By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - A Montana National Guard infantry battalion was put on alert Monday for possible deployment to Iraq, as part of a notice also issued by the Pentagon to four major units in New York, Louisiana, Idaho, Oregon and Tennessee.
Maj. Scott Smith, public affairs officer for the Montana Army Guard, said the notification is routine procedure in advance of possible mobilization and does not mean a particular unit will be called to active duty.
''We don't know who they're going to take and who they're not,'' he said. ''We don't know if they will take the entire unit or part of it.''
The units put on alert status could be used to replace troops coming home later this year.
The 1st Battalion of the 163rd Infantry Division is part of the 116th Cavalry Brigade headquartered in Boise. It also has soldiers in Oregon.
The Montana battalion, headquartered at Belgrade, has about 535 soldiers assigned to units in eight cities: Anaconda, about 25 soldiers; Belgrade, 110; Billings, 110; Great Falls, 85; Hamilton, 25; Lewistown, 15; Livingston, 65; and Missoula, 100.
Smith said possible deployment would not occur until late this year or early in 2005, but that the Pentagon is trying to give soldiers, their families and employers more advanced notice so they can begin preparing for potential mobilization.
But the wait for word can last a few days of several months, he said. If the 1-163rd is mobilized, it would be the first Montana infantry unit deployed in the Iraq war, although some Montana ground troops were sent to Bosnia a couple of years ago, he said.
With the latest notice issued Monday, about 45 percent of Montana's 2,500-member National Guard has been put on alert or mobilized in connection with Iraq. Only 350 of those, or 14 percent, are deployed on active duty.
The 143rd military police detachment headquartered at Bozeman; the 485th Battalion headquarters company out of Kalispell; the 639th quartermaster company from Kalispell; the 1022nd air ambulance unit out of Helena; the 151st aviation unit from Helena are in Iraq.
Another 15 Montana Guard members in various specialty fields also are in the Mideast nation.
Despite the recent increased use of the Guard for active duty assignments in combat areas, Smith said that changing role has not affected recruitment. He said the Montana Guard had about 17 percent more members in January than two years earlier.
However, July will be crucial month for enlistments, he said. By that time, the first soldiers returning from Iraq will have been home 90 days and be allowed then to decide whether to remain in the Guard, Smith explained.