Nearly 4,000 soldiers will head overseas to fight war on terror

By Ed Brock

Army National Guard Sgt. Mark Hale is going to enjoy having a day off on Veterans Day this Thursday.

He won't have very many free days after December when he is scheduled to deploy with the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade to fight the war on terror.

"It's part of the job," said Hale who lives in Jonesboro. "I've always known since I put my name on the dotted line that mobilization was a possibility."

Hale said he would probably be among the 1,200 soldiers in the brigade who will be deployed in early December.

This group is the forward detachment, said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, spokesman for the guard.

The remaining 2,300 brigade members will report after the first of the year. They'll spend the first months of their deployment training at Army Fort Stewart near Savannah, followed by some training exercises at Army Fort Irwin in California.

By spring they will deploy to the theater of operations "wherever that happens to be at the time."

They are supposed to be there for 12 months.

Hale, 47, spent three years in the regular Army right after he graduated from high school and served all three years in Alabama. He joined the Guard 12 years after finishing his regular service.

During his 19 years Hale has been deployed twice before, once for two weeks in the country of Oman following the first Gulf War and then for some peacekeeping duty in Bosnia about three years ago.

This deployment is certainly different.

"When we did Bosnia we knew we'd only be in the country for six months," Hale said. "We were coming back. This time there's no guarantee."

Hale's daughter Lillian Hale, now 19, was still in high school when he went to Bosnia and, though she missed her father, she said she was not as worried about what could happen to him.

"It wasn't like a war war," Lillian Hale said. "It didn't bother me too much."

With this deployment Lillian Hale is not only worried about the danger, but about the length of the deployment which, with training, is expected to last at least 18 months.

"I'm going to be out of college by then," Lillian Hale said. "So much will happen by then."

The good news is that Mark Hale has been told he should get a couple of days off to come home for Christmas this year.

Headquartered in Macon, the 48th Brigade has units in more than 30 towns throughout Georgia. It's components include the 1st and 2nd Infantry Battalions in Winder and Albany respectively, the 108th Armor Battalion in Calhoun, the 118th Field Artillery Battalion in Savannah, the 148th Support Battalion in Forsyth, the 648th Engineering Battalion in Statesboro and the 248th Military Intelligence Company at Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park.

"This is a very strong brigade in that it does have heavy armor that will be called into play," Baldowski said.

To date, more than 4,000 Georgia Army and Air National Guard members have been called to duty since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Around 550 are currently on active duty, including 350 in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Baldowski said that the current battle to retake the rebel stronghold of Fallujah in Iraq should be "an issue in the past" by the time the 48th arrives, but the situation will still be "precarious."

Meanwhile, Veteran's Day events continued on Tuesday in Clayton County with the Seventh Annual Veteran's Day Luncheon sponsored by the Military Affairs Council, a committee of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. Iraq War veteran Ron Young Jr. of Lithia Springs and his parents attended that luncheon along with the family of Pfc. Diego Fernando Rincon of Conyers who died in the war.

Fallujah was a topic on the mind of U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia who was the keynote speaker at the chamber of commerce Veterans Day luncheon at Fort Gillem. Scott told the audience of more than 100 veterans, soldiers and civilians that he couldn't think of a better place to be than at a luncheon or ceremony honoring veterans.

"We are a grateful nation, we are a proud nation and we want that message to go out loud and clear," Scott said. "To all our veterans wherever they are, we cannot thank you enough."

Scott said the nation owes it to their veterans to "stay the course" and to "bring victory and freedom to the people of Iraq."

Young was taken prisoner in the early stages of the Iraq war after his Army helicopter was shot down. He now works for CNN and is planning to start at the University of Georgia in Athens in the spring and said that the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror are the greatest challenge of his generation.

"It's my generation's turn to step up," Young said.