ready to respond to any assault.
The New York native spent 10 years on the Baltimore police force, then
joined the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission police in
After Sept. 11, Vega worked at the Pentagon hunting for victims and their
personal effects as part of a mortuary unit. In the weeks after the attack, he
watched from a distance as honor guards performed a half-dozen burials a day at
Arlington National Cemetery across the road. “It’s something you’ll never
Compassion for Afghans
Like most Americans, he said, he wanted to “get even” for the
attacks. But he has nothing but compassion, it seems, for the plight of most
Outside the compound walls, widows in grimy burqas, the head-to-toe veils
once required by the Taliban, beg for enough money to eat. Toddlers sit and
splash in gutters with their orange-tinted hair, a symptom of malnutrition.
Children fight over scraps from garbage heaps.
The MP units help support two Kabul orphanages. Once a month, the
Guardsmen bring each a load of pens, paper, sewing kits and other scarce
supplies donated by family support groups. Some of the MPs said they were
surprised by the friendliness and generosity of the people.
“They have so little,” said Morehouse. “But they will share
with you everything, at any time. You don’t see some guy eating in McDonald’s
ask you to come over and eat with him. Here, if a guy goes out and gets
something, he asks you to share it with him.”
Despite the hospitality, the MPs say they want to go home. Some have spent
almost two of the past three years on active duty. They don’t have a fixed date
for returning. And only about a third have been granted seven-day home leaves.
They have missed birthdays, school performances and graduations. Spc.
Jason Metz, 21, of Edgewood left when his son was a few months old. “Now
he says ‘hi’ and ‘hot dog'” on the phone, he said.
1st Lt. Shawn Keller, a young Delaware state trooper who lives in
Delmarva, Del., also has a toddler at home. “I’ve missed the time when he
started walking, and the first teeth,” he said.
Estes worries that many will wind up leaving the Guard rather than risk
another long overseas assignments. “In 1980, when I first got into the
National Guard, the chances of getting activated were, like, zero,” he
said. “There might be a flood or a national disaster. But that was about
it. Now? It’s not a question of if you’re going to get deployed, but
Several Guardsmen are said to be in financial straits because of the loss
of their civilian income.
Morehouse was training to be a police officer in Washington’s Metro
transit system in September 2001, but his two Guard deployments interrupted his
training. He has spent a total of a week on the job.
Others are feeling the pressure, too.