Deployment Leaves Guard Families On Their Own Oregon's National Guard unit is preparing for its largest deployment since World War Two. Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Guard and Reserve members have rotated in and out. As civilians, their service brings a unique set of skills to war zones — and a host of challenges to loved ones left behind.
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Deployment Leaves Guard Families On Their Own

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Deployment Leaves Guard Families On Their Own

Deployment Leaves Guard Families On Their Own

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The Oregon National Guard is preparing for its largest deployment since World War Two. Troops are going to Iraq and they include one 26-year-old sergeant who's already been there three times. This veteran is spending the months before the deployment getting his affairs in order for himself and for loved ones whom he's leaving behind.

April Baer of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

APRIL BAER: When callers dial 9-1-1 in Oregon's Coastal Tillamook County, the calm voice on the end of the line is Jeremy Greene.

Sergeant JEREMY GREENE (Oregon National Guardsman): Tillamook 9-1-1, do you have an emergency?

BAER: He enjoys the job.

Sgt. GREENE: I would enjoy it more if I could actually go out on the calls I take.

Okay, we are dispatching help right now. Okay? I just need....

BAER: Greene hopes he'll someday graduate to police work, but right now his yearning for service is met by the Oregon National Guard. Sergeant Jeremy Greene is 26 years old, but already an experienced soldier with the 1st Battalion 1-86 Infantry and preparing for his fourth deployment to Iraq.

Sgt. GREENE: We've got a lot of younger guys right now, they haven't had the opportunity or, you know, the want to deploy before. Now they're going. They're constantly questioning you. What are we going to expect? What are we going to see? What's it going to be like? What should we do in this? A lot of what-ifs.

BAER: There's a lot to do - filling out endless paperwork, his will, power of attorney, and other legal forms. And there's some outstanding personal business. Greene holds out a tiny white box containing a big, sparkling diamond ring.

Sgt. GREENE: So I was going to get her a ring. By God, it's going to be for the rest of her life, so it better be the right size.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BAER: Sondi Edwards, Greene's fiancée, poses before a mirror at a local bridal shop. Tall and blonde, she looks as if she doesn't have a care in the world. In the background, her girlfriends offer some unsolicited advice on a sweeping champagne wedding gown.

Unidentified Woman #1: You look like a cupcake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: I like this though.

Ms. SONDI EDWARDS (Fiancée): Yeah, the beading is nice, but this is just too much.

BAER: But Edwards' gaze becomes level and serious as she talks about strategy to deal with the separation from her future husband.

Ms. EDWARDS: I don't know how to prepare. I've never been through it before. I think the hardest part will be coming home to an empty house. You know, I have a roommate right now. It was the plan to have a roommate, so at least I'll always have company and stuff. I think that'll make it a lot easier to deal with.

BAER: At first, Greene was concerned Edwards wouldn't understand his commitment to the National Guard. But Edwards says she'll pass much of the time working long hours at her family's sewer repair business. She understands how much he wants to go.

Ms. EDWARDS: It's what he does and it's what he loves to do. It's a part of him and he's ready. He's ready to go. You know, as it gets closer to time, he feels stir crazy.

BAER: Sergeant Greene and Edwards have both been married before. He says he knows all too well how hard deployments can be for Guard spouses, who don't benefit from the structure, support, and camaraderie of living on an Army base.

Sgt. GREENE: Your wife, husband, whoever back home, their family, how close do they live? Are they in the same town? And how good of a support network do you have through friends? Are they close friends? You know, are they going to be able to help with daycare if you have kids? Are they going to be able to come over and help fix the plumbing?

BAER: Everyday problems like a leaky faucet, or more serious ones like child care, are real obstacles for Guard families. There are some 21,000 Army National Guard troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Dan Hokanson heads the Oregon Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade. He agrees the deployment is a huge adjustment for Guard soldiers and their families, but says their civilian experience is an asset when it comes to rebuilding war-torn communities.

Colonel DANIEL HOKANSON (Oregon National Guard): Having spent most of a year in Afghanistan with our soldiers, they've had such an impact on the community, because they thought just not about the military piece but the fact that, you know, this community is going to learn and grow, and they look out for the long term of Afghanistan.

Sgt. GREENE: You just need to have a positive mindset. You can play what-if games all day long, you know? As long as you're happy with yourself and where you're at, at that point you're going to be fine.

BAER: Sergeant Greene and some 3,000 other Oregon Guard members will join Army forces in Iraq later this spring. He and Sondi Edwards are planning their wedding after his return.

For NPR News, I'm April Baer in Portland, Oregon.

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