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A Louisiana National Guard brigade set to return from Iraq will be used to help recovery operations in their hurricane-devastated home state, officials said Wednesday.

In a press release from Baghdad, the commander of the 256th Brigade Combat Team said his troops were ready to pitch in, even after a yearlong tour.

“The people of Louisiana have been worrying about us these past 12 months; now we are worried about them,” Brig. Gen. John Basilica Jr. said in a release. “The vast majority of soldiers in this brigade are anxious and ready to help the citizens who have been affected by the terrible storm.”

The brigade includes guardsmen who hail from New Orleans and several other towns affected by Hurricane Katrina. No numbers are available, but it has been reported that some members of the brigade have already headed home on emergency leave.

Many of those who return from Iraq with the unit will be held in active-duty status to help with the recovery effort, Basilica said.

During its yearlong tour, the 256th was stationed near Baghdad, undertaking missions that included responsibility for the airport road.

Military officials said Wednesday that “efforts are under way to accelerate the transportation flow of the soldiers back to Louisiana. The brigade is days away from completing its mission in the Baghdad area and will be available to return as fast as transportation can be made available.”

According to figures given Tuesday by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, there are 41,000 National Guard and 17,000 active-duty troops “in the region” offering assistance such as airlift, communications, security and medical support.

At the same Pentagon press briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld bristled when asked if deployments to Iraq have hindered military response to Katrina’s devastation.

“That’s just flat wrong,” he said. “Anyone who’s saying that doesn’t understand the situation.”

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