News You Can Use: Oct. 26, 2004

Index of Articles

Note: Topics below are now bookmarked!
Click on the underlined topic below to link to the pages on that topic.



Training for Terror; National Guard Units Prepare
to Respond to Unconventional Attack

Preparing Iraq Convoys;
Virtual Training “As Real As It Gets Without Shrapnel”

Election Officials Plan Terror Responses; Say Action is Just


Some Arizona National Guard Soldiers
Deployed to Iraq

Local Guardsmen Prepare to Ship Out

Mother and Daughter to Be Deployed


“Pay Gap”
Tax Lure Gets Nearer for Guard, Reserve, Employers


Pentagon May Shorten Iraq Tours, Guard Chief Says

A U.S. Soldier Tells of Unit’s Daily Perils


Soldier’s Travel Fund Gets $50K Boost




National Guard
Family Program Online Communities for families and youth:



TRICARE website for information on
health benefits



Civilian Employment Information (CEI) Program Registration
for Army and Air National Guard, Air Force, and Coast Guard Reserve  (Note to those viewing this page in Word or PDF format: You
may have to copy this address and paste it into your browser’s address



Cumulative roster of
all National Guard and Reserve who are currently on active duty



Military Child Education Coalition
(MCEC) contains links and information about schooling, distance education,
scholarships, and organizations devoted to the military family
is a website that helps military children with transition and deployment
issues.  It has some great features
for kids, parents, special needs families, school educators, and more—even
safe chat rooms for kids.



Disabled Soldiers Initiative (DS3)

This website provides information on the new DS3
program.  Through DS3, the Army
provides its most severely disabled Soldiers and their families with a system
of advocacy and follow-up.



Have an article,
announcement, or website that you’d like to share with the National Guard
Family Program Community?  Send your
suggestions in an e-mail to
[email protected].




Back to Table of Contents


Training For
Terror; National Guard Units Prepare to Respond to Unconventional Attack


San Francisco Chronicle

October 20, 2004

By Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writer

Camp Roberts, San Luis Obispo
— There’s an old saying in the military: It ain’t
raining, we ain’t training. So what happened at this California National Guard base Tuesday counted
as serious training.

Leaden skies dumped buckets of
cold water on hundreds of Army and Air National
members throughout the day, providing an added measure of mud and
chaos to the disaster scenario at hand. It was the kind of day Col. John
Bernatz, who spent most of his 30 years in armored units, cheerfully calls
“good tanking weather.”

But it would have been deadly
serious training in any case. The team Bernatz directs is one of a number
launched this summer as a major component of the National Guard‘s response to a terrorist attack using weapons of
mass destruction.

The federal government paid for
12 of these teams nationwide, including one in California, based in Orange
County. But the California Guard decided it needed six, Bernatz said, because
the Golden State has so many terrorist targets that the Guard may need to be
in as many as six places at once, so five more are being trained, paid for by
the Guard.

“We live in a new world
today,” he said. “We live in a world where an enemy has brought a
war back to our shores.”

The team training at Camp
Roberts on Tuesday — only the second in the state — will be based in
Sacramento and will be the primary responder for the Bay Area. Each team
costs about $1.4 million to equip, Bernatz said, and about $500,000 a year to
maintain. The team was assembled from Guard members taken from several units,
including Company C, 297th Support Battalion, a medical company based in San
Mateo, and the 95th Civil Support Team in Hayward.

The company-size teams of 122
soldiers are so novel that they are known by an acronym that contains an
acronym. They are a CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or
High-Yield Explosive) Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP.

In an emergency, civil support
teams like the one from Hayward will respond first and will quickly be
followed by a CERFP, designed to assemble within six hours — a tall order
since the team is made up mainly of weekend Guard members.

That makes training like
Tuesday’s all the more important. The exercise followed a fictional scenario
in which a private airplane sprayed an unknown agent on the crowd at an
Oakland Raiders game and a suitcase bomb tainted with radioactive material
exploded in the stands. Hypothetical results: 2,000 injured, unknown numbers
dead, 35,000 flee — contaminated — back to the Bay Area.

As the rain beat down,
volunteer victims wearing a horrifying host of mock injuries were trucked to
the scene, where Guard members in bioterror suits screened them for
contaminants, treated their wounds and decontaminated their shivering bodies
with water in specially designed tents before taking them away for medical
treatment. The team’s goal is to treat and decontaminate 60 patients an hour.

Some of those on the team were
assigned, but many volunteered, including Capt. Daniel Heany of Clayton.
Heany said he was drawn to the unit in part because he has a new child and
the CERFP members may not be deployed overseas during their 24-month tour,
but also because the mission tied into the reason he joined the Guard in the
first place.

“A lot of us got into the National Guard for national
defense,” he said. “You go into it expecting this kind of

Many team members shook their
heads sympathetically at the wretched volunteers as they stripped to their
shorts in the rain and mud, but “victims” like Staff Sgt. Dwayne
Ball, completing his fourth trip through decontamination, said it was worth
the misery.

“If we have a national
disaster, we’re going to be able to help people out. They’re going to need
it,” he said, shivering under a gray Army blanket at the end of the
decontamination line. “It’s hard to prepare for something like this. You
never know when it’s going to happen.”




Preparing Iraq
Convoys; Virtual Training “As Real As It Gets Without Shrapnel”

Back to Table of Contents

The Atlanta

October 21, 2004 Thursday Home Edition


Camp Shelby, Miss. — The
geysers of dirt kicked up by AK-47 bullets marched across the street with
military precision directly in front of the Humvee.

“I’ve got small arms fire
coming from the right!” Sgt. Major Sylvester Bolton of Batesville,
Miss., called into the radio, holding it with one hand and firing his M-16
out of Humvee’s window with the other.

“I’ve got a gunman at
three o’clock!” Chief Warrant Officer Mark Morales of Brandon, Miss.,
called from the back seat.

The deeper the three-vehicle
convoy moved into the city the more insurgents with AK-47s and
rocket-propelled grenades sprouted between buildings and on rooftops.

Had this been a real mission on
the mean streets of Iraq, these soldiers from the Mississippi National
155th Brigade Combat Team would have been outmanned and outgunned
by the insurgents.

The occasionally deadly nature
of convoys in Iraq became an embarrassing issue for the Pentagon last week
when 18 members of a South Carolina-based Army Reserve unit refused a
resupply mission because they considered their trucks unsafe and the route
too dangerous.

Training as a team

But Bolton and Morales were
part of a group of soldiers taking part in a simulation inside a trailer at
this National Guard camp in south-central Mississippi, the latest
innovation in Army training for soldiers getting ready to ship out to Iraq.

The simulations are part of
what is known as the Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer, a system designed to
prepare soldiers for what they might face while riding in convoys in Iraq.
Army officials say that as many as one-third of U.S. casualties in Iraq are a
result of attacks on convoys.

The simulations include lone
gunmen, roadside bombs, suicide bombers and rocket-propelled grenades in
scenarios in which the soldiers go on missions with actual street scenes of
Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit, Iraq.

And even though these
simulations were done inside an air-conditioned trailer, Bolton and Morales
were perspiring and their adrenaline was pumping by the time their mission

“It’s about as real as it
gets without the shrapnel,” said Morales, 54, a Vietnam veteran with 35
years of military service.

“It puts you in a
realistic environment where you have to think about what you’re doing,”
said Bolton, 52, who has 34 years of National Guard service.

The 155th is expected to go to
Iraq next year. And while it is normally an armored unit with M-1A1 Abrams
tanks, it will spend more time in armored Humvees than tanks once it gets to

“These are National
and they haven’t trained as a team but by the time they leave here
they will be much better at this,” said Capt. Kendrick Bradley, one of
Camp Shelby’s trainers.

The convoy trainers were
developed in about 90 days for about $15 million after urgent calls from
Iraq, said Lt. Col. Joseph Giunta, who oversaw development of the project.

“We had no training
devices to train that [convoy] mission,” said Giunta.

Two companies quickly produced
versions of the virtual trainer. Lockheed-Martin teamed with Firearms
Training Systems (FATS) of Suwanee to develop a system in which soldiers are
placed inside a full-scale Humvee and the simulation is projected on a
180-degree screen.

“There was a huge
motivation to get it into the hands of the soldiers who need it,” said
Peter Longstaff, director of business development for FATS.

Raydon Corp. produced a version
in which soldiers sit in seats configured to resemble a Humvee and wear
heads-up display gear to do the simulation in virtual reality.

Each system is configured for
convoys of up to four Humvees. Both are in trailers, an Army requirement, so
they can be moved from base to base.

In addition to Camp Shelby, the
virtual trainer has been used at Fort Bragg and Fort Bliss and one of the
systems will soon be going to Fort Hood, Giunta said.

1,000 soldiers trained

Since the systems were brought
online in August only about 1,000 soldiers have been trained on them, Giunta
said. A maximum of 20 soldiers can train on each system at a time.

Although the systems cannot
replicate the heat, smells and actual cramped conditions inside Humvees
during combat missions, they provide key training tips that soldiers can take
with them when they deploy, said Master Sgt. Maranda McCorvey, another of the

“The one thing we stress
to them is communication between the vehicles,” said McCorvey.

Soldiers said they found the
virtual trainers helpful in learning the necessity of quick, clear and
concise communication but that they had difficulty adjusting to some of the
idiosyncrasies of the different systems.

“Live-fire [convoy
training] is much more realistic. It gives you good weapons training and more
of a real-life aspect,” said Capt. Robert Buettner of Dane, Wis., a
member of 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment of Eau Claire, Wis., who is
training at Camp Shelby.

Bolton said he got caught up in
the scenarios and the mission, even though he knew they were only

“It helps you get ready
and you want to be ready because you don’t want to be the next statistic,”
he said.



Election Officials Plan Terror Responses; Say Action Is
Just Precautionary

Back to Table of Contents

The Courier-Journal

20 October 2004

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

State law-enforcement and
election officials said yesterday that they are laying plans to deal with the
possibility of terrorist attacks at polling places on Election Day.
Representatives of the secretary of state, attorney general, state police, National Guard and others met for a
strategy session in Frankfort on Monday in anticipation of the Nov. 2

Officials stressed yesterday
that they have no information about a threat specific to Kentucky or to
polling places in general, and have not taken any major preventive steps. But
they said they want to heed White House warnings and be ready for anything.

“A lot of people believe
that the terrorists might try to disrupt this election,” Attorney
General Greg Stumbo said.

Kentucky officials have not
opted, as some states have done, for extreme measures. In Indiana, Tippecanoe
County Clerk Linda Phillips said she moved a half-dozen polling places away
from schools, partly due to crowding but also to security concerns. And the
Minnesota secretary of state recently advised local election officials to
look out for suspicious people at the polls who might be suicide bombers, USA
Today reported.

Kentucky Secretary of State
Trey Grayson said such steps were “unnecessary and overly
burdensome,” advising poll workers to focus on preventing election

There are no plans to station
police or other security at any of the state’s 3,482 polling places , he

But the Monday session did
establish chains of command for police agencies that might respond to an
emergency, including the Kentucky State Police and National Guard, Grayson said.

The National Guard will spend Election Day staffing the
Frankfort-based emergency operations center, said Joel Schrader, deputy
director for information and intelligence at the state Office of Homeland

Schrader urged voters to watch
for “anything that would be out of the ordinary.”

“We tell people to remain
as vigilant as you would if you were in the neighborhood watch program,”
Schrader said.

The Kentucky County Clerks
Association asked Grayson to convene the meeting to answer a host of
“what ifs,” said Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass, head of the
organization. Snodgrass said he’s still waiting for an answer to the clerks’
main question: Who should they take their orders from during a terrorism

“Worried? No. Concerned?
Always, sure,” Snodgrass said.

Grayson said he plans to send a
notice to clerks by early next week reminding them of existing statutes they
can use to maintain order and respond to any potential emergencies at the

Laws that might come into play
during a terrorism emergency include those governing how to move a polling
place on Election Day, restrictions on who is allowed inside polling places,
steps for replacing voting machines that become inoperable, and the guarantee
that anybody who is in line by 6 p.m. is allowed to vote, no matter how long
it takes, Grayson said.

At the meeting and in an
interview yesterday, Snodgrass called for a measured response from state
leaders and urged voters not to be alarmed by the preparations, which he said
are merely precautionary.

“We do not want to
stampede people away from the polls,” Snodgrass said. “The voting
system in the state of Kentucky is very secure.




Back to Table of Contents


Some Arizona
National Guard Soldiers Deployed to Iraq


October 21, 2004

External Affairs Division  (703) 607-2620

NGB Office of Public Affairs
and Strategic Communications


More than 40 National Guard soldiers from Tucson
and Phoenix have been called to active duty in Iraq.

The soldiers from the 860th
Military Police Company left Wednesday and will be deployed for up to 545
days, said Maj. Eileen K. Bienz, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Army National Guard.

The deployment is a partial
mobilization of the company and the full body will be deployed in November,
according to Bienz.

The company is the 27th Arizona
National Guard unit to be deployed
to the Middle East since Sept. 11, 2001.

About 2,800 Arizona Army National Guard and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen have
been summoned to active duty since September 2001.




Guardsmen Prepare to Ship Out

Back to Table of Contents

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

October 21, 2004 Thursday


“It’s my duty now to
transform them from civilians to soldiers,” Capt. Felix Rodriguez said
of the troops bound for Afghanistan.

CRYSTAL RIVER – About 100 men
and women of the Florida National Guard’s 690th Military Police Company are
scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan early next year as part of an 18-month

The unit received the order
during a drill weekend in October, said Capt. Felix Rodriguez, commander of
the 690th.

“We knew it was
coming,” he said. “Practically every guard unit in Florida has been
called up already, so it was just a matter of time for us.”

The unit’s members are still
working their civilian jobs, except for a handful of troop leaders already at
their duty stations at the armory on W Venable Road and U.S. 19. The
rank-and-file soldiers are expected to be activated and arrive at the armory
a week or so before the 690th ships out to train at Fort Benning, Ga., for
about 45 days before going to Afghanistan.

“It’s my duty now to
transform them from civilians to soldiers,” Rodriguez said.

The Guard has a two-fold mission:
to help in natural disasters, and on a larger scale, to assist in national
defense, serving alongside active duty military. Unless they’re activated,
Guard members serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year.




Mother and Daughter to Be Deployed

Back to Table of Contents

The Associated Press State
& Local Wire

23 October 2004

 HONOLULU – A mother and daughter are among 77 members of two
Hawaii Army National Guard units who received activation orders on Friday.

Spc. Aurora Serrao is an
administrative specialist with the 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment,
and her mother, Staff Sgt. Julie-Ann Lo, is a member of the 298th Engineer

The two units will be mobilized
Jan. 10 for an 18-month deployment. They may spend their first few months at
Schofield Barracks.

Serrao, 21, said she and her
mother expect to be sent to Afghanistan.

Serrao, who works for a dentist
in Kunia, enlisted in the National Guard two years ago. Her mother has been a
member of the National Guard for 18 years.

Serrao said she enlisted in
hopes of taking advantage of educational benefits. She had planned to take
courses in business administration this year, but that changed when her unit
was put on alert earlier this year.

Two of Serrao’s brothers are on
active duty in the Army and are on alert to deploy to Afghanistan. Another
brother is going for a second tour to Iraq and the fourth is awaiting orders
for deployment.




Back to Table of Contents


Gap” Tax Lure Gets Nearer for Guard, Reserve, Employers


Newport News Daily Press

24 October 2004

By Tom Philpott


Civilian employers of Reserve
and National Guard members who are
mobilized longer than six months could be offered new tax breaks soon to close
a “pay gap” between their employees’ military income and lost
civilian wages.

Before adjourning for fall
elections, Senate Republicans yielded to threats from Sen. Mary Landrieu,
D-La., to block a $137 billion corporate tax break bill if mobilized troops
and their civilian bosses didn’t get to sip at the same tax-break trough. An
angry Landrieu told Military Update on Oct. 15 that House Republican leaders,
in closed-door deliberations with Senate colleagues, tossed out her
Senate-passed amendment to give Reserve and Guard employers up to $2 billion
in tax breaks to continue paying some wages to mobilized employees. The idea
was to entice more employers to make up any difference between temporary
military compensation and pre-mobilization civilian pay.

“We thought that at the
top of the list of people deserving help would be the Guard and Reserve on
the front lines, taking the bullets. But obviously, we were wrong. Silly
us,” Landrieu said. She blamed House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.;
Majority Leader Tom DeLay R-Texas; and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill
Thomas, R-Calif.

Landrieu said 41 percent of
Reserve members deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan “take a pay cut.”
Many employers, she said, “do the patriotic thing” and make up the
difference, “so if the guy was making $50,000 when he left the States –
and he’s making $30,000 on the front line – some of them are sending them
paychecks for $20,000 to keep his family whole.”

Small businesses “doing
the right thing” deserve tax credits more than most businesses, so her
initiative should have survived House scrutiny, she said.

“We had a $137 billion
benefit package basically going out to … a wide variety of industries,
large and small, none of which would actually be in business if it wasn’t for
the soldiers on the battlefield.” But as Congress shaped its tax bill,
she said, service members “were slapped in the face.”

Landrieu vowed to “do
everything in my power to slow this process down, if not disrupt it

Senate leaders apparently took
her threat seriously: By Oct. 17, they worked out a deal with Landrieu. By
voice vote, senators attached a modified Landrieu initiative to the
House-passed Guardsmen and Reservists Financial Relief Act (HR 1779).
Introduced by Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., the relief act would allow
activated service members to make penalty-free withdrawals from individual
retirement accounts if mobilized six months or more. It would apply to anyone
activated since Sept. 11, 2001, or before Sept. 12, 2005. Those who made
withdrawals without tax penalty also would have two years after leaving
active duty to reimburse their retirement plans.

Landrieu broadened Beauprez’s
bill by providing small businesses a 50 percent tax credit on any pay still
provided to activated employees. Total tax credits per employee would be
capped at $15,000 (or $30,000 in wages). Small businesses also would get up
to $6,000 more in tax credits per temporary employee hired to fill in for
activated employees.

Landrieu made two big
concessions, however, to lower the $2 billion cost: The employer tax credits
would end, or “sunset,” in two years. Also, they would be made
consistent with the retirement plan withdrawals, becoming available only when
mobilizations last longer than six months.

With the Senate modifications,
HR 1779 went back to the House for final passage. Republican leaders will
have to decide during the post-election (or lame-duck) session whether to
schedule a fresh House vote.


A legislative initiative whose
final passage clearly is delayed until the 109th Congress is the Military
Personnel Financial Services Protection Act.

Introduced by Rep. Max Burns,
R-Ga., and passed by the House last month, HR 5011 would block the sale to
service members of abusive investment products, such as contractual mutual
funds and costly life insurance packages pitched as investments.

It would require that state
insurance laws be enforced on military property to stop a long-standing
practice of agents selling – on bases – products banned by state regulations.

Andrew Gray, spokesman for the
Senate Banking Committee, said the committee would be ready to act on these
issues in 2005. Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and the
ranking Democrat, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, have asked the Government
Accountability Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission to review
investment-marketing practices that have targeted service members.

“Once we have a clear
picture of the problem, we will be able to move quickly,” Gray said.
“This is a priority for us” in 2005.

Meanwhile, Sens. Hillary
Clinton, D-N.Y.; Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.; Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.; and Charles
Schumer, D-N.Y, have introduced a bill identical to HR 5011. It would end the
sale on military bases of contracted mutual funds with heavy up-front
commissions, as well as sales of insurance packages with coverage values far
more expensive than government-subsidized plans.


Military and federal civilian
retirees, Social Security recipients, survivor benefit annuitants and veterans
drawing disability compensation will see a 2.7 percent increase Dec. 1,
payable in January.

The cost-of-living adjustment,
or COLA, reflects inflation over the past year for a market basket of goods
and services tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bureau measures changes in
average prices from the third quarter of 2003 to the third quarter of 2004,
using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

This COLA will be the largest
in four years, since a 3.5 percent adjustment in January 2001. January’s COLA
was 2.4 percent.




Back to Table of Contents

Pentagon May
Shorten Iraq Tours, Guard Chief Says

October 19, 2004

By Tony Capaccio

The Pentagon may as early as
next year reduce the 18-month tours required of National Guardsmen serving in Iraq amid hardships for their
families and employers, the commander of the National Guard Bureau said.

The current tour, which
includes a year in Iraq, could be cut to as six to nine months in the country
if violence decreases, more Iraqis are trained to fight and the Guard
retrains troops to meet the needs of the conflict, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said
in an interview. That includes converting about 80,000 troops trained in Cold
War combat missions to handle policing, civil duties and intelligence, he

“If the security situation in
Iraq warrants and we are successful in rebalancing the force as quickly as I
think we can, we should be able to start reducing the rotations” as early as
next spring, he said. “Whatever rotation the Army goes to is what we will go

Democratic Presidential
candidate John Kerry has accused President George W. Bush of using the Guard
and U.S. Army Reserve as a “backdoor draft” for Iraq. There are about 19,000
Guard members and 13,000 reservists in Iraq, accounting for 23 percent of
138,000 U.S. troops there. That’s up from 9 percent in May 2003. The
shortened tours are not likely to start with the next rotation of forces that
begins in December with the deployment of the New York National Guard‘s 42nd Division, “but I think the one after that
we’ll be able to do it,” said Blum, who visited Iraq last month for a week.

Prospects of a long, dangerous
stint in Iraq have hurt the National
‘s recruiting efforts. The Guard for the year ended Sept. 30 missed
its recruiting goals for the first time since 1994, attracting 49,210
members, or 6,792 fewer than its goal of 56,002.

Pentagon officials have
estimated that Guard and Reserve troops could increase to 43 percent of all
U.S. ground forces in Iraq by next year. It will announce later this month
which units will be rotated into Iraq starting in May or June and staying
into 2007.

About 93,113 of the Army National Guard‘s 350,000 members are
deployed today, with North Carolina, Washington, Arkansas, South Carolina and
New York respectively providing the greatest numbers. North Carolina has
3,404 Guards members mobilized.

Of 1,102 U.S. personnel who
have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, 125 belonged to the National Guard. The U.S. through July
has spent about $91 billion of roughly $125 billion Congress has approved
since April 2003 for Iraq operations.

There are roughly 147,000 U.S.
troops in the U.S. Central Command region, which includes Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan
and the Horn of Africa, of which about 48,000 are Guard members or
reservists. The Army started in July 2003 to double Iraq duty tours to one
year instead of the traditional six months, a practice the National Guard also adopted. Guard
members also serve three months before going to the country and three months
of so-called demobilization, for a total of 18 months away from their
families and jobs.

“Employers are frustrated with
the lack of certainty about when their employee will leave and come back but
they have been remarkably resilient,” Blum said. “That makes it all the more
reason we’ve got to get these rotations down.”

Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld jump-started the current rotation debate in a June 14 memo to Army
Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker.

“I would be interested to hear
from you why you think you should keep doing 12-month rotations and if you
were to change to six, seven, eight or nine months, how you would you do it
and what would be the pros and cons.” Rumsfeld wrote.

“It’s a sensible question and
the answer General Schoomaker would give is very similar to mine, I’m sure,”
Blum said after reading the memo.

Acting Army Secretary Les
Brownlee in an Oct. 8 memo to Shoomaker said, “During the next few months,
conditions permitting, we should begin to work closely with commanders to
examine potential reductions in tour lengths.”

Blum estimated that the Guard’s
tour might be reduced to a year in total, including up to nine months in
Iraq. He said there are not enough troops “to shorten the tours yet.”

The expanded pool of Guard
units with training comparable to the regular Army’s 34 brigades is slowly
increasing, Blum said.

“We need to grow these new
brigades as quick as we can so we so have that rotation base,” he said. “We
are going to make our brigade combat teams exactly like those of the U.S.




A U.S. Soldier
Tells of Unit’s Daily Perils

Back to Table of Contents

Boston Globe
October 24, 2004

Globe copy editor Bill
Johnson, on leave for a stint with the Rhode Island National Guard, has been serving in Iraq since April. He wrote
this on Thursday.

BAGHDAD — It is a new season
here. We are halfway through our projected one-year deployment. The daytime
temperature is down to about 100 degrees. And as the Muslim holy month of
Ramadan begins, insurgent attacks are growing more frequent, and more deadly.

Attacks last week showed, as if
we needed a reminder, that the Green Zone in central Baghdad has become more
dangerous, our base on the southern edge of the city has become more
dangerous, and the roads we travel in between are more dangerous.

An early-morning rocket attack
on our base killed two soldiers. We are hit practically every day now with
mortar and rocket fire.

Suicide bombers breached the
heavily fortified Green Zone for the first time. Back-to-back lunchtime
attacks destroyed a restaurant and a bazaar, killing several people.

Rhode Island Guardsmen housed
near the marketplace ran over when they heard the explosion, and had to help
pick up body parts. I drove past the restaurant that afternoon to see a pile
of debris and twisted girders.

Another day, our convoy barely
escaped a bombing. One of the biggest risks US soldiers face are improvised
explosive devices, or IEDs, the crude but cruelly effective roadside bombs
that insurgents detonate as we pass.

Worse still are VBIEDs
(vee-beds), or vehicle-born IEDs, or what the Army calls car bombs. An IED
can kill you. A VBIED almost certainly will. Last week an IED went off when
the rear vehicle in our convoy, in which I was riding, was about 50 yards
past it. None of us was hurt.

Life for a soldier in Baghdad
these days is permeated by peril. You stand guard at a checkpoint, looking
for bombs. You walk to chow, aware you’re still in the enemy’s aim. You lie
in bed listening to explosions outside your window. You survive the days with
increased caution and even greater fatalism.

Today we drove past the site of
the IED again. Traffic was normal; clusters of schoolgirls in blue jumpers
and white headscarves were walking home. (When all is unusually quiet, we
sense danger — it could mean a bomb has been planted and the locals know to
stay out of the way, but don’t necessarily care to warn us.) We made it
safely back to base.

Amid horrific scenes, Iraqis
are trying to live life as normally as possible, and when we’re off-duty, so
do we. Some guys get up at 3 in the morning to watch the Red Sox on satellite
TV. Many keep in touch with their wives and kids via telephone, instant
messaging, and Web cams — but the “how-are-you?” and
“I-love-you” messages often omit the shuddering truth.

Last Sunday night, I was lying
in bed at 9:30 reading a letter. Outside were explosions from another mortar
attack. From the room next door came cheers during the Patriots-Seahawks
game. It felt weird.

The explosions used to be a
periodic annoyance, like being awakened by the garbage truck. We gripe about
the inconvenience of wearing our helmets and armored vests all the time now.
What isn’t heard amid the hail of mortar fire is growing anxiety and
frustration. Some toss and turn at night; others are tormented by nightmares.

Last month, which now seems
like a long time ago, we had a blues concert on post. About 100 soldiers
gathered around the basketball court, as others played volleyball or soccer,
to check out the group that had come from Buffalo to entertain the troops.
For one evening, against a red desert sunset, a soulful strain played,
uninterrupted by explosions.

“You’ve been gone too long
in darkness,” the bluesman sang. “Now it’s time you came back to




Back to Table of Contents


Soldier’s Travel
Fund Gets $50K Boost


The Associated Press
State & Local Wire

23 October 2004

BOISE, Idaho A fund
established to provide travel assistance to Idaho’s National Guard soldiers
received a $50,000 boost this week from Stein Distributing Co., a wholesale
beer distributor in Boise.

The donation will help
lower-paid soldiers serving with Idaho National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade
pay air fare home before deploying to Iraq next month.

Organizers of the Call
to Duty Fund were expecting to run out of money soon.

Former Marine
Reservist Bob Scott started the Call to Duty Fund.

“Our concern was
that we’ve raised $111,000 from thousands of small donors, but we were
running out of money because our requests for assistance were beginning to
exceed our donations. We figured we had one more week before we would be
unable to help any more troopers,” Scott said.

“When we read
these letters of application, it just brings tears to our eyes – there are
some soldiers right now who cannot come home unless they get assistance. They
will spend 20 days of leave in Louisiana, but it doesn’t do them any good if
they can’t get home,” he said.

About 1,600 Idaho brigade
soldiers have been training in Texas and Louisiana for three months in
advance of their deployment to Iraq later this year. They have 20-day leaves
that begin this weekend.

John Grizzaffi,
president of Stein Distributing, said company owners Keith and Catherine
Stein first approached him about making the donation.

“We wanted to do
our part to help the families and soldiers with the moneys needed for them to
come home when they get their leave before going to Iraq,” Grizzaffi
said. “Keith served in the Marines and I think he has a warm heart for
helping these soldiers see their families before leaving.”

Except for several
donors who have contributed $1,000 or more, private citizens have carried the
load with hundreds of $1, $2, and $5 donations, organizers said.

So far, about 450
soldiers have received travel assistance from Call To Duty. Nearly $85,000
has been distributed.

The average award is
about $200, as determined by a committee that meets weekly.

Donations can be made
at any branch of U.S. Bank or Farmers & Merchants State Bank.


Back to Table of Contents