6:00am

Mon July 11, 2011
The Commonwealth

National Guard Prepares for War's End

CAMP ATTERBURY, IND. - The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Now eight years later, the Department of Defense is ready to finalize the military drawdown. Helping in that effort are soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard and three other states. Brenna Angel reports on what some are thinking about as they prepare for the historic mission.

At Camp Atterbury, Indiana, more than 1,300 Kentucky National Guardsmen are getting some intense final training before deploying to Iraq. The members of the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade represent about half of the soldiers soon to be mobilized to help bring Operation New Dawn to an end. Colonel Scott Campbell is Commander of the 149th.

"The biggest piece of what we're doing is the convoy security. You gotta resupply the Army that's over their now. And it's under 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. But still, think about a city of 50,000 and you're providing food and fuel and water."

Campbell tells his troops that all eyes may be on operations in Afghanistan right now, but when it comes time to leave Iraq, the world will be watching.

"What they'll remember is how we left. Because they remember Vietnam and some other examples of the world that we didn't leave in victory, in dignity."

Helping escort all the U.S. equipment out of Iraq and overseeing the contractors providing electricity and other life support to the base camps is Sgt First Class Matthew Kelley of Hebron, Kentucky. This will be his fourth deployment overseas and his second time in Iraq.

"We basically have more of a peace-keeping role now. And that's not really what the mission is, but it's more of a we're here to help' kind of situation whereas before, we were here to stop any kind of situations."

Sgt. Edwin O'Bannon of Louisville is also heading out on his second tour of Iraq. He first deployed there in 2008.

"It was a mind blowing experience. It was the video game and the movie in reality. So you got a whiff of everything at the same time."

O'Bannon, who will be riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP, expects living conditions to be different this time around. He says his mother and long time girlfriend are also getting used to deployments.

"They took this one a lot better, which is comforting for me. The first one, you know your family's around crying, it makes it harder for you to leave when they're feeling that way. I guess they're getting into the routine of me leaving. I don't like that, but they get into the routine of me leaving, that's fine, I understand."

Hundreds of soldiers in the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade have never served overseas, including Company Commander Janee Wilson of Clarksville, Tennessee.

"I've been in the military for 11 years so this is my first time to really kind of test myself. We've trained for a while so it's kind of a test to see whether we can execute in combat."

During a defensive live fire exercise, Wilson and other soldiers at Camp Atterbury prepare to encounter the worst in Iraq.

"I'm not going to say we're at war anymore, but it's still a dangerous place to be. And especially, just like when we first went there and when we leave there, those tend to be some of the dangerous times."

Colonel Scott Campbell says the Iraqi government and army still have work to do, but he believes the country can continue to progress.

"And I keep telling our guys, remember that. And remember when you cross over into Kuwait for the last time that we had over 4,500 soldiers that died in Iraq. And remember them because that's a lot of blood and treasure the country gave up for this mission."

Over the next week, the Kentucky National Guard's 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade will begin deploying to Iraq in waves. Officials expect the drawdown to be complete by December 31st.