Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, members of his staff and the Idaho National Guard leadership will be spending Thanksgiving in Alexandria, La., as part of a sendoff for members of the Guard scheduled to fly to Kuwait for a year of active duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army.
Kuwait is the jumping off point for the 3,200 men and women from the 116th Cavalry Brigade who were called up last summer. The deployment includes 30 soldiers from the Hailey scout platoon, four of whom live in the Wood River Valley, said Darryl Byington, whose son Cody, a specialist, is deploying with the platoon.
"The main body flies out Thanksgiving night," said Idaho National Guard Spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Marsano. "Other flights take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some are on their way as we speak."
A dining facility in Alexandria, near the England Air Park, where flights to Kuwait are departing, will serve 250 people at a time for Thanksgiving, Marsano said. "The governor has pledged to shake the hand of every soldier going to deploy. He's been a phenomenal supporter."
Morale is high as troops prepare to satisfy their contractual obligations to the National Guard, Marsano said. They are well prepared for the type of operations they will be performing at the FOBS (forward operating bases) they are charged with commanding, mostly in northern Iraq, he added.
"They will be doing things like going in and searching buildings, setting up cordons and doing certain counter insurgency operations once they get in country," he said. "We feel they've gotten the best training in the world from soldiers who have been there themselves and from lessons learned."
Only one soldier has been counted as absent without leave from the Idaho National Guard, which includes members from 10 states. The Thanksgiving deployment from Louisiana includes National Guard members from the New York National Guard 42nd Infantry Division, Mississippi's 155th Brigade Combat Team, and Hawaii's 29th Brigade Combat Team.
Idaho National Guard members completed their combat training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Polk, La., where the Army held a mission rehearsal exercise.
"It was a huge simulation, Marsano said. "Towns were set up and populated."
The two- to three-week exercise included Iraqi expatriates wearing customary clothing and speaking the language, Marsano said.
Many of the soldiers who did not go home for leave prior to deployment piled into Alexandria, Marsano said. "The town of Alexandria has been taking these people in. They planned bus routes that didn't exist. Restaurants that require suit and tie have opened their doors to soldiers in uniform. Some citizens have been picking up their tabs and opened their homes and churches."
Tuesday 14 journalists hitched a ride in a C-130 transport to tell the story of the deployment. The first stop in Louisiana was scheduled to be Tunk's Restaurant for a fresh alligator meal, Marsano said.