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U.S. News
Guard members head for Germany

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

By Jocelyn Oberdick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

More than 100 members of the 28th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard sat in near silence yesterday at the armory in Beechview for one of the last meals they will have with their families before going to serve at military bases in Germany.

Paris White, 2, of Homestead salutes while her mother, Specialist Saloam Bey-White, repacks her duffel bag at the armory in Beechview yesterday. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

The soldiers will leave today for training before starting a six-month tour of duty. This is the first time that the division has been deployed since the Korean War.

The 118 National Guard members from the 128th Forward Support Battalion, part of the 28th Infantry Division, are going to Kaiserlautern, Germany. They will be relieving men and women from the 35th Infantry Division who have been stationed overseas since January.

"We'll be pulling security detail for people who got pulled out to be deployed out to other places," said Staff Sgt. William Merriman, 38, of McDonald.

The soldiers' responsibilities will include duties such as manning gates and checkpoints and guarding critical facilities.

The Guard members and their families had a final luncheon, with food donated by the Giant Eagle at Parkway Center, to spend time together before the soldiers' departure. There were some tears, but many of the families sat quietly, focusing on their day together.

"I think a lot are in disbelief," said Spc. Kimberly Katona, 24, of Bentleyville, about the Guard members. "I'm numb, to be quite honest. It feels like one big dream. It won't all hit me until I'm there."

The men and women in the division, who train together two weeks a year, received word of their mobilization about three months ago. Since then, they have used the time to notify their employers about their departures and prepare for their deployments.

For many of the Guard members, the news of their mobilization came as a surprise.

"I personally never thought it would happen," said Spc. Glenn Buchheimer, 41, of Monaca.

But in spite of the surprise that came with the news of being deployed, the soldiers are ready, said First Sgt. Richard Kunz, 54, of Bethel Park.

"Initially, it caught everyone off guard," Kunz said. "But we're ready to go do our job now. The morale is extremely high. It has been since Day One."

Capt. Craig Sturdevant, 37, of Greensburg, agreed.

"I met more resistance from the people we couldn't take than from those who are going," Sturdevant said.

The deployment of two companies of the 28th Infantry Division is part of an order from the Department of the Army for the partial mobilization of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. This order affects nearly 2,000 guardsmen and women across the state who will be sent to military bases in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Guard members leaving today will be away from home for about eight months. They will train at Fort Dix, N.J., for three weeks before being sent overseas the middle of next month. They'll spend six months on duty, then have some time for "demobilization."

The families of the guardsmen and women will say their final good-byes at an 11 a.m. departure ceremony at the armory.

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