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Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Kansas Guard troops called up

July 28, 2004

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— An additional 1,100 Kansas Army National Guard troops have received orders to mobilize for at least 15 months of active duty, including up to a year in Iraq.

The soldiers were put on alert for a possible mobilization in April and now represent the largest mobilization of Kansas Guard soldiers since 1,500 soldiers were mobilized in 2002 for peacekeeping duties in Bosnia-Herzegovinia.

The Adjutant General's Department did not have a timeline for when the soldiers would deploy, but the troops are expected to be sent somewhere in Iraq.

With Tuesday's announcement, 1,690 Kansas Army National Guard soldiers are either mobilized or deployed, or about 31 percent of the state's strength, said spokeswoman Joy Moser.

"We need to assure people that we still have enough people to take care of the people at home," Moser said. "That's not going to be a problem."

While approximately 8,000 Kansans serve in the National Guard, 5,500 are in the Army National Guard.

Twenty members of the Battery E, 161st Field Artillery were mobilized in March for Iraq, and portions of the unit were deployed in 1996 for peacekeeping in Bosnia and in 2000 in Kosovo. In addition, a portion of the 137th Transportation Company returned in January from Fort Bragg, N.C., supporting the war in Iraq.

Tuesday's news means one member of the Kansas Legislature will be absent when the 2005 session begins.

Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, represents the 47th District in northeast Kansas and is a lieutenant colonel, commander of the 891st. He plans to meet with party officials in the coming weeks about his House seat.

"I'm probably no different from other individuals who have received the orders," Tafanelli said. "We all have things we need to do for our civilian employers."

Tafanelli, who grew up in southeast Kansas, joined the unit in 1980 and has been commander since January 2002. This is the first major deployment for the 891st since it was organized in 1976. Currently, the 600 soldiers are converting to a heavy combat engineer battalion, with more tracked vehicles.

"A lot of these folks I've known my entire career. Others, I've known their families," Tafanelli said.

Soldiers have spent the past few months preparing for the mobilization, he said, by getting their personal affairs in order and refocusing their training. Still, the departure later this year will be felt by families and employers.

"We're taking a good portion of people out of these small towns. That's going to be noticeable," Tafanelli said. "Our soldiers all volunteered to join the military and in the back of their minds this was part of it."

Moser said all units have a family support structure to assist spouses and children of soldiers. In addition, a new volunteer program initiated by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office helps link support with Guard families during deployments.

"I think the mechanism is there to get people the help they might need," Moser said.

Ordered to report within the next 30 days are the 74th Quartermaster Company of Topeka; 891st Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Iola with companies in Pittsburg, Coffeyville, Cherryvale, Fort Scott and Chanute; 137th Transportation Company, headquartered in Olathe, with a detachment in St. Marys, and Battery E, 161st Field Artillery, headquartered in Larned with a detachment in Great Bend.

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