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The Miami Herald December 18, 2003

Unit trains for new duties

National Guard members who are expecting deployment in Afghanistan are training for military police and security duties

By Phil Long

Had things gone as expected for last Saturday the 265th Air Defense Artillery Battery, Florida National Guard Cpl. Solomon Archie would have spent the day leading a missile crew practicing at the Indian River County Fairgrounds.

He and other soldiers would have been out in their Humvees honing their radar skills, distinguishing friend from foe, whom to shoot down and whom not to, by tracking model airplanes flown by a local flying club and real planes landing and taking off from nearby Vero Beach and Sebastian airports.

But Saturday, Archie and about 100 fellow citizen-soldiers preparing for active duty in Afghanistan found themselves behind tables at the armory learning why they'll be leaving their high-tech hardware behind: Archie and his colleagues will instead head overseas as ''force protection/security'' personnel, performing some military-police functions, such as security checkpoints and convoy security, though they are not officially MPs.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, ''We have more of one kind of unit than we need and less of another kind,'' said Maj. Dan Stoneking, a spokesman for the Defense Department.

'FORCE OF CHOICE'

Soldiers with MP and security skills are ''definitely the force of choice in a lot of missions right now,'' said Col. Frank Grass, chief of operations for the National Guard. 'We have used them up in the reserve component and we needed a force to pick up some of those missions.

''You don't really see a lot of tank battles taking place in Iraq now, so everybody is going to have to . . . evolve in their responsibilities,'' said Patrick Garrett, defense analyst with Globalsecurity.org, a nonprofit group that focuses on defense, intelligence and space issues.

AMONG 5,000

So the 400 members of the 265th, assigned to batteries in West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce and Melbourne, will be among about 5,000 Guard soldiers nationwide who will be retrained to temporary duty. So far, just over 1,000 Florida Guard and Reservists have been called for the next wave of duty in the Iraqi war. There about 6,100 already serving on active duty now.

''You're going to be pushed and pushed hard like you've never been pushed in a long time,'' battalion commander Lt. Col. Troy Ratliff told the soldiers, warning them of the rigorous training schedule for the next few months before their deployment.

''You will be trained for that [security] mission and from this point forward don't concentrate on air defense. You've got something else to concentrate on,'' he said.

Air defense ''is my first love,'' said Archie, 24, a St. Lucie County deputy sheriff and father of three, ''but like all soldiers, we're trained to adapt and adjust.''

Archie's unit was among the first to be dispatched to Miami International Airport for security duty immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Grass said the soldiers in the 265th will get a minimum of 52 days of training that focuses on the mission they will have in Afghanistan. Each soldier and each unit must meet a set of standards before they are allowed to be deployed.

LIMITED EXPERIENCE

''Are they going to have as much practice and experience as real MPs? Absolutely not,'' Garrett said.

They are going to learn very quickly, he said.

''It's not like a deer-in-the-headlights situation where they just drop them in and all the experienced people just up and leave,'' Garrett said.


Copyright 2003, The Miami Herald