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Heading Overseas Again

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Guard members ready for fourth call-up in six years

TELL CITY - Soldiers leaving Tell City today for a one-year mobilization that will send them to Camp Atterbury, then Georgia and Iraq will have the best training and equipment available, according to a National Guard spokesman.

Sgt. Michael Blair, public-affairs representative for the Jasper-based 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, said Tuesday the Tell City-based soldiers will report to Camp Atterbury for 10 days of training before returning home for a Christmas break. They and other members of the 76th Infantry Brigade will gather in Indianapolis Jan. 2 for a send-off ceremony, then go to Fort Stewart, Ga., for a couple months' additional training.

The soldiers will go to Iraq from there, to perform convoy-security duties, Blair said. Their actual "boots-on-ground" time in the Middle Eastern country will vary, he said, but their mobilization time, including their training in Indiana and Georgia, will be one year.

The Tell City-based unit was formerly known as Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry Regiment, but has been redesignated as Detachment 1 of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment. Most of its members returned in February 2004 from a year-long deployment to Kuwait and Iraq. An April 2004 call-up sent to Afghanistan those members who didn't participate in the Kuwait-Iraq deployment. The 1-152nd's Middle East deployments followed nine months of peacekeeping duties, which had the soldiers in Bosnia until September 2002.

Second Lt. Justin Meinhardt, leader of one of the two platoons assigned to the Tell City armory, said Tuesday the change in unit designations was a result of efforts to create an infantry brigade combat team. In the case of the local unit, that brought a mix of infantry and support roles.

As The News reported in April, the Tell City-based unit was notified then it could undergo another deployment beginning this month. The long lead time has permitted training during weekend and summertime call-ups to be focused on the kinds of situations the soldiers could encounter in Iraq.

"The training has been more intense," Blair said, "and focused more on squads and teams and the new things coming out." Soldiers returning from Iraq provide information about tactics used there for incorporation into the training, he said. Additionally, the unit has been and continues to receive new equipment he called "all of the top-of-the-line stuff you see on the Military Channel or History Channel. We've got the best stuff out there."

Meinhardt said training is validated "every step of the way" as soldiers learn to perform a wide variety of tasks, first as individuals, then as parts of increasingly larger groups. Individual skills include taking apart, cleaning and reassembling a weapon, and treating a wounded fellow soldier. Group training can include how to maneuver vehicles in a convoy attacked with a roadside bomb.

Meinhardt said Army training has changed in the last several years.

"We've gotten away from being rigid and set," he said. ""Now we're adapting our training as the enemy adapts." He said much of the training he received as recently as five years ago is "no longer valid."

"I'm ready to go. I think I've had the right training," Pfc. Jeremiah Threet said as he finished filling his backpack during a lunchtime break Tuesday. His wife and two children, 2 and 4 years old, are accustomed to him being gone, the Spencer County resident said, because over the last couple of years, he's been away for basic training and other instruction aimed at increasing his qualifications.

"I'm pumped, ready to go," said Spc. Gary Beasley, a medic. "I couldn't be more excited." Now a Bridgeport, Ill., resident, he joined the Indiana National Guard when he was a Vincennes resident in 1998. "This is my unit," he said. "I've been here for nine years. I've got a good group of guys to go with. I joined the Army to take care of them."

Meinhardt said most members of Detachment 1 come from Perry, Dubois and Spencer counties, but some come from more-distant areas, such as Fort Wayne, Chicago and Atlanta.

Spc. John Booker, a Rome resident, said he's looking forward to his first overseas duty. "There are a lot of good things going on," he said, "like building schools and (providing) health care for the Iraqi people."

The father of a 13-year-old, Booker said his son "is proud of his Army dad."

Families, too, are being prepared for the soldiers' departure, Blair said.

Family-support groups have "really kicked in for us," he said. "We have soldiers who stay back here to deal with any situations that arise."

Spouses of deploying soldiers have to expand their roles, he noted.

"Families back home have the hard job," he said. "They're stuck with all kinds of new jobs. Momma is now the daddy, too."

To help families prepare, the support groups are explaining how they can deal with situations that might arise, such as plumbing emergencies.

Approximately 2,300 soldiers from units throughout Indiana will participate in the deployment.