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Kentucky National Guard Soldiers Head To Iraq

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Kentucky National Guard Soldiers Head To Iraq

Iraq

Kentucky National Guard Soldiers Head To Iraq

Kentucky National Guard Soldiers Head To Iraq

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Some 1,300 Kentucky National Guard soldiers said goodbye to family and friends over the weekend. They are headed to Iraq to help with the massive withdrawal of troops there. It's the largest overseas deployment for Kentucky's National Guard since World War II.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year. That will require taking apart much of what the U.S. military put in place. So National Guard troops from Kentucky, among others, are heading into Iraq to prepare for the drawdown. Lisa Autry of member station WKYU in Bowling Green joined guard members for their farewells.

(Soundbite of music)

LISA AUTRY: Some 1,300 Kentucky National Guard soldiers gather at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. They are saying goodbye to employers, friends, and family. The 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade is headed to Iraq to spend the next several months tearing down operations that took years to build up.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

It's the Kentucky National Guard's largest overseas deployment since World War II.

Unidentified Man: Let us pray. O Lord our God, what a wonderful sacrifice to help a nation to continue to work towards a free society.

AUTRY: Most of these soldiers are returning to a familiar place. Ebony Sutton hugs her brother, who's making his second deployment to Iraq. For Sutton, her baby brother's absence doesn't get any easier.

Ms. EBONY SUTTON: I mean, you just hope they make it back. You know, we try to be supportive because that's what he likes to do and he's proud of it.

AUTRY: You could say the same for Private First Class Joseph Royal, who's 20 years old and making his first overseas deployment.

Private First Class JOSEPH ROYAL (Kentucky National Guard): I was apprehensive at first, but the closer it gets, I'm getting the more excited.

AUTRY: As a Navy veteran, his father Darrell understands the emotions. He recalls the thrill of his first mission at sea. But then the parent in him kicks in. He acknowledges the risks, and his anxiety is multiplied by two. He has another son in a different National Guard unit leaving the same day for Iraq.

What do you want your sons to know as they leave?

Mr. DARRELL ROYAL: Just know that I'm proud of them, the country's proud of them, and to, you know, just serve honorably like I know they will.

AUTRY: Kentucky National Guardsmen will work alongside troops from Oregon, Utah, and Virginia to provide security for convoys shipping weapons and equipment out of the country. They're part of the massive drawdown that comes eight years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by December 31st, though some troops could be asked to stay longer until Iraqi security forces can stand on their own. The level of violence has subsided in recent months, but Iraq is still a dangerous place.

Ebony Sutton, who's sending her brother off, is worried about this mission, given the recent U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden.

Ms. SUTTON: I worry because of what just happened. I don't think it's going to be less dangerous. I think it could be more complicated because of the circumstances now.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing): Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave...

AUTRY: The Kentucky Guardsmen will train at Camp Atterbury in Indiana before arriving in Iraq sometime in august.

For NPR News, I'm Lisa Autry.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) ...and the home of the brave.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

(Soundbite of song, "The Caissons Go Marching Along")

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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