June 2, 2010

Call-up to involve half of region's Guard in next year

DAVID SHARP

— By

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New Hampshire Guardsmen gather at the Middle School in in Milford, N.H., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009 for a deployment ceremony before heading to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

AP

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National Guard Sgt. Nike Whitmore, Sgt. Joe Emery, Sgt. Frank Farinella, and Sgt. Dave Gagne, relax with other guardsmen at the National Guard armory in Brewer, Maine, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009. The guard unit is set to leave for Afghanistan on Monday, Dec. 7. (AP Photo/Michael C. York)

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The Associated Press

PORTLAND — New England is amid a major call-up of citizen soldiers that will eventually lead to the deployment of roughly half of the National Guard personnel from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire in the coming year.

Hundreds of soldiers are mobilizing as part of the Vermont-based 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which will go to Afghanistan early in the new year.

The unit's latest send-off is today for 150 soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry, which is based in Brewer. Another 350 soldiers from Vermont's National Guard said goodbye to their families and departed on Sunday.

The Vermont National Guard deployment was in the works long before President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he was sending 30,000 U.S. reinforcements to Afghanistan to help turn the tide against the Taliban and train Afghan security forces to defend against the militants.

Capt. Paul Bosse, Bravo Company's commander, said his soldiers understand that the situation could intensify with the buildup of troops in Afghanistan in the new year.

''It's a pivotal time. It's a decisive time in the war,'' Bosse said. ''I've got a lot of educated guys who watch TV and read the news. They understand the big picture.''

Eventually, more than 3,000 soldiers from New England will train at Camp Atterbury in Indiana before heading to Afghanistan, where the soldiers will serve in the mountainous eastern part of the country.

It will be the first time soldiers from the New England states have deployed as a brigade-sized element, Col. John Boyd, the brigade's second in command, said from Vermont.

For Vermont, it's the largest single National Guard deployment since World War II, and its 1,500 soldiers represent roughly half of that state's National Guard personnel. Eventually, Maine and New Hampshire will have half of their troops deployed as additional units leave in coming months.

In New Hampshire, the 197th Fires Brigade, an artillery unit, deploys to the Middle East in late summer or early fall with 1,100 soldiers, the state's largest single deployment since World War II, said Maj. Greg Heilshorn, New Hampshire National Guard spokesman.

In Maine, the 1136th Transportation Company deploys in early 2010 to Afghanistan as well, and the 133rd Engineer Combat Battalion returns to Iraq in March. All told, more than 800 Maine soldiers will be deployed, said Capt. Shanon Cotta, the Maine National Guard's spokesman.

In Afghanistan, it will be a more austere environment for Bravo Company, whose soldiers spent their last deployment in Iraq at Tallil Air Base, where the soldiers had running water, Internet access and American Forces Network television. But Bosse said his soldiers are eager to do what they're trained to do.

''They're excited about the mission. They think they can make a difference in their small part of Afghanistan, wherever that may be,'' Bosse said.

Despite the resurgence of the Taliban, particularly in southern Afghanistan, Boyd said there are good things happening in the country. He already served one tour in Afghanistan and he returned for a two-week reconnaissance trip in October. He said the consensus is that security is improving.

''There's progress there. There's change,'' he said. ''I'm not making light of the fact that it's dangerous there. It's a war zone, but there are so many sea changes going on in that country that's bringing them into their form of democracy -- not ours -- that I was encouraged.''

 

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Additional Photos

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Christopher Chiasson, foreground, a member of Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 172nd Infantry Regiment, relaxes with other guardsmen at the National Guard armory in Brewer, Maine, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009. Chiasson and companions are set to leave for Afghanistan on Monday, Dec. 7. (AP Photo/Michael C. York)

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