Maine citizen soldiers not surprised by possible return to Iraq

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PORTLAND (AP) – Maine National Guard Sgt. Tenny Noyes knew after serving a year in Iraq that that rules prevented him from returning. Nonetheless, he’s not surprised that the rules have changed and that he might have to go back after all.

Noyes, who serves in the 133rd Engineer Battalion, said a “majority” of members of his unit figured they’d be sent back to Iraq.

“You could tell when you were over there, it’s nothing that’s going to be cleaned up soon,” said Noyes, who spent most of 2003 in Iraq.

Across the state, soldiers are getting accustomed to the change in rules. It used to be that soldiers could be deployed for a maximum of 24 months. Now the rules state that they can spend a maximum of 24 months per deployment.

The goal is for soldiers to have a five-year reprieve in between deployments but a few Maine National Guard soldiers are already preparing to return to Iraq.

Mark Bragdon’s unit, Company C of the 126th Air Ambulance, was one of the first to be alerted this month to prepare for a second deployment.

Bragdon said it’ll be difficult for his 11-year-old grandson because he already told the boy that he wouldn’t be going back to Iraq.

Unlike Noyes, Bragdon finds himself surprised to be preparing for another tour in the combat zone. “We actually kind of thought we were done. It never really occurred to us it was going to drag on this long,” he said.

Capt. Mitch Mitchell, education coordinator for Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, said the need for troops has been predictable.

“From the standpoint of a military officer, we’re supposed to plan ahead for contingencies,” he said. “The Guard and Reserve stand ready for the nation to call upon in times of crisis, to give the nation time to respond to whatever that crisis or threat is.”

Nonetheless, Mitchell said it would be far better to expand the Army and Marines instead of relying so much on citizen soliders. It would be a “crushing disappointment” to his employer if he’s redeployed, he said.

About 9 percent of reservists come from their own family’s business and 18 percent come from companies with fewer than 100 employees, according to a 2005 military report.

Capt. Shanon Cotta, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said the prospect of additional deployments will likely mean states must step up training. When the 133rd deployed in 2003, it did so after spending three months at Fort Drum, New York.

An ongoing overseas commitment from the National Guard changes its basic purpose, he said. “Before, the National Guard was the strategic reserve. Now it’s becoming an operational reserve,” Cotta said.

Already, the focus of training has changed, said Capt. Michael Mitchell, a state trooper who works at the state crime laboratory.

“The toughest part of the job is not construction,” Mitchell said of the 133rd Engineer Battalion. “They don’t need training to build buildings and roads. Their training now is how to survive when building the road.”

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