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Guard units heading to war
640 Alabama troops face deployment, including Cullman-based company

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Another 640 Alabama National Guard members in six units will mobilize for duty in Iraq in coming months, sending troops into service in what has become an expected call since the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

"In this day in time, everybody knows they are probably going to go," said Lt. Col. Bobbi Riddle of Wetumpka, commander of the 1146th Personnel Services Battalion. "It's something we've been training for since 9/11."

On Monday, 75 members of the 1103rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion will have a deployment ceremony in Eufaula. Before heading to Iraq, they will train at Fort Hood, Texas. In October 2002, the 1103rd was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., and some of its soldiers went from there to Iraq before returning stateside in late 2003.

Cullman's Company C

In June, about 160 soldiers will mobilize with Cullman-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 167th Infantry and will train at Camp Shelby, Miss. Another company of the 167th already has served in Iraq. Also in June, about 170 soldiers with the Dothan-based 1203rd Engineer Battalion, a headquarters unit, will mobilize and train at Fort McCoy, Wis.

In July, three Army Guard units will mobilize: Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 131st Armor from Ozark, with about 170 soldiers who will train at Fort Dix, N.J.; the Montgomery-based 1146th, with about 35 soldiers who will train at Fort Bragg; and the Union Springs-based 621st Troop Command, with about 30 soldiers who will train at Camp Shelby.

Serving for a year

Unlike most other state Guard soldiers who have seen duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, the members of the six units will be on active duty for only a year, under a new Pentagon policy announced in January.

"It does provide more predictability for our units now," said Lt. Col. Bob Horton, an Alabama Guard spokesman.

The 1146th was placed on alert status in October, said Riddle, whose husband, Lt. Col. Jimmy Riddle, deployed in 2003. The couple has two children.

Riddle and the unit's executive officer, Maj. Jamie Benton, traveled in March to Kuwait, where they spent two weeks learning the mission.

"We actually got to watch the people that are doing it now," said Riddle, who as a civilian works for the Guard as an auditor. "It's going to be very rewarding because we are helping the soldiers. That's kind of the business we're in, servicing the soldier and making sure all their paperwork is (ready) ... and getting their mail."

Master Sgt. April Garner, a full-time Guard member from Millbrook, will deploy just as her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Garner, returns from Iraq, where he has been since August.

"We might actually be passing each other in the sky, literally," she said. "We have been able to see each other with a Web cam and we talk just about daily. Our marriage is strong and we'll get through it."

About 1,100 soldiers with seven Army Guard units from the state are now in and around Iraq. One unit is training to go to Iraq, and a Guard training team is getting ready to go to Afghanistan.

"We expect the seven units that are supporting operations in Iraq to return (home) later in the year," Horton said.

Since 9/11, Alabama Air and Army Guard members have mobilized for more than 13,000 individual tours of duty overseas or stateside. Most have served in and around Iraq.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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