Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
It was a cold and often tearful morning in Havre Sunday as far more than 100 supporters, friends and family gathered at the National Guard armory to bid the local company farewell as it departed on the first stage of its trip to Iraq. Gear was stowed by 9 a.m. as troops from the Montana Army National Guard 639th CS Supply Company, with headquarters in Havre and units in Libby and Kalispell, prepared to board two buses to take them to Fort Harrison near Helena in the first stage of its deployment, the second deployment to Iraq for some members of the company. Members of the troop seemed calm as they waited for the buses to arrive. “There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” said Spc. Ashley Parisian. “There’s no one emotion at once. “I’m excited,” she added. “I don’t know what to expect.” The company, comprising some 150 troops overall, is deploying about 120 soldiers to provide supplying and refueling for up to 18,0000 of the soldiers deployed in Iraq. The duties will be essentially the same as the company provided when it was deployed to Iraq in 2004-05. Sgt. 1st Class Tim Callahan, going back to Iraq for his second deployment, said the weather was better than Friday when a blizzard dumped several feet of snow in the area. On Sunday it was still causing problems for some soldiers. A couple of Guard members from as far away as Browning had called in, but were on the way, he said. “Everybody is accounted for and we’re ready to roll,” he later said. Tearful, emotional gatherings were common in the armory before and after the troops were called to formation for roll call. Family, friends and supporters talked to the soldiers, shook hands, hugged them, took photos and both sides were often in tears. The company departed for Fort Harrison where it was to spend two days, with buses taking the troops from Havre, Libby and Kalispell. The unit will depart for Fort Lewis in Washington on Tuesday, with deployment for Iraq expected in late January or early February. This deployment is scheduled to last for 12 months, compared to 15 months in the last deployment of the 639th. Soldiers who were previously deployed with the company or other National Guard units said the good leadership and good soldiers in the 639th should help things go well with this deployment. “I think we’ve got a really good crew to go back with,” said Sgt. Shaun Anderson. “This is one of the best units in the state.” Members of the company also said things may be better in this deployment than last, with improved equipment and a quieter situation in Iraq. While violence is still ongoing in the war-torn country, withdrawal of troops is being planned and deaths of U. S. military personnel has dropped from 904 in 2007 to at least 314 in 2008. Sgt. Josh Duncklee, who deployed with a North Dakota unit in 2003-04, said improvements in equipment should be a major change, including upgrading to bullet-proof vests for this deployment Duncklee said his unit only had flak jackets in the last Deployment. “I think the technology and resources will be better,” he said. Callahan also said he expected things could be a little better than during his last deployment, with the clash having quieted down some in Iraq. He also commented on the quality of the troops in the 639th. He said the Montana Guard soldiers were noticed for their competency during his last deployment. “We had good leadership over there, so that was good,” he said. “Montana units really shined . I think that’s because of the leadership.” The last deployment kept the soldiers of the 639th occupied, he added. “It was busy, you stayed busy,” Callahan said. “Time went by fast.” While the troops will be away from their friends and families, they said they would be in contact while away. “Every night, or my wife will kill me,” Anderson said. Parisian also said she would be in touch with her family regularly, using the telephone, Internet and mail. “I bought a bunch of stickers, so he would write,” she added about her 3-year-old son, Jace Arca. Master Sgt. Bill Oehmcke thanked the crowd after he assembled the troops and called roll, about a half an hour before the troops got on the buses and before the last goodbyes were said. “At this time I would like to thank you all for coming, and we’ll be back before you know it,” Oehmcke said.