Arkansas Guard Members Prepare for Iraq Tour

The Pentagon has told 13,000 National Guard troops in four states to get ready. They may be called up for duty in Iraq sometime after October of this year.

Oklahoma, Indiana and Ohio are affected ... and so is Arkansas, where nearly 3,000 National Guard soldiers are facing their second possible deployment to Iraq in less than two years.

Complaining about the new deployment alert was not the order of the day in Arkansas, at least among Guard brass and some of the soldiers.

"Obviously everyone is going to be a little apprehensive about going back to Iraq," said Col. Kendall Penn, commander of the 39th Combat Brigade Team. "I can't say that anybody necessarily would want to go back."

But noting that the unit has trained for the mission for two years, he added, "It is a mission that we are capable of doing."

Under new policy, the 39th's second deployment would be limited to 12 months, according to Maj. Gen. Bill Wofford, who is the adjutant general of the Arkansas Guard. That would include training time in the States, so it's possible the soldiers could be in Iraq for less than a year.

But Wofford acknowledged that they could be extended, like what recently happened to the Minnesota National Guard.

"That would be up to the Department of Defense and what's going on in theater at that time," he said.

Immediately following a news conference in Little Rock, Wofford jumped in a Blackhawk helicopter and flew north to Fayetteville.

Wofford was going to say goodbye to some men who will be leaving soon for their first deployment to Iraq.

Command gathered a group of them to talk to NPR about the trip. To a man, they were gung ho for the mission.

"I am looking forward to it," said Spec. John Martell. "It's going to be a great opportunity for me."

He expects to return to be a full-time student at the University of Arkansas. In the meantime, he says, "I've always wanted to serve in this way."

Staff Sgt. William Davis has 10 years of combined duty in the active Army and the National Guard. His wife is due to have their sixth child on July 4. It will be the first birth he's missed.

Emotions about his service run "hot and cold" with his family members, Davis said, but in the end, "they

know why we're here and how much we want to be part of this and do our job."

Davis says his Guard unit is very close. Most are from Fayetteville. Some have served together for 30 years.

Lt. Jeff Froude says there were more volunteers for this mission than he could take along.

"I had a tougher time calling the soldiers who weren't able to go than calling the soldiers who were going," he said.

Froude has just finished his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Arkansas and he's leaving behind a wife with a baby born 15 days ago. He's made special preparations for his absence.

"My wife and I bought a video camera and I spent about six hours reading 10- to 15-minute children's books," he said. "And my wife plans on playing a DVD every night of me reading one of these books for daddy time."

It's worth keeping in mind that these soldiers are off on their first deployment. Yet to assemble and offer their opinions are members of the 39th, who are most likely going back to Iraq a second time.

Still, Gen. Wofford thinks Arkansas is exceptional in its commitment to the National Guard. He calls 2006 "the best recruiting year we've had in nine years," adding: "I know that's hard to believe."

The Guard has, of course, added some hefty bonuses in the past couple of years to entice soldiers to stay in. But Wofford says he recently asked a high school senior who is a member of the Guard what he intended to do next, expecting the student to say he was going on to college.

"He said 'I'm going to complete basic training,'" Wofford said. "He said 'the rumor is my unit is getting ready to be alerted.' He said, 'I'm going to go to Iraq with them.'"

This high school senior is a member of the 39 Combat Brigade Team, which will most likely deploy to Iraq sometime after October.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: