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Category: Washington National Guard


Protecting the lifeline of Iraq

The convoy of five Humvees rolled down a dirt road when a voice boomed across the radio.

"Indirect fire! Indirect fire! Roll through! Roll through!"

Spc. Shane Sotocole mashed the accelerator. The vehicle jerked forward. Dust from the convoy darkened the bright sky.

The same voice on the radio had a different message seconds later.


Sotocole hit the brakes as the Humvee skidded to a stop on the side of the road. He and two passengers, Sgt. Terrell Fox and Sgt. Terry Meyers, unzipped green pouches attached to their belt. They slipped black gasmasks over their face.

A minute later, the same voice announced an all-clear. The three soldiers, members of the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team, removed the masks. Meyers, sitting in the passenger seat, turned to his colleagues and nodded.

"This is the kind of stuff that’s gonna save us over there," he said.

Over there. Iraq.

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Seeking the war

Spc. Antonio Shepard returned from a deployment with the Virginia National Guard two months ago, spending his year in the Middle East as a gunner on convoys running supplies from Kuwait into Iraq.

Time for a long, relaxing break, right? Nope. Shepard is heading back.

The 23-year-old Atlanta native transferred last month to the Washington National Guard and joined the 1st Brigade, 161st Infantry Regiment.

"I just want to knock another deployment out before I finish school," he said. "I won’t be going any more after this, so I can focus on classes instead of thinking about deploying again."

Shepard is one of about 35 "interstate transfer" soldiers, brigade commander Col. Ronald Kapral said. Many of these Guardsmen transferred because they want to deploy, but their Guard unit might not be scheduled to for year

"We’ve had people drive here from Georgia and Tennessee just to fight with the 81st," Kapral said.

Spc. Raymond Hearne had served with the Washington National Guard before accepting a job offer and moving to Coos Bay, Ore., last year. He kept in contact with his colleagues and transferred when he heard his old unit was deploying.

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A canvas Hilton in the desert

Choose your comparison. Chances are they’ve heard it.

Refugee camp? Can of sardines?

"Yep. Yep," said Cpl. Brandon Truman of Tacoma. "We’ve made them all."

Truman, a member of the 81st Brigade’s 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Division is one of about 300 soldiers sleeping in a massive tent during exercises at Yakima Training Center.

Another tent on the grounds is the temporary home of almost 1,000 Guardsmen.

The tents are stuffed with row after row of cots, many just inches from each other. Duffel bags, shoes, backpacks and other personal objects cover the

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More time, better results for 81st HBCT

The run-up to the 81st Brigade Combat Team’s deployment four years ago was hectic.

The Pentagon gave the Washington National Guard unit about a month to begin full-time training to head to Iraq, and about third of its soldiers was in risk of missing the deployment because of poor health.

It was a unit in need of dental work: About 1,200 soldiers were classified as Class 3 or 4, meaning they couldn’t deploy until their mouths improved. Some required months of treatment.

Training schedules were disrupted because many of those soldiers – many of whom didn’t have insurance – hurried to get their teeth fixed before the 81st left for Iraq.

More time and better coverage have made a huge difference ahead of this month’s deployment, brigade officials said. "We’re way ahead of where we were because we’ve had plenty of time to get Sgt. Joe’s teeth looked at and get them fixed," Maj. Kurt Shevalier, the brigade’s medical operations officer, said Saturday. "Last time, it was a race against the clock."

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A family affair in the 81st

Sgt. Patrick Daniels doesn’t routinely pull rank on Pfc. Justin Daniels.

He doesn’t have to.

Patrick is Justin’s father.

The two are serving and will deploy to Iraq together in B Troop, a unit of the 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment. Patrick joined the Washington National Guard in 2003, and his son followed two years later.

"It’s pretty cool because I’ve seen a lot of change in him so far," said Patrick, a 43-year-old Boeing inspector from Arlington.

Justin, a 21-year-old structural mechanic from Boeing who lives in Everett, said

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The change to a lighter, flexible force

YAKIMA – The tape in the sand represented the walls. Four soldiers lined up outside, silently signaled they were ready and kicked down a nonexistent door.

The men rushed in, rifles panning the imaginary room. They secured the location as seasoned veterans looked on and critiqued their actions.

It’s called a glass-house drill, and soldiers of the National Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team repeated it dozens of times Friday at the Yakima Training Center.

The soldiers are trained to be anything from tank mechanics to police officers. But other skills are needed in Iraq, so the members of 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment based in Kent, were practicing urban warfare skills less than three weeks before their mobilization begins.

The 3,400-soldier unit, which is expected to arrive in Kuwait in late October and will enter Iraq soon after, will mainly be tasked with protecting convoys, defending bases and working with reconstruction teams but can be called to engage in close-quarter combat.

When the 81st arrives in Iraq, it will function as a heavy brigade in name only.

"We have tanks, Bradleys, Paladins; we are a conventional force if the United States went to war against a conventional enemy," said the brigade commander, Col. Ronald Kapral. "But because we aren’t going against a conventional enemy and we’re doing a counterinsurgency mission, we had to refocus our training."

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Voter drive at Yakima

The State Secretary of State’s office is at Yakima during drills to encourage service members to either register or to change their status to active military on their registration forms.

Nick Handy, the state’s elections director, said that 90 percent of the 2,400 soldiers set to deploy with the 81st Brigade are already registered or will register before drills are finished. Handy didn’t have a firm number Friday morning on the amount of new registrations.

About 30 people – including state workers, county auditors’ offices and volunteers – have been helping guide soldiers through the registration process. One

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