|By David Hedges, Publisher|
This past weekend members of the National Guard unit in Spencer got to watch some football games and spend time with their families.
Next week they will ship out for a deployment to Iraq that is expected to last at least a year.
The members of the Spencer detachment of the 821st Engineer Co. — about 50 in all — departed Spencer by chartered bus July 21 to begin training at Ft. McCoy, Wis., in preparation for deployment to Iraq.
Before leaving for the Middle East, the members came home for five days, arriving on a C-130 aircraft at Yeager Airport in Charleston last Thursday.
They departed from Yeager Tuesday and returned to Wisconsin.
"They'll go ship out from there," said Art Boggs, president of the Family Readiness Group at the Spencer armory.
"They didn't give us an exact date, but sometime around the first of next week they'll be leaving," he said.
Boggs said his son, Gabe, a senior at West Virginia University when the unit was activated, used part of his time off to go to Morgantown Saturday to watch the nationally ranked WVU football team play East Carolina.
"He said, 'At least I got to see them play one game'," his father said.
The soldiers have been undergoing intensive training at Ft. McCoy.
"They've been going at it from daylight until about 10 o'clock at night," said Boggs. "It's pretty much been around the clock."
Since the soldiers had no free time, families have not been permitted to travel to Wisconsin for visits, making the recent five-day break a welcome one.
The 821st, with about 160 soldiers including the headquarters in Summersville, have joined other National Guard engineering units to form the 769th battalion, including the 230th from Purvis, Miss., the 231st from Gulfport, Miss., the 769th from Baton Rouge, La. and the 851st from Little Falls, Minn.
Lt. Col. Damian K. Waddell, commander of the 769th, said the units from different parts of the country have jelled well.
"I feel good about the talent pool and am very impressed with the capabilities from all the states," Waddell said. "No matter what it is — bring it on. We can handle it, we can deal with it."
Members of the 769th have been undergoing "Theater Immersion" training designed to prepare them for the conditions they will be facing after deployment.
To mirror the conditions of a forward operating base they will occupy, the soldiers have lived in tents in a base surrounded by barbed wire, entry control points and guard towers. They traveled in convoys and encountered role players posing as civilians on the battlefield or opposing forces.
Waddell said the training is repetitive and intense, with an ultimate goal of having soldiers respond intuitively to threats and other situations.
"There are a lot of physical and mental challenges, but they met the challenges and rose to the occasion," Waddell said.
The 60 days of 18-hour-a-day training is equal to 90 days of training in a garrison environment.
The training included weapons qualification, warrior tasks, leadership, improvised explosive devices, ground assault convoy operations, urban operations, entry control point operations, first aid, combat life saving, protective mask use, detainee operations, hand-to-hand combat, reflexive fire, grenades, culture, customs and language, land navigation, physical fitness and more.
"The training is pretty cohesive," Staff Sgt. Carla Sloter, a solider with the 821st, said. "There is not one piece of training that is not beneficial since we could be faced with any type of situation."
This will be the second deployment to Iraq for some of the local soldiers. The National Guard unit in Spencer also was deployed in February 2003, when it was part of the 1092nd combat engineers. That call-up lasted 14 months, including two months at Ft, Bragg, N.C., and a year in Iraq. The members returned to Spencer in April 2004.