When Jonathan Wilk’s college fund went dry, he joined the Army National Guard in January to help pay for his tuition to MU. He took a leave of absence from the university when he was transferred to the Wisconsin National Guard.
He moved back to Columbia in September and recently enrolled for next semester’s classes.
Now, instead of taking economics and statistics, the 19-year-old private second class might be going to war.
“I thought that there was a risk of it happening,” Wilk said. “My mom is a little scared, but that’s natural.”
At 8 a.m. today, Wilk and 19 other members of the 1st Battalion, 128th Field Artillery will report to the armory north of Columbia and later board a bus for training at Fort Leonard Wood in south-central Missouri.
The oldest artillery unit west of the Mississippi River, the 1/128th guardsmen will now receive military police training to monitor civil conflict on the ground.
On Tuesday, 20 guardsmen from the 1/128th gathered with family and friends at the armory for a deployment ceremony. They are among the last of the unit’s 248 soldiers to be deployed this week.
On a larger scale
The number of American troops in Iraq is expected to shrink 20 percent by May, but the number of Army National Guard and reserve troops, like the 1/128th, will increase 39 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. National Guard troops are also expected to see more action in places like Kuwait and Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Two weeks ago, the soldiers got the call to duty. Previously, they were told their training would take place at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. No one knows where they will go after Fort Leonard Wood.
“We have heard so many rumors,” Wilk said. “I’ve heard Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Kuwait, Germany.”
The soldiers’ families say it is hard to say goodbye.
“I am proud of my son; I am very proud of him,” Vera Dixon, 46, of Olathe, Kan., said of her son, Spc. Gregory Dixon. “I know that he will do what’s best for his country, but I am not going to say I’m not hurting because I hate to see him go.”
Dixon, 21, joined the Missouri National Guard almost three years ago.
“It helped pay for school, and it looks good on your resume,” said Dixon, a sophomore majoring in computer information systems at DeVry University.
1st Sgt. Harlan Greeves joined the National Guard 21 years ago. A Vietnam veteran, Greeves, 52, was a platoon sergeant for 14 years in Hannibal where he underwent military police training. A resident of Monroe City, he is one of the few experienced in anything other than heavy artillery.
“I will miss him, but I know he has to do it,” said his daughter, Brittany Greeves, 13. “He is doing it for his country.”
Not home for the holidays
Greeves, a father of five, celebrated Thanksgiving early with his family.
“I have good moments and bad moments,” said his wife, Shelly Greeves, 43. “A lot of people have offered to help, a lot of family and friends. All I can do is to try to take care of the house, the kids, and the farm.”
The National Guard’s Family Readiness Group will offer emotional support to the families of the guardsmen while they are away.
Leroy Williams, a staff sergeant from Maryville who serves as the battalion chef, has arranged for his military paycheck to be sent home to his family.
“The only thing my wife has to do is pay the little bills, like water and light,” said Williams, who also bought Christmas presents for his three children as soon as he got the news of his deployment.
At the departure ceremony, Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a Democrat, and Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, presented Greeves the American flag and Wilk the Missouri state flag to carry with the battalion on its mission. The A Cappella Quartet from Hickman High School sang the national anthem.
“It may be the last time for a while that the troops hear the national anthem,” said Joel Schilb, 17, a junior. “It is nice to be able to do something like this.”