Sunday, March 04, 2007

National Guard troops prepare for more Iraq duty

When the call went out for volunteers to deploy to Iraq with the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion-160th Infantry Regiment, Sgt. Octavio Silva raised his hand.

He'd been back from the war-zone since 2003. If he went now, he could be home in time to see his 3-year old son start kindergarten.

Most importantly, he believed in the mission, as painful as it was for his family to see him go again.

As commanding officers, spoke to the troops about the mission ahead, Silva said he held back tears.

"I really believe that its better to [fight the conflict[ there than here," said Silva. "I was born in Mexico and came here at age 10. I feel like this country has given me a lot and I have a lot to give back."

But Sunday on the scorching tarmac at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base as her husband and 600 other National Guard troops got ready to be deployed to Iraq, Silva's wife, Maria said her pride over her husband's service was mixed with anger that so much was being asked of the families

"I was not prepared that some day my husband would be off to war," she said. "I've said to him: 'Aren't you afraid?' and he told me 'The day I signed on that dotted line I thought about this happening.'" As an Army band played and a barbecue buffet was set up in a nearby hangar, hundreds of family members and friends gathered today to cheer units from Inglewood, Fullerton, Glendale, San Pedro and Orange. The troops, dressed on desert camouflage, marched in formation for their formal send-off.

The battalion will fly out in two groups on Monday and Tuesday to be trained in Mississippi in preparation for a yearlong Iraq tour where they will provide convoy support. The deployment is one of the largest of National Guard troops since President Bush announced that a surge in American military personnel would play a key role in retooled U.S. efforts in Iraq.

More than 100 of those deployed today volunteered, for some a second combat tour in recent year.

Some, like Specialist Terry O'Neal, said they were motivated by the adventure, the chance to travel to other parts of the world and, most significantly, a belief in the mission. O'Neal, who served with the battalion in Kosovo in 2005 and 2006, said he expects Iraq to be very different. His fellow soldiers who have served there have warned him to stay aware at all times.

"They tell me that it's a different world over there," said O'Neal, who joined the National Guard four years ago. "That you have to watch your back with every man woman and child; to keep your distance." In general, O'Neal said his family members have been supportive of his decision. Still, he asked that they not come to the Sunday send-off because: "I don't want to make a big deal about it." And he kept his ultimate destination a secret from his grandmother, who was already upset about his going back overseas.

Lt. Ricardo Ferrell, 24, of Tacoma, Washington called those who volunteered, "phenomenal human beings." "They're leaving behind their spouses, children, civilian jobs," said Ferrell, who was tapped for his first deployment to Iraq.

Lt. Sean Kelly, who flew helicopters in the first Gulf War, said the bond is strong for those who serve.

"I think they're motivated to take care of soldiers and to take care of each other," said Kelly.



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