FORT STEWART, GA--Once again, the Coastal Empire helps transition troops to serve in Iraq. National Guard soldiers from Indiana arrived Thursday and Friday. For the next three months, they will train here before they leave for a year's deployment.
By the hundreds, Indiana's citizen soldiers arrived at their temporary home. These National Guard troops made the all-night bus ride. Many had never heard of Fort Stewart before they got the news they'd train here before deploying to Iraq.
"Did not realize how big this was until we got the maps. It's huge, so I'm excited how they have things set up for us," said Sgt. William Middleton of the 76th Brigade.
Several hundred instructors from multiple units will put these soldiers through their paces.
"We'll be providing these soldiers a stressful, realistic, tough training to be as real as we can make it," stated Maj. Valerie Meadows, a public affairs officer for the 188th Infantry, which will help train the brigade.
Within minutes, the men and women had found the barracks that resemble where they'll live for a year in Iraq. After that, immunizations and paperwork.
"The uniform, by tomorrow, will be helmets and body armor and stuff like it should be," Middleton predicted.
Those who arrived Thursday hit the firing range bright and early Friday with full "battle rattle". Fort Stewart's status as a power projection platform made it a natural choice to get the 76th prepared for Iraq. Their visit brings some impact to the rest of the region.
Commuters who drive through Fort Stewart on Highways 144 or 119 should notice the speed limit has dropped to 45 until the unit leaves in March.
The new arrivals say, with the Third Infantry's history of success in Iraq, they're glad they get to train the same place.
The soldiers got a statewide sendoff Thursday at Indianapolis' RCA Dome. This marks the first time Indiana's National Guard has mobilized since World War II.