Guard battalion sent to Utah

The 128th Battalion Guardsmen will protect military bases.
Monday, March 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:55 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jacqueline Richmond had 30 days to say goodbye to her husband, Maj. Ryon Richmond, who will be gone for at least the next year.

“From a personal point of view, it’s hard, but once I learned about his mission, I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of him,” she said.

Richmond joined other family and friends on Sunday for the deployment ceremony of 55 National Guardsmen from the 128th Battalion of the Missouri National Guard. The Columbia-based battalion will take over command and control at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah after about 25 days of training at Fort Lewis in Washington.

At Dugway, the battalion, along with 152 other troops from Virginia, will be in charge of security and control of 18 military bases and four chemical sites in six states.

Twenty-five members of the battalion will be stationed at Dugway. The other 30 will be a “flex-platoon,” filling in at various locations for soldiers taking time off. The battalion likely will be stationed for a year, with some time for leave, but could be at Dugway as long as two years.

About 3,755 Army and Air Force National Guardsmen from Missouri are active. Nationwide, a combined 133,600 guardsmen for the Army and Air Force have been deployed.

The 128th Battalion is being deployed as part of Operation Noble Eagle, which is designed to protect military bases and chemical sites throughout the United States. The Dugway post has been staffed since Sept. 13, 2001.

Lt. Commander Mark Parks said the Desert Chemical Compound, one of the sites the battalion will protect, is the second-largest chemical depot in the world.

“Obviously, that would be a high-value target for the wrong type of people to get their hands on,” said Parks, the battalion’s commander.

Spc. Chesly Manning of Pilot Grove, who works as a security guard at University Hospital, said his employer was cooperative with his situation.

Married and the father of a 16-month-old daughter, Manning said he knows his wife and daughter will be taken care of by family and friends.

“Leaving the family is by far the toughest part,” he said.

Some soldiers work full time for the National Guard, like Ryon Richmond.

Despite serving in the National Guard since 1997, Ryon Richmond hasn’t been previously deployed for more than six months, but he said he’s ready to go.

“The sooner I leave, the sooner I can get back to my family,” he said.

Jacqueline Richmond said the 30-day-advance notice was plenty of time to get things in order.

“It’s just losing my best friend that’s tough; from every other point of view, everything is handled,” she said.

Much of the ceremony focused on Sept. 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism, with several references made to the recent terrorist attack in Madrid. Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, was the only politician in attendance.

For Manning, the most important thing is relieving soldiers who have been stationed a long time.

“Just because those guys aren’t in Iraq doesn’t mean they don’t need to go home,” he said.

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