While troops are pulling out of Iraq, hundreds of troops from Camp Mabry are being called up for duty in Iraq. About 800 Texas Army National Guardsmen and women are preparing to deploy there from Austin in December. They leave Austin for Ft. Lewis, Washington on Sept. 27 and 28 for additional training, and will deploy to Iraq after Thanksgiving.
Inside of a temporary tent city set up at Camp Mabry in Austin, close to 800 senior officers of the Texas Army National Guard's famed 36th Infantry, or “T-Patch,” Division are training to take command of some 12,000 American troops in the southern region of Iraq, and start sending them home.
Major General Eddy Spurgin, who is overseeing the operation, said, “I strongly believe the reason we were selected to do that is because of the track record that we've got in the division.”
This is only the second major deployment of the 36th Infantry Division headquarters since World War II, when the T-Patch soldiers were the first American troops to land in Europe. They eventually liberated the concentration camps at Dachau, in Nazi Germany.
The troops going to Iraq in December are citizen soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Stephens leaves her civilian job at Ft. Hood to help coordinate the transition of power to the Iraqis. It is her first deployment.
“Excited and nervous, yes,” she said about how she feels. “But I think that's probably natural but as for my son's senior year, I think that part will be a little bit tough.”
Stephens hopes to be furloughed for her son’s high school graduation in May. In the meantime, the married mother of two teenage boys should feel at home, supervising 21-year-old Specialist Alvaro Garcia, a college student and first-generation American from El Paso.
“I'm an only child, so just live with my mom, so it's kind of sad to be leaving her,” Garcia says. “But it’s exciting at the same time because I’m making her proud with what I am doing.”
Major Eric Martinson, a married father of four children, brings his talents as a computer systems engineer to Iraq. He sees his deployment as a teaching opportunity, especially for his 10-year-old son.
“What I have really tried to express to him is that when I work very hard and he can be proud of giving up his dad for a year,” Martinson says.
Major General Eddy Spurgin believes it is a mission to be carried out with honor, for the 4,000 U.S. troops who have been killed in Iraq, and the 31,000 Americans wounded since the invasion in 2003.
“We owe it to those service members and their families to go there and get this right,” Spurgin says.
Once in Iraq, they will have about 10 months to draw down the American troops. The 36th Infantry Division plans to come home in September 2011.