Citizen Soldiers Train To Serve America In Iraq - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

05/04/05

Citizen Soldiers Train To Serve America In Iraq

They are ordinary men and women, called on to serve their country during extraordinary times. The ongoing war on terrorism means America's National Guard troops are being assigned to active duty.

Normal duty for these citizen soliders is one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer. But America is at war now. And thousands of National Guard troops are being trained to stand on the front lines of battle in the name of freedom.

"Attention! Good morning men," said the leader.

"Good morning first Sergeant," was the quick reply.

They're young, fiercely patriotic and in top physical condition. But the 63 warriors from Vermont may feel somewhat out of place in South Mississippi.

"We're a high altitude, cold weather unit. I mean, skis and snow shoes. And we traded them in to go to humvees in the desert you know," said Sgt. Mark Stiner.

The dusty, bumpy trails of Camp Shelby are the training grounds for military convoys. Troops transporting soldiers and equipment practice protecting supply lines. Military convoys are frequent targets of the enemy in Iraq. Soldiers must learn to be wary.

"Just something as simple as being aware of your surroundings. Just something we naturally take for granted. Obviously in the U.S. it's a very safe area, so it's not something we have to deal with. That environment where everything, you constantly have to be assessing," said Lt. Mark Dooley.

"I love the unit. I've seen other guard units that for the most part, can't hack it. And this unit definitely has it's stuff together," said Jerry Altiri.

The 25 year old typifies the youthful spirit in this close knit bunch. These brothers in arms enjoy each other's company. Keeping their weapons clean is a practical, mostly boring necessity. But even mundane duty is an opportunity to bond. Close camaraderie, especially in combat, is most significant.

"It's the most important thing. Doesn't matter what the training is like. As long as you're looking out for your best friend when you start getting shot at. It will supersede your selfishness of being scared. And you'll take care of your buddy," said Altiri.

"The exciting world of mopping the barracks! Film at seven," joked one soldier, as he worked the mop on he barracks floor.

Tidying the barracks isn't nearly as glamorous as live fire exercises. But it's necessary duty. Sixty three young men share the responsibilities of keeping their living space inspection worthy.

"I actually joined the guard for extra money for college. But it was a great experience and I want to also fight for my country," said Michael Anderson.

Anderson calls the patriotism in his unit outstanding. If these guardsman are nervous about their approaching assignment in Iraq, they hide it well.

"No apprehensions sir. From the training I've received, we're pretty bonded here. So, no real apprehensions. Just kind of want to get over there and get it started sir," Anderson explained.

Spare moments at camp are often spent on cell phones. These soldiers are more than a day's drive away from loved ones. Soon, they'll be half a world away.

"I'm a little worried about my family mostly. Other than my family, I think everything else is going to be fine. We're in a great unit here. This mountain unit is outstanding. A great bunch of guys. And we're really confident in our leadership here in this unit," said Eugene Duplisis.

"I told you from the start, I told you until the day we get off the plane, we're going over as 63... we're coming home as 63. We do things as 63," said the drill sergeant.

By Steve Phillips

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