Guard returns to R.I.

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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) – Maj. Patrick Driscoll is no stranger to military life. He’s been deployed five times in the last three and a half years as a member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard, and was on active duty before that with the Air Force.

But Driscoll, a pilot who flies C-130 planes that carry cargo and combat troops, said deployments have gotten “exponentially harder” with a wife and two young daughters back home.

Driscoll was one of 37 members of the Air National Guard to return from two-and four-month deployments on Saturday amid continued tumult in the Middle East and plans for a deepened U.S. military commitment in Iraq. The airmen, all members of the 143rd Airlift Wing, served in locations in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Qatar.

Driscoll, 37, of South Kingstown, said he missed President Bush’s speech on Wednesday calling for 21,500 additional troops in Iraq to help stabilize the country. But he said he was aware of the plans and curious to see whether and how it might affect him.

“It’s really part of our jobs, so that’s what it comes to,” Driscoll said. “I would imagine we might have some part in it.”

The airmen landed Saturday morning and entered a cafeteria at the Air National Guard Base in North Kingstown, where they were greeted by applauding family members and friends – many of whom held cameras and miniature American flags.

Gov. Don Carcieri and other state officials greeted the airmen as they arrived.

Greg Klama, a 22-year-old senior airman from Worcester, Mass., came home craving a steak and excited to get behind the wheel of his BMW. But he was also hoping for a breather.

“It’s someone else’s turn,” Klama, who specializes in aircraft avionics. “I want to take a break for a little while and maybe get a year without deploying.”

Commanders at the Rhode Island National Guard haven’t been warned of any impending deployments, said spokesman Lt. Col. Denis Riel. On Thursday, though, the Pentagon announced a major change in the Reserve policy that Riel said was likely to have a much more significant affect on the National Guard.

The previous Pentagon policy was that Guard and Reserve members could not exceed more than 24 months of cumulative active duty for the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced Thursday that the Pentagon was abandoning that limit – though the length of any single mobilization still may not exceed 24 months.

“Certainly, the Rhode Island National Guard’s standard response to that is we’ll answer our nation’s call to arms at any time, any place – regardless of policy at higher levels,” Riel said.

The Rhode Island National Guard fields two infantry battalions totaling about 300 soldiers and a field artillery unit.

It also has a military police brigade boasting about 400 members. During a previous deployment, that brigade oversaw about 6,000 soldiers charged with jailing detainees across Iraq.

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