EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

September 6, 2009

National Guard prepares for largest deployment

National Guard prepares for largest single deployment

Ryan Mathews, 22, of Derry is scheduled to join the largest single deployment of New Hampshire National Guard soldiers in its history when 1,100 of them leave for Kuwait and Iraq late next year.

Previously, the largest number to deploy was 506 in 1968, when an artillery unit was sent to Vietnam.

The Massachusetts National Guard is also sending an increased number of soldiers to Iraq next year — a total of about 1,100 in three deployments.

This will be Mathews' first deployment. He'll be part of the 197th Fires Brigade, whose members have been put on alert status, meaning the plan calls for them to deploy to the Middle East and spend a year there. Their mission will include providing security for supply convoys running between Kuwait and Iraq.

It will also be the first deployment for many National Guard soldiers heading to that region of the world in the next year.

One New Hampshire unit, 65 soldiers with the 238th Aviation Regiment, left last month for training before heading to Iraq this fall. Another, the 172nd Mountain Infantry Unit, will deploy to Afghanistan in January with 165 soldiers.

Mathews, if he ships out, will be in combat for the first time. He said he is both apprehensive and excited, but glad for the advance notice. It will give him time to get himself in top physical condition and put his finances in order.

"It's a good thing," he said. "There's plenty of time to prepare."

Less than 50 percent of the New Hampshire National Guard is made up of combat veterans, down from more than 75 percent who were combat veterans just a few years ago, according to Maj. Greg Heilshorn, a public affairs officer.

Heilshorn said the smaller number of combat veterans is a product of older soldiers retiring or cycling out of the Guard, and an increase in younger enlistments.

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