Sgt. Amanda Cole checks her bag of gear outside the Montcalm County Armory in Greenville on Tuesday. (Picture courtesy Greenville Daily News)
GREENVILLE (Greenville Daily News) - About 144 soldiers from the Greenville-based Michigan National Guard 1073rd Maintenance Company are heading to Iraq.
The unit is being called up on Dec. 8 for a one-year deployment to the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. The local troops will be performing "force security" work, which is outside their normal mission of vehicle maintenance.
Sgt. Amanda Cole said although Iraq is more secure than 2005, when the 1073rd last was deployed to Iraq, she is concerned about the mission because it will involve several tasks that the unit is not familiar with.
"We're not as comfortable with our mission. We've never done this before," Cole said from her office at the Greenville Armory. "A lot of the weapons we'll be using have never been used before by members of our unit."
The troops likely will spend about two months training at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss., before heading to Iraq. They are expected to come home for a week around Christmas to spend time with their families before shipping out to Iraq.
While in Iraq, the 1073rd will work closely with a National Guard unit from Tennessee.
The 1073rd previously spent a year in Iraq from November 2004 to December 2005 working as a maintenance company. Cole expects communication with loved ones at home will be better this time around thanks to several advances over the past few years.
"There are Web cams to stay in contact back home," she said. "We even have cell phones now too so it should be easier this time."
Soldiers also will be allowed to use e-mail and social networking Web sites. Each soldier also receives two weeks of leave to return home during the year they are deployed.
The Greenville community already is gearing up to give a meaningful sendoff for the troops in December and support them while they are gone. Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Candy Kerschen said a planning meeting with chamber officials, local pastors and the Spectrum Health United Memorial Foundation is planned for later this week.
Organizers are tentatively planning on a send-off parade in December, possibly in conjunction with the annual Celebrate a Hometown Christmas Parade in downtown Greenville on Dec. 4.
"They will be a big focus of the Christmas parade. We're certainly planning to include them," Kerschen said. "We just have to make sure we handle it well."
The Spectrum Health United Memorial Foundation is planning a dinner for 1073rd members and their families for Dec. 5, followed by a communitywide worship service hosted by the Greenville Ministerial Alliance.
A family readiness group also is forming again to support the troops and their families during the deployment.