Military News

More Guard train in Texas for tour in Afghanistan

FORT HOOD, Texas — Maj. Douglas Smith and his wife, Nicole, haven't gotten around to their honeymoon.

Maybe they'll squeeze it in during some R&R.

With the rumble of tanks and the whistle of simulated incoming mortar rounds shaking the parched ground during a training drill, Smith, of Boise, talked about how the couple met on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 2002 and had been on military missions ever since.

"I've been deployed so many times lately," he said, "I haven't had a home for I don't know how long."

Douglas Smith is one of the 250 Idaho National Guard soldiers training at Fort Hood before deploying next month to Afghanistan for a yearlong deployment. The soldiers are with the 1-183rd Aviation Battalion and make up Apache helicopter crews and support staff that will fly troops and equipment around Afghanistan and provide air support for convoys, Idaho National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Stephanie Dowling said.

The Idaho National Guard has sent about 4,000 servicemen and women overseas since the war in Afghanistan began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some Guard members have been deployed more than once. About 2,000 Idahoans served more than 10 months in Iraq with the 116th Brigade Combat Team, which returned home in November.

On Friday, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Adjutant Gen. Larry Lafrenz flew to Texas and dropped by a training mission at Fort Hood, where Idaho soldiers were defending a base against a mock attack. Soldiers in camouflage and armor patrolled checkpoints with Arabic signs and concertina wire. The staccato of M-16s filled the air as U.S. forces exchanged fire with the "militants."

Kempthorne flew to Texas from Washington, D.C., where he had testified before a congressional committee on Medicaid reform and visited wounded Idaho Marine Cpl. Travis Greene at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The governor and Lafrenz, along with civil leaders like Mountain Home Mayor Joe McNeal and several Idaho media, spent Friday touring Fort Hood and meeting with Idaho soldiers. He said it's his "responsibility" to personally check on the soldiers' well-being.

"To see a face from home means so much to them," Kempthorne said.

The four-month training soldiers are getting is designed to simulate what they'll experience in Afghanistan. They're getting weapons training, an introduction to Arabic and instruction on how to spot roadside bombs. The rolling hills of central Texas stand in for the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.

On Friday, the Idaho soldiers carried red-tipped M-16s with blank rounds and battled actors dressed in traditional Afghan garb. Some helicopter crews have been doing live fire training in the Boise area because of wildfire danger created by severe drought in central Texas, Dowling said.

Spc. Brandy Arreola of Star switched battalions to be able to go to Afghanistan. Her mother will take care of her 6-year-old son while she's away.

"In order for him to grow up and live in a safe world we have to keep (terrorists) away from us," she said.

1st Sgt. James Durbin's last deployment was 10 years before Arreola was born — to Vietnam. Durbin, 53, married with seven children age 13 to 32, said it has been tough on his family since he went to Ft. Hood in late October. But it's his job.

"I never thought I'd be doing this damn stuff again," he said. "I just hope we get over there and we can solve things so my kids never have to be deployed."

As for Smith, whose wife is a helicopter pilot with the Idaho Army Guard, he says he's excited about the mission but ready to stay put for a while.

"I'm anxious to get going and do our mission, do what we're trained to do and get back," he said.

"I'm fully aware of the dangers," Smith said. "I know she's going to be in harm's way, so I'm kind of indifferent about the whole thing."