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National Guard troops travel to Louisiana for training

POSTED: February 5, 2009 11:34 p.m.

Charlie Company's call of duty

Charlie Company, a Gainesville-based unit of the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade, heads out for three weeks of training at Fort Polk, La. The Georgia National.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Spc. Arturo Padilla changes a barrel on a saw gun Thursday afternoon at the Georgia Army National Guard before leaving for Louisiana for training with about 100 members of Charlie Company.

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“One more time. Sound off when I call your name.”

His M-4 carbine slung over his shoulder and a clipboard in hand, 1st Sgt. Rob Callahan bellowed out names.

“Callahan.”

“Here, first sergeant.”

“Castro.”

“Here, first sergeant.”

The names of some 100 members of Charlie Company — they’re part of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Brigade of the Georgia Army National Guard — were reeled off before the Gainesville-based unit headed out Thursday to Fort Polk, La., for three weeks of training.

Fort Polk is home of the Joint Readiness Training Center and a usual stop for units about to be deployed overseas. The 48th has been told it will be mobilized to Afghanistan sometime in early spring.

On Thursday afternoon, packs of clothing and personal belongings piled up in Charlie Company’s Alta Vista Road armory. Each guardsman gets a packing list of required items, ranging from civilian clothes and hygiene kits to extra socks and boots.

Spc. Jason Marshall of Forsyth County was tying his scope onto his weapon, one of the last-minute details guardsmen were taking care of before leaving.

“In case it comes loose, they want it tied to the weapon so you don’t lose it because you’re financially responsible for that; it’s about $1,000 or so,” Marshall said. “It’s hard to lose a weapon, but that could fall off easily.”

Marshall, who works for a Dahlonega company, is a rifleman in Charlie Company. Charlie Company’s soldiers are from across North Georgia, though a handful hail from a little farther away.

Spc. Benjamin Parrott of Baltimore has been in the guard for four years. This marks his second combat deployment.

“I volunteered to deploy, just like the first time. I just back from Iraq and I wanted to go back so I volunteered again,” he said.

The 48th’s mission, called Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix, will be to help train the Afghan National Army, according to Capt. Jeffrey Moran, Charlie Company’s commanding officer. Guard units from 20 states will participate in the mission.

“That’s probably the most important mission out there. That’s our exit strategy,” said Moran, who lives in Cumming and has been in the guard since 1996.

He explained the task also is to help the Afghan army, police force and government earn legitimacy in their country. Members of the 48th actually will be embedded with the Afghan forces, living off the land and the local economy, Moran said.

But before deploying to Afghanistan, the 48th has more training scheduled — at Fort Benning next month and then at Camp Shelby, Miss., after the brigade is mobilized in March or April.

New Department of Defense rules specify that a guard unit’s deployment can’t be any longer than 12 months, and the clock starts ticking as soon as they are mobilized, Charlie Company’s Sgt. Jason Taylor explained. That means if training at Camp Shelby takes two months, the 48th will spend only 10 months in Afghanistan.

Moran said the new rules reduce the hardship overseas deployment can have on those who depend upon the soldiers.

“It’s usually the families that are left in the dark. They just don’t know because they’re not there. ... They’re always wondering in the back of their head, ‘What’s going on? Is my loved one safe?’” Moran said. “It’s a huge strain on the employers. There’s a lot of jobs you just can hire a temporary person for just one year. You can’t hire a temporary police officer or a temporary teacher.”

Sgt. Heriberto Rosado of New Jersey said he’s looking forward to coming back safely and getting the 12 months over with.

“It has put a stop in our life, you know. We have to stop our civilian life to do this and just can’t wait to get it over with,” he said.

Rosado has been in the guard for 13 years and is trained as a medic. His day job was working as an air conditioning technician until he got laid off. He plans to pursue a college education when he returns, or a full-time job in the guard.

“I like it a lot. It’s the best job in the world,” Rosado said.

Parrott also loves being a guardsman.

“There’s no other job like it. I mean, it’s a rare breed that loves this job and I love working with the guys who do,” said Parrott, who has been laid off from his job at a Baltimore steel mill. “It’s a good experience and you can’t get it anywhere else.”

Members of Patriot’s Call, a local volunteer group dedicated to supporting the 48th Brigade, were on hand as guardsmen filed out of the Alta Vista Road armory. Volunteers handed out sports drinks, Bibles and goody bags decorated with red-white-and-blue messages of support and filled with snacks. Debbie Gainer of Murrayville said items had been donated by several area companies and other Patriot’s Call volunteers, including one who made cookies for the soldiers.

Moran said the 48th is appreciative not only of the support from the community, but also the efforts by Patriot’s Call. Volunteers will assist soldiers’ families while the 48th is overseas.

“If there’s distractions at home, there’s distractions in Afghanistan and the last thing we want is a soldier with distractions out on patrol. We want everyone focused on the mission at hand and not worried about problems back home,” Moran said.

Charlie Company also gave the group a round of applause for its contributions before filing out to the bus.

Chartered flights carrying members of the 48th Brigade took off throughout the day Thursday from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The 48th will return in three weeks for a four-day pass before heading to Fort Benning for more training.

The 48th’s last deployment was to Iraq in 2005. The brigade returned in 2006 without any casualties.



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