Leader Blues

Monday, January 07, 2008

TOP STORY >>39th begins deployment

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Headed for Iraq, state Rep. Jeff Wood of Sherwood is slated to leave today for two months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., part of a 3,200-soldier contingent of the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade.

Fresh back from a 10-day leave to spend the holidays with family around the state, members of the 40-man advance team who left by bus for Camp Shelby Thursday were seen off by a few family members and friends, some of them tearful.

Wood, along with Public Service Commission Chairman Paul Suskie and Deputy Atty. Gen. Jake Jones, are part of the Guard’s JAG (Judge Advocate General) corps, which will provide legal guidance to soldiers with problems back home and will try military cases involving soldiers in Iraq.

They also brief soldiers on the rules of engagement—under what circumstances they use their weapons.

“I’ve talked with the governor and I don’t think he intends to call a special session,” said Wood, who will technically be in office for another 270 days.

All three men were National Guard captains until Tuesday, when their federal orders became effective, making them U.S. Army captains for the duration of their 400-day deployment.

Jones and Wood graduated from UALR law school together and enlisted in the Guard together. “He talked me into it,” said Jones.

Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Settles of Jacksonville will help lead the advance party as they work out living arrangements and other logistical problems for the rest of the brigade. Settles, who has a wife and two grown sons, says he was activated for Desert Storm, but this will be his first real deployment.

“I got a good crew, well-trained, to take on the mission. I feel real good about these guys,” Settles said.

The deployment of these troops marks the first time during Operation Iraqi Freedom that full National Guard units have been called upon for a second tour of duty, according to Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

The brigade returned from its first mission to Iraq in February 2005 following an average deployment of 17 months, she said.
The brigade has been training full-time since October, according to Maj. Craig Heathscott, public affairs officer for the 39th. At Camp Shelby, they will train in group activities and objectives.

He said the troops should return by January 2009.

The 40 soldiers that left Little Rock Wednesday were part of a contingent of 200 from around the state who left early to ease the way at Camp Shelby for those who followed later in the week, he said.

“The 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team includes Arkansans from 57 communities across the state and represents approximately one-third of Arkansas’ total force,” according to Lincoln. “With this second deployment of the 39th Brigade, the Arkansas National Guard will have supported the mobilization of more than 11,500 troops since September 11, 2001.

“We owe our troops a strategy worthy of their sacrifice, one that better reflects the reality that progress ultimately lies with Iraqis taking responsibility for their own future,” the senator said. “Their service and continuing commitment to our nation deserves our utmost gratitude.”

Sgt. First Class Gregory Oginski and Specialist Brent Roberson, both Jacksonville policemen, leave today.

Oginski, 45, lives in Cabot and was previously assigned to the National Guard medical company based at Lonoke. Now he’s based in Hazen.

A 1981 Jacksonville High School graduate, he has been training full-time since May, he said.

This will be his second deployment to Iraq. The first was to Taji, which has been cleaned up and even has a Burger King and a Pizza Hut, he said.

Oginski was one of the Lonoke medical group guardsmen that went to New Orleans to help in response to Hurricane Katrina, he said.He says he welcomes the opportunities he’s had in the Guard to meet other people and see other cultures. He left the active duty military eight years ago and has been in the Guard since then.

Oginski doesn’t resent being sent twice to fight in Iraq. “I know things happen,” he said. He and his wife have been planning the family’s future in recent months.

“My wife has dealt with this very well. We’re well-transitioned as far as (money for) bills go,” he said.

Oginski has a 4-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter at home and he has three children in Arizona, including a 15-year-old daughter who is considering joining the National Guard when she’s old enough.