Maine troops watching Iraq events closely

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PORTLAND (AP) – Nobody was listening as closely to President Bush’s words Wednesday as Maine soldiers concerned about possible deployment to Iraq following the president’s decision to send more forces overseas.

There were concerns that a surge in troops could force a change of rules so National Guard and Reserve units will be sent back for another tour.

Some Maine soldiers said National Guard and Reserve units that already have served in Iraq could be asked to go back again – a departure from current Pentagon policy limiting mobilization to 24 months.

“I’ll be pretty irritated if they again go to the Guard and Reserve to fill in gaps because there’s not enough men and women in the active-duty,” said Scott Durst of Buxton, who served in Iraq with the 94th Army Reserve military police unit in 2003 and 2004. “When they say you won’t be touched for five more years, obviously that’s not the case.

“For the government to say we’re basically going to throw that law away – that’s just not right.”

Maine Guard units have generally spent a year in either Iraq or Afghanistan, not counting the time spent training for the assignment and demobilizing when they returned home.

Units have generally been deployed 15 months of the 24 permitted under current Pentagon rules, according to Maj. Michael Backus, spokesman for the Guard.

Even before his Wednesday night speech, Bush had signaled his intent to tell the nation that he is sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq in a change of strategy to stabilize the country.

In the first year of the war, Maine had the third-highest percentage of Guard soldiers activated of any state. There is a chance that if the government calls for Guard and Reserve units to serve additional tours, it will look first to the units that have been home the longest.

For Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, the big questions are how long and to what end. A year ago, Liberty was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserve in Fallujah, Iraq, assigned to train 800 Iraqis into a fighting battalion.

Liberty recalled seeing soldiers barely out of high school undertaking their second tour of duty.

“I know 18- and 19-year-old kids who have seen death every day – and they’re pulling the triggers,” Liberty said. “It has an impact to ask them to do three tours. It’s asking an awful lot.”

The possibility of another deployment is on the minds of family members that already have endured one deployment.

“It’s on our mind all the time,” said Hilary Dudley of Richmond, whose husband, Jason, was in the Army Reserve in Iraq in 2003-2004. “You start thinking about it after you hit the one-year mark after (your soldier) returns.”

She said they hadn’t heard anything about redeploying, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t worry.

“You’re never going to be fully secure sending your family member overseas,” she said.

Jason Dudley, who has been in the service for 11 years and re-enlisted after his return, was more matter-of-fact about it.

“If I get activated, I get activated,” he said.

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