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NEWS | April 21, 2010

Florida Guard upholds federal readiness in Qatar

By Dustin Senger Area Support Group Qatar Public Affairs

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar - Florida Army National Guard soldiers recently exercised an ability to quickly reinforce active forces by abruptly separating from their main movement, while deploying to the Middle East.

A reliance on defense contractors for base security needed to be severed by April 1.

The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the largest Army National Guard unit in Florida, reported for duty at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, in early March. Third Army/U.S. Army Central forward headquarters requested the brigade commander send a detachment to this base in Qatar, roughly 350 miles southeast, along the Arabian Peninsula.

Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 153rd Cavalry Regiment, 53rd IBCT soldiers quickly departed to take over force protection from contracting firms at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. The brigade saved the government millions of dollars in annual contractual negotiations.

"We've pretty much mirrored the operation performed by the contractors," said Staff Sgt. Corey Baldwin, Bravo Troop squad leader, explaining an entry control point. "We just tweaked it for military specifics. Double- and triple-redundant security measures were already in place – many of the contractors had a military background."

The Army National Guard began an increasingly larger role overseas after Operation Desert Storm in 1991. A conversion plan altered combat force structure to improved resourcing, equipping and training guardsmen and women to support federal wartime missions.

Since 9/11, thousands of soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard have served on federal orders supporting overseas contingency operations. Many volunteer for deployments.

"I've pretty much been on federal orders ever since joining the National Guard," said U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Green, from Orange Park, Fla., while starting another 12-hour shift ensuring base security at Camp As Sayliyah.

Green, 21, first deployed overseas with 83rd Troop Command, 146th Signal Battalion in October 2008. A one-year assignment required satellite communications support around Basra, Iraq. He wasn't looking forward to an upcoming two-year stabilization period and searched for another deploying unit.

He asked about serving with the 53rd IBCT, a combination of 32 Florida Army National Guard units, after hearing about an expected deployment to Afghanistan. During the summer, the unit's focus switched to Kuwait.

Green volunteered for the 53rd IBCT less than a month after returning home from Iraq. The guardsman immediately started a month of combat training at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Jacksonville, Fla., Oct. 21, 2009.

Prior to heading back to Southwest Asia, the soldier gathered with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, a 21st birthday, Christmas and New Year's Eve.

"I joined the Army for patriotic reasons," says Green. "I believe in my country and want to protect my country. It's easy to find a National Guard unit that's deploying."

Guardsmen like Green are called "deployment chasers" by some 53rd IBCT soldiers.

Capt. Dewitt Revels, Bravo Troop commander, calls them "motivated."

"Soldiers who come in and volunteer for deployments make missions like this unique," says Revels, from Jacksonville, Fla. "In the past, Bravo Troop has deployed organically with only infantry soldiers. For this deployment, I have specialties from across the Army – this never happened when I was on active duty."

Revels served two years enlisted in active duty status before earning his commission. He finished four more years, as an infantry officer, and then transferred to the Army National Guard to finish law school.

"Everyone is going to be enriched by this experience," he said, due to a widespread sharing of tactics and procedures covering numerous military occupations.

Bravo Troop is a combination of military and civilian experience providing force protection duties. The unit contains soldiers trained in combat engineering, communications, maintenance, supply, motor transportation, artillery and infantry. Civilian experience ranges from law enforcement to retail; several are college students.

"I'd say 90 percent of our squadron's leadership has combat experience," said Baldwin, from Clearwater, Fla. In 2006, the soldier completed a one-year deployment controlling thousands of confiscated weapons with the 53rd IBCT in Afghanistan. Baldwin volunteered for a second one-year rotation with his replacement brigade, the 41st IBCT from the Oregon Army National Guard.

"Afghanistan doesn't have the humidity of Qatar," said Baldwin, "When you perspire, you feel cooler. I also don't feel the altitude. It's a lot cleaner here too. In Afghanistan, you constantly smell burning tires and filth."

"Qatar feels like Florida," says Baldwin, "other than all the sand – it's like a huge beach, but no ocean."

Baldwin joined the Florida Army National Guard in July 1988. He says the customary two-days-per-month and two-weeks-per-year is a minimum requirement for service.

"National Guard is a career," says Baldwin, who has received numerous state activations, mostly assisting hurricane relief efforts. "We must maintain the same standards as the active Army."

"Sometimes I complain about being here," said Green, while sharing a couple pounds of deer jerky sent from his grandmother. "The usual stuff – food and housing – but I volunteered for this and my family reminds me of that."

"I've gained so much experience with satellite equipment," said Green. "It would have taken a long time to get the training, knowledge and experience I have now in the civilian world."

After Qatar, Green plans on staying in Florida for a year. He looks forward to roaming through the groomed trails in the Ocala National Forest on his four-wheel, 660cc Yamaha Raptor. He purchased the vehicle online during his deployment to Iraq – his father had it ready to ride when he returned home.

Green is considering ways to use his service-earned college tuition assistance. Enrollment in an automobile technician's course could help him finish rebuilding his Chevy Blazer.

The guradsman also plans on training as a combat engineer soon. He has worked several commercial construction jobs around Jacksonville and enjoys "building and blowing up stuff."

"Everyone is paid the same in the Army," says Green, "So it's about finding what's the most fun."