Troops Ready to Go

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Company B of the 926th Engineer Battalion checks out its fleet of huge, olive green, camouflaged earth-moving machines at its armory on Greensprings Highway in Birmingham. Reserve and National Guard units regularly crank and operate their equipment to be sure the engines run and axels turn. The equipment and personnel are required to be ready when called and that means training, — one weekend each month and two weeks every year. Only two states have had more troops activated for this war than Alabama.

LTC Bob Horton is a spokesman for the Adjutant General’s office in Montgomery.

“We have a strong military presence in Alabama. We like to think that patriotism has a lot to do with it.’

Colonel Horton says that a lot of things come into play when units are selected for activation ‘ but one reason the government relies so heavily on Alabama’s troops is their readiness. In the first Gulf War the Alabama troops gained a reputation for being highly skilled and ready for action.

Staff Sergeant Connie Smith:

‘After nine-eleven, President Bush told us that if we wore the uniform to get ready to roll because we would be going, and I’m still here and ‘I am ready to go.’

Smith’s unit remains in Birmingham ‘ waiting for orders. However one member, Specialist Dina Hall, received individual orders. But as she prepares to leave, she reflects on what readiness means to a soldier. There is ‘ of course ‘ the mental and physical preparation it takes to go to war ‘ but also the preparation necessary on the home front. It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Hall and Smith.

Hall: ‘You’ve got to make sure that everything that you have will be still taken care of as though you’re there, but you’re not.’

Smith: ‘You have to have your personal affairs in order.’

Hall: ‘You’ve still got bills to pay, you still have children that need clothing, shoes, and food.’

Smith: ‘As far as your finances goes, your housing goes and make sure your children are prepared.’

Hall: ‘I have to make sure that my children will still have a roof over their head, that they’ll still be supplied with food, that my daughter will have homework done and hair done.’

Smith: ‘With me being a single parent, I have to make sure that my son is financially ready for this and mentally stable to go.’

Specialist Hall, from Fairfield, has been in the army for 22 years, 19 of them in the reserve. Although reserve and national guard members are always subject to call-up, this is her first activation’the first time she has wrestled with the home front preparation. Sgt. Smith, a 17 year reservist, served in Saudi Arabia 12 years ago. Preparation was easier then, with a military husband and no children.

‘I have a 8-year old son who, of course, does not want his momma to go to war. He wakes up every morning and asks me if I’m going, and when I tell him, ‘Well, no not yet.’ He lets out a sigh of relief and he’s pleased I’m home.’

The Department of Defense provides health care and insurance for mobilized citizen-soldiers and their dependents ‘ as well as counseling and support groups to help family members cope. That helps ‘ready’ both soldier and family.