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Indiana Guard training on Stewart
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The soldiers of the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Brigade Combat Team are undergoing stepped-up training to ready them for final exercises at Fort Stewart before heading for Iraq.
Many of those troops are finishing a three-week premobilization training stint at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Ind., that, with Iraq staring them in the face, has taken on greater importance than the one weekend a month they regularly perform or the two-week annual summer stretch.
Their tasks, upon arrival in Iraq, are expected to include defending bases, protecting supply convoys and guarding detainees. They will be parceled out in 21 security companies, backed by several hundred command and support soldiers.
The fact that much of the 76th’s premobilization training is going on at Camp Atterbury — rather than a base somewhere far from Indiana — reflects the Army’s new policy of limiting Guard deployments to 12 months, rather than 18.
To get it done, the Guard has bundled two years’ worth of annual training — typically done during two weeks each summer — during the past three months. The major upside is that the soldiers will get to spend the winter holidays at home.
The current training includes sessions with soldiers recently returned from Iraq, offering tips and cultural awareness sessions that introduce the troops to Islam, Iraqis and Arab culture. There are refreshers on navigating with a compass, first aid training and dealing with the potential, however remote, for biological and chemical weapons.
The outfit was supposed to deploy in 2009 or 2010, but the troop surge in Iraq accelerated the schedule, Col. Keith Sharples, the brigade’s new commander said.
The year long deployment begins in December; they’ll continue training at Fort Stewart and will deploy overseas by the end of winter, although the exact date has not been set.
If all stays on schedule, the men and women will be back in the United States by December 2008.
Although most units in the 76th have seen duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, this marks the first time the brigade will serve together overseas. It’s also the largest deployment of a single unit of the Indiana National Guard since World War II, according to Lt. Col. Deedra Thombleson, an Indiana Guard spokeswoman.
“There’s part of you that knows your friends are going into harm’s way, and it makes you a little nervous,” said Thombleson, who will not be deployed. “But the soldier in you makes you want to concentrate on preparing the other soldiers.”
The troops will be in various Iraqi locations, Thombleson said, to be determined after they arrive overseas, based on the needs there. They’ll do jobs such as running convoys and operating bases.
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