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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Guard unit placed
on call up alert

and Express Staff

Nearly 2,600 Idaho Army National Guard members are likely to be activated for the war on terrorism in Iraq or Afghanistan, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said Monday.

The 116th Cavalry Brigade, the largest Idaho Army National Guard unit, received an alert notice Sunday. Based at Boise's Gowen Field, the brigade is equipped with the M1 Abrams tank, and includes subordinate units in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Oregon and North Dakota.

Among the approximately 350 soldiers from South Central Idaho are 50 members of a reconnaissance platoon based in Hailey, said Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, a public relations officer.

Staff Sgt. Matt Fletcher—who works week days in Hailey and returns to Boise to be with his family on weekends—acknowledged he’s a little apprehensive about possibly going to the Mid East, especially for the soldiers under his command.

"But across the board, morale is high and we’re ready to go," Fletcher said.

The alert typically precedes a mobilization order, although that isn’t a certainty, Kempthorne said. In total, National Guard units in 14 states received the alert order.

If the Idahoans are activated, it would be the single largest National Guard mobilization in the state’s history. Idahoans would start replacing deployed units starting late this year or in early 2005, Kempthorne said at a press conference. Traditionally, Guard members serve in positions supporting active combat troops, such as mechanics and engineering.

Kempthorne said any deployment would last 18 to 24 months, with 12 months overseas.

"While this is not a mobilization order, the probability of these Idahoans being activated and sent to Iraq is highly likely," Kempthorne said.

Some Idahoans already are serving in the Persian Gulf. The 938th Engineering Detachment has had 22 members in Iraq since last May. Nine helicopter mechanics are serving in Afghanistan and another 30 Idaho Air National Guard members are supporting an airlift mission in the Gulf.

Maj. Gen. Jack Kane, Idaho’s adjutant general, said state officials may not learn for three to four months if the brigade will be deployed. "We assume that the notice we get will provide us ample time to make the transition from their current status to active duty soldiers," Kane said.

The 116th Cavalry Brigade will go as an entire unit, Kane said. About 95 percent of the Idaho guardsmen and women were notified of the alert on Sunday.

"Probably every Idahoan will feel the impact," Kempthorne said.

While the Pentagon did not say how long the soldiers would be on active duty, it suggested it may be less than the 12-month tours required of Guard and Reserve members now in Iraq and of those heading to Iraq this spring. However, Kane said the soldiers were warned to get their affairs in order for what could be a two-year deployment -- the maximum allowed under the presidential authority used to mobilize for Iraq.

Kempthorne called upon Idaho residents to support Guard members and their families. For example, Kempthorne is asking the Idaho medical community to accept military health-care benefits, lawyers to provide free services and clergy and veterans to support military families.

"It will also require in essence a mobilization of support by all Idahoans," he said.

The last time the battalion was deployed was in 2002, when several members were sent to Bosnia.

A toll-free telephone number is set up to answer questions for anyone affected by the mobilization, including Guard members, families and employers. That number is 1-866-GUARD-ID (1-866-482-7343).

The Idaho National Guard’s Web site also is updated with contacts and information, he said.



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