ST. LOUIS — The deployment of the Missouri National Guard to Egypt once seemed a relatively relaxed assignment. Not now.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday that the National Guard is intensifying training in preparation for deployment of 93 Guard members next month for a yearlong peacekeeping tour in Egypt.
In the past, the deployment might have seemed rather low-key given the long relationship of Egypt as one of the closest U.S. allies in the Arab world. But that changed six months ago when pro-democracy demonstrators ousted longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Meanwhile, there is growing concern in Washington about anti-American sentiment from Egypt.
"It was definitely not what we all envisioned when we first received our orders," said Sarah Ishmael, 31, of Shrewsbury, a St. Louis suburb. "But by all means this is why we train, because things can change at any moment."
Earlier this month, Egypt, with Israeli approval, increased the number of troops by more than 2,000 soldiers and police into the demilitarized Sinai following a spike in violence.
In July, more than 100 masked gunmen killed six people and injured 21 when they attacked a police station in Al Arish. That is about 20 miles from where Missouri soldiers will be based at El Gorah. Extremists also have attacked a gas pipeline in the area.
Col. Eric Evans, who commands the Missouri contingent and teaches emergency management at the University of Missouri, said his family had even inquired whether he still planned to go.
"Well, the Army typically goes toward trouble instead of away from it," Evans said he told them. "So whether the mission changes or not, we're going."
The soldiers come from two Jefferson City-based units and members reside throughout Missouri. The joint battalion's duties will include providing postal and financial services and 24-hour medical care, delivering supplies to outposts, conducting sanitary inspections and scheduling helicopter and airplane flights.
The unit will serve a larger force of about 3,000 soldiers from 12 nations under the command of a New Zealand general as they enforce terms of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
The Missouri unit has spent three weeks training at Camp Clark in Nevada, Mo. It will move to Camp Atterbury, Ind., before heading overseas. A departure ceremony is Aug. 30 at the Ike Skelton Training Site near Jefferson City.
Evans said he asked in the spring that the training tempo be increased.
"We have probably added more combat drills," he said. "We're doing more stuff with weapons and movements. We added a little more intensity."
Sgt. Terron Ivory, 27, of Hazelwood, said given his options, Egypt isn't so bad. A married father of two, he served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006.
"I was definitely relieved I wasn't going back to Iraq or serving in Afghanistan," Ivory said.