Ohio guardsmen complete two-year stint protecting bases in Europe
November 11, 2004
For nearly a year, citizen soldiers from Ohio have been guarding the gates of Army and Air Force bases in the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium.
That’s all scheduled to change at the end of the month, when Task Force Reaper Sentinel finishes its mission — ending a span of more than two years where National Guard troops helped secure bases in Europe.
“It’s been very interesting,” said Lt. Col. Homer Rogers, task force commander and head of the 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment. “For a lot of them, being in the National Guard, this was their first taste of active-duty life.”
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Air Force worked out an agreement with the National Guard that eventually sent to Europe troops from places such as Puerto Rico, Minnesota and New Mexico. That agreement, and a similar one for Army bases in Vicenza and Livorno, both in Italy, and Belgium, ends this month.
So those bases that have had the Guard units helping out will have to find other ways to supplement their forces.
Larry Kilgore, force protection manager at Vicenza, said additional Italian security guards have been hired to replace the departing soldiers.
“We hate to lose them,” he said. “For the community, they’ve been really good. But as far as the protection level, there won’t be a difference.”
First Lt. Toni Tones, a public affairs officer for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, declined to talk about specific measures Air Force bases will take. But she said “security and protection of all USAFE bases will not be compromised with the Army’s withdrawal.”
Rogers said some of his troops weren’t happy initially to hear they’d be coming to Europe to pull gate duty, instead of heading to a place such as Iraq with their howitzers.
“Some of the soldiers were disappointed in that they wanted to go into the box,” he said. But most have come to realize that, by performing their roles in Europe, they’ve freed up others to go to Iraq, he said. “This is an important duty.”
Battery F, attached to the 134th in the task force, is based in Vicenza.
Capt. Kevin Brodzinski, who heads ticket sales for a minor-league baseball team in his civilian job, said he’d rather be supporting the assault on Fallujah. But he said the mission in Europe has allowed the unit to come together much more than it had just by training on weekends and a few weeks a year. So any upcoming deployment to a trouble spot would find it in better shape.
“It’s a hard transition for those Guard units that are going right over there [to Iraq],” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Lundblad agreed.
“We now know who the guys are who we can count on to do certain things and who’s going to react in certain ways.”
The only part of their jobs they haven’t been doing, Brodzinski said, is firing their howitzers.
“We didn’t deploy with anything except our personal gear and small arms,” Rogers said.
Task force members haven’t had to use those arms, though they have been involved in a few incidents, most notably in the United Kingdom. A civilian parachutist mistakenly landed on the base, he said, though that wasn’t known at the time. And National Guardsmen also caught three Iraqi nationals trying to sneak onto base, apparently seeking asylum.
Like others before it, the task force has been spread out around the continent. For example, 1st Sgt. Erik Hewitt, the Battery F first sergeant, spent time in Germany and Turkey before his current stint in Vicenza.
Rogers said many members of the unit are looking forward to going back to Ohio.
“We’re going back to being field artillery as soon as we get back,” he said. “And we’ve got some new equipment to train on.”