About 70 National Guardsmen left the Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix on Sunday morning — not knowing their exact destination — as the question of war with Iraq shifts more to “when” than “if.”
Dressed in camouflage fatigues, with Kevlar helmets and gas masks around their waists, the 356th Signal Company soldiers boarded commercial charter buses that would take them to a deployment station in Texas, said Maj. Eileen Bienz, Guard spokeswoman. From there, they will receive orders for deployment in the United States or abroad.
Tara Johnson of Mesa, herself a lieutenant with an Army Reserve unit, was seeing off her husband, Lt. Jim Johnson.
“It’s hard on the families to leave on such short notice,” said Johnson, who also may face activation. “But they have a job to do: To make the world safe.”
Spc. Holt Hamilton, a 25-year-old Scottsdale Community College film student from Mesa, said he will leave behind a wife pregnant with their first child.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice” among the soldiers being deployed, he said.
Units normally have had 30 days’ notice that they are being activated, but many members of the 356th found out only Wednesday or Friday that they were being deployed, Bienz said.
“This was a bombshell,” said 22-year-old Spc. Deborah Haffly of Sierra Vista, who works as a bartender.
Despite the short time they had to tell their families of their deployment, some of the Guard members said they were excited and confident in the government’s decision to activate them.
“We need to go. We can’t take chances,” said Spc. Juan Soto, 34, of Avondale.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been given enough time to comply with the United Nations’ order to disarm, Haffly said.
“They’ve been trying diplomacy for years,” she said. Iraq will continue to flout U.N. resolutions, she said, “unless we go and show that we’re serious.”
“I don’t feel we’re going into this blindly,” Hamilton said.
Commanders have told activated personnel that their commitment will be for up to a year.
The 365th Signal Company, based at the Papago Park Military Reservation at 5636 E. McDowell Road, includes soldiers from across the Valley. The unit is a rear echelon communications company.
About 1,200 Arizona Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel have been ordered to active duty since November.