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Archive for Sunday, November 24, 2002

Guard units prepare for possible deployment

Families learn to cope with absence

November 24, 2002

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— Soldiers in Kansas Army and Air National Guard units are finding the anticipation for an attack on Iraq different from preparations more than a decade ago.

"We've been on the edge of the bubble for more than a year now," said Maj. Rick Jellison, executive officer of the 190th Air Refueling Wing at Topeka's Forbes Field.

Soldiers and airmen were put on edge as terrorists were carrying out their 9-11 attacks. There they have remained as the Pentagon continues to deploy units to serve overseas and at home.

Now, armed with a U.N. resolution and allied support, President Bush is preparing to deal with Iraq and that nation's weapons of mass destruction.

While no mobilizations on the scale of Desert Shield in 1990 have been made, soldiers know it may be just a matter of time - time to get their affairs in order.

Tech. Sgt. Clark Hansen, of the 190th Air Refueling Wing security police, said that before he was called to active duty he made certain he finished chores around the house, so his wife would not be faced with them.

"They still come, but it makes it easier," Hansen said. "She did a good job."

Hansen has been deployed once since 9-11. He also served in Desert Shield when he and wife, Yvonna, had just one child, Megan, now 12.

They have since had a son, Jacob, 9, and bought a house and the United States is still dealing with Iraq.

"She's not looking forward to it, but she understands that's the job I do," Hansen said. "There's a lot she has to do when I'm gone."

Hansen has been on active duty since 2001 and on leave from his job as a computer programmer with Shawnee County. However, his employer is a retired Army colonel who understands when duty calls.

"He's been very understanding," Hansen said.

Chief Warrant Officer Valerie Garcia, coordinator of family support programs for the Kansas National Guard, said she had seen an increase in requests for training leading up to deployments in the past year.

"In previous years during the holidays, we've had requests for Santa Claus for support meetings," Garcia said. "This year they want to know what they need to get ready for deployment."

Typically, Army National Guard units have several months lead time before deployment. For example, the 35th Division has had more than a year's notice that it would be assigned to peacekeeping duties in Bosnia.

Training for the soldiers' families includes programs on security, finances and marriage counseling. Maj. General Greg Gardner said training for Guard members' return from deployment was just as important.

After months away, soldiers come home to an environment where spouses and children have been independent and have learned to get along without the service member.

Gardner said that technological advances since Desert Storm allowed soldiers and airmen to have closer contact with their families by e-mail, cell phones or video conferencing, when situations allow.

"I can remember when letters or maybe audio tapes were all we would get from my dad during Vietnam," Gardner said.

Capt. Chris Turner, a pilot with the 190th, said he had been on more than 30 deployments worldwide. The unit has frequently been assigned to refueling duties in Turkey as part of humanitarian efforts, to refuel aircraft arriving from the United States or enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq.

"This time it's different. This seems more planned," Turner said of the latest preparations for war with Iraq.

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