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Guard Unit Heads To Iraq

Another company of Massachusetts soldiers is headed for Iraq. Near the Old North Bridge in Concord, yesterday, 200 soldiers of D Company, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment gathered before their family and friends for an official farewell. WBUR's Fred Thys reports.TEXT OF STORY

FRED THYS: The farewell took place on a hill overlooking the old North Bridge and Daniel Chester French's sculpture of the Minuteman, left hand on his plow, right hand holding his rifle. A recorded tour played out the story.

RECORDING: On the Eastern edge of Concord, the fighting resumed and escalated. The colonists discharged their muskets as the redcoats hurriedly retreated back to Boston.

JIM HOLLISTER: It must have occurred to the British commanders then just how critical their situation was. A war just started, and they're eighteen miles behind enemy lines.

THYS: Jim Hollister, education coordinator for the Minuteman National Park, reminded the soldiers that their unit is directly descended from the Miutemen. Sitting on the field where the Minutemen faced British troops holding the Old North Bridge, Pete Romer, of North Andover, waited for his 26-year-old son, Peter, to march across the Bridge. It's the first time that Romer's son is going to Iraq.

PETE ROMER: I'm proud of what he's doing. I'm glad he's there, and I think everybody should be glad that we have a volunteer army where these soldiers are willing to do that. I mean, we're concerned, but at the same time, he's... he's been asked to do this, and we're very supportive of that.

THYS: Romer said opposition to the war in Congress is endangering the lives of the troops.

ROMER: One of my chief concerns with my son going there now is I actually am concerned about the political environment here, and I do firmly believe that this emboldens the insurgents and the enemy to kill as many Americans as they possibly can to affect the American political process. I do very much believe that my son will be in more danger in Iraq because of the political manipulations that are going on here.

THYS: Romer's wife, Denise, Peter's mother, held back tears.

DENISE ROMER: Just trying to be strong to support him. I knew this was going to happen, so I kind of prepared myself, and now it's going to happen, so.

THYS: Near the Romers, a woman from Chelsea waited. She did not want her name released. Her 26-year-old son, Johny Hoyos, who himself has a four-month-old son, is also in the guard unit going to Iraq.

MOTHER: I think it's appalling. I think the whole situation's appalling, and I don't think we should be there, and I'm sorry he has to go. He doesn't feel that way, certainly, but that's how I feel. I think they should be pulled out, and I don't think anybody should be going.

THYS: Since 9/11, members of the regiment have served at Guantanamo and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They will be relieving other soldiers of the Brigade. In a few weeks, more soldiers of the regiment are headed for Iraq, and in July, the regiment's C company is going. The Adjudant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, Brigadier General Oliver Mason, gave the troops the traditional sendoff.

OLIVER MASON: Hooah!
-- Hooah!
-- All right. I didn't hear a good hooah, but hooah!
-- Hooah!
-- That's better.

THYS: Among the soldiers going over is Specialist James Mwihia, from Malden, an immigrant from Kenya.

JAMES MWIHIA: I'm okay with it. We gotta do what we gotta do. We have a mission. We have a mission. We gotta do what we gotta do.

THYS: It's Sergeant Misael Albira's second tour in Iraq.

MISAEL ALBIRA: I'm eager to return and hopefully complete the mission, complete what we started.

THYS: Albira is from Taunton. He wishes Congress would defer to the military on the war.

ALBIRA: I believe very strongly that politicians should stay in politics and leave the Army job to the generals. I don't believe politician should be involved with decisions and affairs so much like they do these days.

THYS: The soldiers won't be going to Iraq right away. They head first to Camp Shelby, in Mississippi, for at least several weeks of training for Iraq, where they will perform military police types of tasks.

This program aired on May 4, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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