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More than 1,300 soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard are deploying to Iraq on their final mission there, helping shutdown U.S. military operations. Many face not only the pressure of the Iraq drawdown, but also the stress of putting their civilian jobs on hold.

Brenna Angel of member station WUKY reports.

BRENNA ANGEL: The Kentucky National Guard's 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade will primarily be in charge of convoy security in Iraq: making sure U.S. equipment gets safely down to Kuwait and onto ships. They represent half of the 2,600 troops they'll be joining from Oregon, Virginia and Utah.

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ANGEL: But the first stop is Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where soldiers get some final training before mobilization, and where I caught up with Sergeant First Class Matthew Kelly. He's marking his fourth overseas deployment. Kelly says this mission is a mixed sense of closure and anxiety.

Sergeant First Class MATTHEW KELLY (United States National Guard): For those guys that this is their first time, definitely keeps your heads down, be observant, and make sure that you're always aware of your surroundings.

ANGEL: Sergeant Kelly says the transition to active duty has been fairly easy, because he already had a full time job with the National Guard.�That's not the case for most Guard members, who typically train part time and have civilian jobs, like Company Commander Janee Wilson. This will be her first tour overseas and a stark contrast to her day job as an operations manager for T-Mobile in Nashville.�

Commander JANEE WILSON (United States National Guard): The language is different, the lingo, the talk, the type of training that we do, you know, hands-on, weapons, different types of vehicles.

ANGEL: Wilson has heard from others about what to expect in Iraq, but is eager to see the mission through.

Commander WILSON: I'm ready to go ahead and get it over with and come back home. I am looking forward to it, though. I mean, I've been in the military 11 years, so this is my first time to really kind of test myself.�

Unidentified Man: Incoming.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man: Incoming.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Unidentified Man: Go, go, go.

ANGEL: The Department of Defense coordinated a recent trip to Camp Atterbury so civilian employers could see some of the Guard's live fire training exercises.� Norman Norris is a supervisor for Louisville's Department of Corrections, which has several employees who serve in the Guard. He says it's important for employers to understand what soldiers are sacrificing when they deploy.

Mr. NORMAN NORRIS (Department of Corrections, Louisville): When his orders come through, he's got enough to deal with already. He doesn't need to worry about if I'm going to have a job when I get back. Am I going to have my position when I get back? That stuff's automatic. There's no questions asked. There's not a general attitude of, oh, he's gone again. No. He's not going to Disney World. He's not going to California, you know. He's going to a war zone.

ANGEL: That kind of support is a relief to Sergeant Edwin O'Bannon, who has worked at Louisville's jail for less than a year. He wants that job to be there when he returns from theater.

Sergeant EDWIN O'BANNON (United States National Guard): Especially being an MP in the Army, and then I go to my civilian life and I'm still like the garrison side still carries over. So everyone has their same structure of how they want business ran and getting business conducted. So it's a great atmosphere to work in.

ANGEL: Finding the right balance between civilian and military life affects Guardsmen even at high levels. 149th Brigade Commander Colonel Scott Campbell's civilian job is for defense contractor Northrop Grumman. But he's spent five of the past 10 years on active duty.

Colonel SCOTT CAMPBELL (United States National Guard): And it is really hard to say I'm going to be super successful in both careers, because it's almost like you got to commit all your energy to one or the other.

ANGEL: Although the Iraq drawdown is expected to wrap up by the end of December, the total mission for Kentucky National Guardsmen could last up to 12 months.�

Brenna Angel, NPR News, Camp Atterbury, Indiana.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is NPR News.

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