Half of the 128th National Guard unit based in Columbia — 248 members — is preparing to leave for Fort Sill, Okla., on Tuesday. Members of the artillery unit must report to the Armory north of Columbia on Sunday.
As the one-year mark for mass troop deployment to Iraq approaches, the U.S. government is preparing to relieve soldiers who will soon complete their tour of duty.
Wednesday night, the Armory held a dinner and a meeting for the Guard members and their families. Many of the Guards were dressed in camouflage fatigues.
128th heads to Fort Sill
“Our purpose for tonight is to inform the families about what’s going to be happening with them,” Maj. Kevin Mullen said before the private gathering.
Leona Howell of Hallsville, whose husband, Tom, 56, is being deployed, is unsure of his destination.
“With us, it’s been changing from day to day,” she said.
Once he leaves, she will miss his support, she said. One of their daughters, Roberta, 23, already is serving in Iraq in the military police.
At Fort Sill, the 128th, which is normally an artillery unit, will spend four weeks training to become military police. Nationwide, the Army National Guard is retraining 2,000 members of its artillery force as MPs.
Training for military police
MPs, the Army’s version of police, are in great demand, said National Guard Sgt. Joyce Kilmer. MPs patrol the streets, act as security guards for airports and other public places and keep the peace.
“They are on patrol constantly,” Kilmer said. Although they are needed in Iraq, they are also needed in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Army bases in the United States and other places where U.S. troops are stationed.
Columbia’s 128th National Guard unit and Maryville’s 129th National Guard unit were chosen by the U.S. Army to fill the function of MPs, said Lt. Col. Rodney, public affairs officer in Washington, D.C. Only half were needed and the troops who were most qualified were chosen.
Final destination is uncertain
Where they go once they receive orders for deployment from Ft. Sill, however, is uncertain. “They should be replacing active duty MPs,” Rodney said. It’s too early to tell where they will go after Ft. Sill, but Rodney thinks they will know after Jan. 1.
As of Oct. 1, more than 169,000 National Guard and Army Reserve troops were on active duty. Currently, 1,937 of the 8,000 National Guard troops in Missouri are on active duty, 1,348 of them in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait.
The National Guard’s 711th Transportation Detachment in Jefferson City is leaving in December, along with Jefferson City’s 835th Support Battalion, C Company 1/106th Assault Battalion and Detachment 1 Company D, 1/106th Assault Battalion.
Although tours of duty last one year for both Army and National Guard members, soldiers called for deployment can be away from home as long as 18 months. Training and demobilization following the tour don’t count as part of the tour.
“They need time to get back to their usual way of doing things,” Kilmer said about demobilization. “They need time to just settle back into their normal way of life.”
- Missourian reporter Erin Foote Pursell contributed to this report.