Nearly 200 Guards­men de­part for Mid­dle East

Md.’s 29th In­fantry Di­vi­sion will com­mand nearly 18,000 troops across the area

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com rpacella@balt­sun.com

FORT BELVOIR, VA. — Lt. Col. Eric Brown bought Christ­mas gifts early for his three daugh­ters and hid them in their Wind­sor Mill home.

“My wife, she’ll tell them, ‘This is from Daddy’ on Christ­mas,” said Brown, who stashed away Straw­berry Short­cake dolls for his girls.

“Daddy, can I go to the air­port with you?” pleaded 6-year-old Tata­nia, lean­ing deep in his arms.

Nearly 200 Mary­land Na­tional Guard sol­diers parted with their fam­i­lies Sun­day at this Army base in North­ern Vir­ginia for de­ploy­ment over the hol­i­days to the Mid­dle East. The send-off at Fort Belvoir is part of a his­toric de­ploy­ment for the 29th In­fantry Di­vi­sion. A com­bined 450 sol­diers from the Mary­land and Vir­ginia Na­tional Guards will com­mand nearly 18,000 troops across the Mid­dle East, the largest con­tin­gent the 29th has led since it stormed the beaches of Nor­mandy dur­ing World War II.

Their role as the head­quar­ters unit will in­clude man­ag­ing sup­plies, op­er­a­tions and train­ing. It re­veals the evo­lu­tion of the Na­tional Guard in roles of in­creas­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity as de­fense of­fi­cials draw down the num­ber of ac­tive-duty troops overseas.

The Mary­lan­ders and Vir­gini­ans had only 90 days no­tice be­fore Sun­day’s de­ploy­ment. They’re due back in June.

“You have stepped up on short no­tice,” Brig. Gen. Blake Ort­ner, the com­man­der of the 29th, told the sol­diers and fam­i­lies. “This mis­sion will be a chal­lenge. ... It would have been a chal­lenge if we had a year to get ready in­stead of just 90 days.”

The sol­diers will be de­ployed across the Mid­dle East to pro­vide lo­gis­ti­cal and per­son­nel sup­port — ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties that won’t bring them to the front lines in the fight against the Is­lamic State. Still, the sol­diers will be po­si­tioned for quick ac­tion if needed in the of­fen­sive to root out the ter­ror­ist group from Mo­sul, its strong­hold in Iraq.

“If things were to es­ca­late from where they Brown Lt. Di­mal Deo, left, shares a long farewell kiss with his wife, Venita Deo, be­fore his depar­ture from Fort Belvoir, Va., on Sun­day. Deo’s unit is based in Alexan­dria, Va., and the cou­ple is from Kingstowne, Va. are now, the 29th would be the con­tin­gency head­quar­ters to help,” said Cot­ton Puryear, spokesman for the Vir­ginia Na­tional Guard.

The sol­diers will also help train troops from across the coali­tion of na­tions fight­ing to dis­lodge the ter­ror­ist group in the Mid­dle East.

“They do not want to get in the specifics of where they will be for se­cu­rity rea­sons,” Puryear said.

Their de­ploy­ment brings to about 500 the num­ber of Mary­land guards­men overseas. Some 6,500 serve in Mary­land.

Twelve A-10 at­tack planes and 280 air­men from the Mary­land guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron were de­ployed to the Mid­dle East about three weeks ago to aid in the fight for Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city. The Is­lamic State cap­tured Mo­sul in a light­ning ad­vance in the sum­mer of 2014.

A-10 pi­lots spe­cial­ize in fly­ing low over the bat­tle­field to sup­port troops on the ground. They use a nose-mounted can­non to lay fire.

Back home, the Mary­land Na­tional Guard was de­ployed to Bal­ti­more dur­ing the ri­ots of April 2015. Sol­diers re­sponded af­ter Jan­uary’s his­toric bliz­zard dumped more than two feet of snow. Guards­men were called again when floods del­uged El­li­cott City this sum­mer.

“You are al­ways ready. You al­ways step up when you are called upon,” Gov. Larry Ho­gan told the crowd Sun­day. His step­daugh­ter Kim Velez served in Mary­land’s Na­tional Guard. “I un­der­stand the sac­ri­fice of the fam­ily mem­bers who are left be­hind to worry and to pray.”

Ho­gan threw a farewell party at the gover­nor’s man­sion for an of­fi­cer in his se­cu­rity de­tail and guards­man who de­ployed Sun­day.

The­of­fi­cer, Staff Sgt. Jef­fery Mid­dle­ton, 25, of Sal­is­bury, said he will miss most his grand­mother’s Thanks­giv­ing turkey. Her se­cret: “There’s no se­cret,” Kather­ine Mid­dle­ton said. “Fam­ily makes your turkey.”

Sgt. 1st Class Car­men Wilkins of Aberdeen was sur­prised Fri­day af­ter her grand­son’s foot­ball game. The Havre de Grace War­riors left the locker room to hug her, shake her hand, and thank her for her ser­vice. Wilkins wiped her eyes Sun­day when re­call­ing their grat­i­tude.

The 53-year-old in her first de­ploy­ment leaves nine grand­chil­dren be­hind for the hol­i­days.

“I al­ways tell them, ‘None of you guys are go­ing to join the mil­i­tary. Let Grandma do the fight­ing. You guys go to col­lege.’ ”

On Sun­day, the sol­diers and fam­i­lies hugged and cried and laughed. Then, the 29th was called to the buses.

Brown, who stashed the dolls for Christ­mas, bent and hugged his daugh­ters. He kissed his wife, Ali­cia. She led the girls away.

But 6-year-old Tata­nia kept turn­ing back, kept call­ing it out, louder and louder:

“Bye, daddy. See you later. Bye, daddy. Bye, daddy. Bye.” an ur­ban set­ting, Ja­cobs said — for in­stance, it can be dif­fi­cult to sur­vey along busy roads such as Bosley Av­enue.

Kick­lighter said one chal­lenge for her group is iden­ti­fy­ing non-na­tive and or­na­men­tal trees. On the re­cent out­ing, the group hud­dled un­der one shady tree on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue and talked about 10 min­utes, then ten­ta­tively iden­ti­fied a tree be­tween the side­walk and road­way as a Chi­nese elm.

Kick­lighter said such sur­veys re­in­force the idea that trees are im­por­tant to ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments. They pro­vide shade, soak up wa­ter that might other­wise run un­fil­tered into lo­cal streams, re­duce air pol­lu­tants and pro­vide habi­tat for other or­gan­isms. Plus, trees are aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. “Stud­ies show that just be­ing in na­ture can make peo­ple feel more re­laxed. It’s good for men­tal health,” she said.

Goucher stu­dents and the Green Tow­son Al­liance aren’t likely to cat­a­log every tree this se­mes­ter, Ja­cobs said. She hopes the al­liance can con­tinue to work with Goucher, though no de­fin­i­tive plans have been made.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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