Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre-based company of the Montana National Guard is preparing this weekend to return to Iraq, a country in a much different situation than when the soldiers returned from their last deployment less than three years ago. The Havre-based 639th Combat Sustainment Supply Company, which has some 150 soldiers based in units in Havre, Kalispell and Libby, returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq performing support services in March 2005. Some 120 troops will leave Sunday, Jan. 4, for Fort Harrison near Helena en route to redeployment in Iraq. While family, friends and supporters are welcome to come see the soldiers off Sunday, Capt. Brian Schmaus, adjutant for the 639th’s head unit, the 495th Combined Sustainment and Support Battalion in Kalispell, commended Havre residents for already holding a send-off celebration for the troops. The Hero’s Send-Off took place Dec. 6, 2008, at the Fifth Avenue Christian Church in Havre. “(The National Guard wants to) express the sincere thanks that they provided that farewell ceremony for them,” Schmaus said. “That was pretty phenomenal, and I have heard good things about it.” The troops are scheduled to board a bus at the Havre Armory, as well as buses in Libby and Kalispell, at 11 a.m. to depart for Fort Harrison. The company will then travel to Fort Lewis, Wash., on Tuesday, Jan. 6, for pre-mobilization, departing for Iraq in late January or February. The supply company’s duties will be similar in this deployment as in its first, conducting supply, fueling and fuel support and maintenance missions for up to 18,000 of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. While this is the second trip for some individuals in the company possibly the third for some who volunteered for other deployments and the duties are essentially the same, they will be in a country in transition. Control of the country, including all military actions and Iraqi airspace, has been turned over to the government of Iraq, and a sharp decrease in violence has been reported in the last 12 months. Troop reductions are planned by the United States and other countries, with President-elect Barack Obama saying he wants all combat troops out of Iraq by 2010. At the same time, numerous units of the U.S. military are being deployed or in preparation for deployment. In Wisconsin, some 3,500 National Guard soldiers are preparing to deploy the state’s largest deployment since World War II some 4,000 members of the National Guard in the North Carolina National Guard are scheduled to deploy in the spring. U. S. Army forces are also preparing for deployment and several companies from Montana are already deployed or are in preparation for deployment in Iraq, as is the 639th. But the overall plan is for a decreased presence. The drawdown of troops is already starting to be scheduled. The Pentagon plans to withdraw some 8,000 U.S. troops by February, while Britain plans to withdraw its last 4,000 troops by June. Obama wants to have nothing but a residual U.S. force in Iraq by 2010 to provide training and support. That could be offset by U.S. plans to increase forces in the increasingly violent area of Afghanistan, however, with the U.S. military planning to deploy 20,000 additional soldiers there. While the violence is increasing in Afghanistan, it has dropped significantly in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that the average number of deaths in Iraq dropped from 180 a day in 2007 to 10 a day this Year. At least 314 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in 2008, down from 904 a year ago, with a total 4,221 U. S. military personnel dying since the war began in 2003. Those reports and planned troop reductions come at a time when operations are being turned over to the Iraqi government. Control of the Green Zone, the 4-square mile area containing Iraq’s government and military command center, was turned over to Iraqi authorities Thursday, as was control of the airport of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. The new security agreement between Iraq and the United States, which replaces a United Nation’s mandate previously in place for foreign troops in Iraq, also gives control of the actions of American troops and control of Iraqi airspace to the Iraqi government. I n f o rma t i o n f r om t h e Associated Press was used in this story.