Monday, September 20, 2004

Lockdown rankles unit bound for Iraq

Lockdown rankles unit bound for Iraq

The 635 soldiers of a battalion of the South Carolina National Guard scheduled to depart today for a year or more in Iraq have spent their off-duty hours under a disciplinary lockdown in their barracks for the last two weeks.

The trouble began Labor Day weekend, when 13 members of the 1st Battalion of the 178th Field Artillery Regiment went AWOL, mainly to see their families again before shipping out....

This particular Guard unit was put on an accelerated training schedule — giving the soldiers about 36 hours of leave over the past two months — because the Army needs to get fresh troops to Iraq and there are not enough active-duty or “regular” troops to go around.

Preparation has been especially intense because the Army is short-handed on military police units, so these artillerymen are being quickly re-trained to provide desperately needed security for convoys. And in order to fully man the unit, scores of soldiers were pulled in from different Guard outfits, some voluntarily, some on orders.

As members of the unit — drawn mainly from South Carolina’s coastal Lowcountry — looked toward their tour, some said they were angry, or reluctant to go, or both. Many more are bone-tired. Overall, some of them fear, the unit lacks strong cohesion — the glue that holds units together in combat.

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