Local Guardmen Are Deployed;

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Front Page / Jan. 15, 2004 12:00am EST

Iraq Likely Destination

Local Guardmen Are Deployed;

Sgt. Karl King of the Vermont National Guard is one of 200 Guard members in the state being activated for overseas duty. King, pictured here in front of the Snowsville General Store, is one of several Guardsmen from area who will  be  deployed for up to 18 months. (Herald photo / Robert Eddy)Sgt. Karl King of the Vermont National Guard is one of 200 Guard members in the state being activated for overseas duty. King, pictured here in front of the Snowsville General Store, is one of several Guardsmen from area who will be deployed for up to 18 months. (Herald photo / Robert Eddy)

Iraq Likely Destination

Nearly 40% of the 110,000 American troops expected to arrive in Iraq this year will be from the National Guard and Reserves. Some of them, it appears, will be Vermont Guardsmen from area towns.

Next Friday, 200 members of the First Battalion, 86th Field Artillery Unit, will leave Vermont for a 12- to-18-month deployment.

The soldiers, from armories in Berlin, Waterbury, Vergennes, Burlington, and Williston, will travel first to Fort Dix, N.J. for two months of training, according to Vermont Guard public relations officer Master Sgt. Jill Hicks.

"The final destination is classified," according to Hicks, but it will be somewhere in the "Central Command," a huge geographic region extending from northern Africa, through the Middle East, and into parts of Asia.

Iraq is a likely destination. The state’s National Guard and federal reserve forces, now comprising about 20% of the current 130,000 troops in Iraq, will represent almost 40% of the ground forces in Iraq in 2004, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

The mission for the Vermont Guardsmen being deployed, according to Sgt. Hicks, will include "route recognizance, route security, checkpoint operations, and guarding supply traffic routes."

"Basically" she summarized, "it’s force protection."

One of the 200 Vermont Guard members being deployed next week is 42-year-old Karl King of West Brookfield. The Herald has learned that several others, from Brookfield, Braintree, and Randolph, are also being deployed.

This won’t be the first time that Sgt. King, a former Marine and long-time Guard member, has seen active duty. And, if in fact he is Iraq-bound, it won’t be King’s first time in the Mideast.

King, then a Marine, was outside Tehran, on a ship, during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.

Shortly after leaving the Marines in 1983, he joined the Army reserve, and later transferred into the National Guard, since the Berlin armory was closer than the reserve center in Rutland.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he has been activated twice. Starting in October of 2001, he was part of a security patrol at Burlington International Airport for eight months, and he was briefly called up for extra border security the following year.

This is the first time that the Guard is sending him overseas: "It kind of reminds me of the Marines," King commented.

"I’ve been doing this for 24, 25 years," King said of his military experience. "Hopefully, I’ve retained some of the things they’ve taught me in the last 24 years."

Mature Soldiers

About half of the 400 members of the 86th Field Artillery will be deployed next week. Many of them, like King, are mature, skilled soldiers, in their forties.

"There’s a lot of experience there," King said. "There’s no doubt in my mind that these guys know what they’re doing.

"We’ve been practicing every month," he continued. "It gets a little monotonous, but at times like this, you’re glad you did it over and over again."

The Berlin unit, he said, has trained as a service battery in support of firing batteries operating howitzers.

"We supply ammunition, medical supplies, maintenance," King explained.

His personal "MOS"—military occupational skill—is in the area of tactical communications.

King said he doesn’t know yet what kind of training he will receive at Fort Dix.

"I don’t know any Arabic, but I believe I’ll be learning some very quickly," he added.

Sgt. King this week readily admitted to a mixture of feelings as he prepares to leave Vermont next week.

He leaves behind his wife, Tina; and three daughters: Katrina, who turns 18 the day he leaves, Kaitlyn, 12, and Bethany, 5. He is also taking a leave of absence from his job at Vermont Castings.

"We all know the possibilities, and we have to deal with that," he said of his coming duty. "I knew that when I signed the papers."

King has been closely following news accounts since the Iraq war started. He’s made efforts to shield his daughters from those reports, he added, since "good news doesn’t sell."

He is comforted to know the Guard has both communications and family support networks, and that his job will await him when he returns. The military provides all soldiers with e-mail accounts, and the Vermont National Guard keeps families back home posted about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

According to Master Sgt. Jill Hicks, the Vermont Army Guard has about 3000 members and the Air Guard another 1000.

Currently, 70 Guard members are deployed, a number that will swell to 270 next Friday.

Those numbers indicate that the Vermont Guard, to date, is contributing a relatively low number of Guard forces for active duty.

More than 64% of Maine’s National Guard, 1313 individuals, are now on active duty, according to the National Guard Bureau in Alexandria, Va. Only 744 National Guard troops are currently left in Maine. Other states have seen anywhere from under 1% to 66% of their National Guard troops deployed.

Of the 200 members of the Vermont Guard shipping out next week, two are women, Sgt. Hicks reported. Twenty-five of the 200 are from Barre, the town sending the largest number of Guardmen, she said.

Since 9/11, about 25% of the Vermont Air and Army Guard has been activated for duty at various times. Sgt. Hicks noted that about half of the 1000 members of the Air Guard were activated post 9/11.

"They spent about one year flying over New England and the capitol area—they did a lot of flying."

By Sandy Cooch

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