22 National Guard troops deploy from Southern Illinois to Iraq

By Gus Bode

Will Britton is leaving. He doesn’t know when for sure. All the former SIUC student knows is that it is something that has to be done.

“It’s my job,” Britton said of the duties that forced him to leave his studies as a political science major. “It’s something that has to be done. It’s just a job we have to do.”

Britton, a member of the 123rd Field Artillery of the National Guard, which is preparing to ship to Iraq, was one of 22 soldiers in the second battalion of the 123rd’s Company A who stood solemnly at attention Monday morning, listening to the speeches from the area leaders who would send them off to war. In the crowd of family members, which filled the Marion National Guard Armory, babies squealed and flashbulbs went off. Everyone had come to see the men off to war, and everyone strained to get the best view.


“It is not pleasant to see you head off and [be] put in harm’s way,” Herrin Mayor Vic Ritter said. “It will be a pleasure to see you come back.”

The 123rd ships out during what is perhaps a turning point in the war in Iraq. After a long period of wrestling with insurgents nestled in pockets throughout the country, the U.S. military is launching a major offensive on the city of Fallujah this week. With most military commanders saying the campaign could be the deadliest urban fight since the Vietnam War, about 10,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed around the city, preparing to meet an estimated 3,000 insurgents dug in and around the city.

The major offensive comes six months after President Bush declared “one victory” in the War on Terror had been accomplished upon the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, underneath a banner that read “mission accomplished.”

Now the fight continues to rage in Iraq, and the military is rushing to meet it.

Since the initial U.S.-led invasion ended in April 2003, more than 1,000 Americans have died in the subsequent fighting, two of them from Southern Illinois. Drew Uhles from Du Quoin and Benjamin Smith of Carbondale were both killed in September.

Monday morning found a handful of local government and military leaders ready to bid goodbye.

Marion Mayor Robert Butler, who led the guest remarks, told the soldiers there is no higher calling Americans can receive than the one to serve their country. Butler also stressed that people across the nation have to be “proud of the contributions” the troops are making in order to secure the defense of the United States.


Lt. Col. Johnny Miller, who commands the third battalion of the unit, emphasized the volatile times the world is experiencing. The war in Iraq is a pivotal moment for the youth in this country right now, he said, and completing the job is more important than anything else right now.

“For many of you, this will be a defining point for your generation, just as Sept. 11 was,” Miller said. “I give you these four simple words:Get the mission done.”

Brigadier Gen. Charles Fleming also invoked the memory of Sept. 11, saying it dramatically altered America’s place on the world stage. Security is what we are fighting for now, and he said it is only natural for soldiers to answer such a call.

“Our world changed on 9/11,” Fleming said. “Gone is our sense of safety at home and security. We do not decide the wars our country fights. We are soldiers. When we are called, we fight.”