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National Guard Calls Up 600 Troops for Iraq Duty

San Bernardino-based soldiers being deployed early next year will boost the California Guard force serving in the occupation to 2,100.

October 03, 2003|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — More than 600 California National Guard troops, primarily from Southern California, were called up this week to join U.S. occupation forces in Iraq, the Guard's state commander said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Paul D. Monroe Jr. said the deployment of troops from the San Bernardino-based 1st Battalion 185th Armor early next year will increase the number of California National Guard troops in Iraq to more than 2,100 -- by far the largest number from the state to go into a foreign combat zone since the Korean War.

"This is the first time we are sending combat forces; the others have been combat support," said Monroe, who predicted additional call-ups in the coming months.

With hostilities in Iraq continuing longer than expected and with other nations reluctant to commit troops to the region, the U.S. Department of Defense has been forced to depend increasingly on its legions of "citizen soldiers" from National Guard units across the country as well as military reservists. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, more than 212,000 National Guardsmen and reservists have been mobilized.

On Aug. 10, Staff Sgt. David Perry, a Wasco State Prison guard from Bakersfield, became the first member of the California National Guard to die in Iraq. Perry, 36, was killed during a bomb attack in Baqubah, where he was working as a military policeman.

Monroe said that more than 25 Californians in the National Guard have been wounded.

The long-term deployment of the National Guard troops, some of whom will have been in Iraq for more than 15 months before they are rotated out next spring, marks a major departure from the normal duties performed by the state-based troops. In recent decades, the National Guard, while performing limited overseas duty, has mainly been used to assist with natural disasters and civil disorder.

Because most of the Guard troops hold civilian jobs and have families, the overseas duty often strains families, employers and communities. In civilian life, many of the National Guard soldiers are police officers, firefighters or correctional officers. Schoolteachers, accountants and engineers are also in their ranks.

One of those notified this week was Ventura financial consultant Arnold Andersen, 39, who serves as an intelligence officer for the 1st Battalion 185th Armor.

Andersen, who is a captain in the National Guard, has three boys, ages 1, 2 and 5. He said he and his wife, who works as a waitress, just learned that she is pregnant with their fourth child. "We are supposed to be having a baby in May," Andersen said. "I guess if this happens, I won't be around to see that."

Despite the hardships, Maj. John J. McBrearty, the 1st Battalion 185th Armor executive officer, said most of the troops are enthusiastic about the Iraq posting. At the time of the original combat in Iraq in February, the San Bernardino unit had been alerted for a possible mobilization and, McBrearty said, troops were disappointed when it was withdrawn.

"Heck yeah, we're excited," McBrearty said. "When we didn't go in February, it was humbling. These are a patriotic, let-me-at-the-enemy bunch." McBrearty's unit, which also has bases in Apple Valley, Corona, Palmdale and Santa Ana, is a tank battalion equipped with M1-A1 Abrams main battle vehicles.

Gen. Monroe said the call-ups have put a strain on the state's 21,000 National Guard forces. Other units are scheduled to be deployed for duty in Bosnia, Kosovo and Guantanamo, Cuba, where they serve as guards for alleged Al Qaeda operatives housed at the U.S. military base on the island.

"Fortunately, the forest fire season this year was fairly mild and we were able to get through it," Monroe said. "But I am worried about retention of these soldiers when they get back from Iraq. These assignments put a tremendous strain on families. The spouse is used to having an equal partner in burden-sharing."

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