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Pa. Guard joins relief effort

September 04, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.


National Guard headquarters in Chambersburg hummed with activity Saturday as 50 members of Troop C, 2/104th Cavalry, prepared to leave for the southern United States to aid in relief efforts for those hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Twelve trucks will roll out today and Monday; the buses carrying personnel will leave later, as they will catch up to the slower-moving trucks. The Humvees and trucks will carry equipment, personal belongings and enough food and water to sustain the group for at least a month.

According to Cmdr. Spencer Reynolds, the unit will be based at an existing Army or other government installation, possibly Fort Polk, La.

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"We're the manpower for humanitarian assistance, and we will provide security to those providing humanitarian assistance," Reynolds said.

Most of those going are local residents, Reynolds said. Some are from elsewhere in the state and "were attracted to this unit because of what we do," Reynolds said. The troop is an Armored Cavalry Reconnaissance operation.

Many are high school and college students ages 17 and older from the area, he said. Others have been on active duty in combat zones. They train one weekend a month and two or three weeks in the summer.

Morale is "terrific," Reynolds said. "It's a great mission to help people who are going to appreciate it. We're helping fellow Americans. (Troop members) are chomping at the bit to go. But we're making sure everything is in order before we go. Running down there willy-nilly is not going to help."

Preparations appeared anything but willy-nilly. Spc. Josh Carbaugh worked underneath a Humvee to change a power steering pump while other soldiers in fatigues layered clothing into Army-issue duffel bags. Packed backpacks and duffels, all Army green, sat in neat piles. Each soldier was allowed only one backpack and two duffels due to space considerations.

John Bird of Waynesboro, Pa., who has served in Kosovo and Bosnia, made sure his insect repellent was readily accessible in the top pouch of his pack. He showed a visitor his new bulletproof vest, still in its plastic package. The point-blank vest weighs 30 pounds without the plates, and 40 to 45 pounds with the plates, he said. Bird also packed his weapon cleaning kit.

Also preparing for the mission was Sgt. Nicholas Mikkelson of Carlisle, Pa., who has served in the military for 17 years.

"We're doing what we're trained to do - to go help other Americans with disaster assistance and humanitarian aid," Mikkelson said.

Spc. Eric Varner has served at Carlisle War College in Operation Noble Eagle for 10 months of the four years he has been in the Army. He said his unit will be "providing security, keeping the peace and doing whatever they tell us to."

Spc. Shawn Spidell, who also has served with Operation Noble Eagle, said he expects to be providing security, restoring order and giving humanitarian aid.

"We'll pick up refugees, working in conjunction with local police," he said.

The only organization with the volume of equipment and manpower needed to deal with a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina is the military, Spidell said.

"We'll stay as long as we're needed," he said.

Members of another local Pennsylvania National Guard unit, Detachment 1, Battery B, 1/108th Field Artillery of Waynesboro, were also activated by Gov. Edward G. Rendell to take part in the hurricane relief effort. A total of 2,500 Guard members from Pennsylvania will be sent to the Gulf Coast, Rendell's office announced.

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