After Delays, D.C. Unit Is Headed to Iraq

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Four months after departing from their homes and nearly two months later than initially expected, the D.C. National Guard's 275th Military Police Company is deploying to Iraq, Army officials said yesterday.

Since arriving at Camp Shelby, Miss., for training at the end of May, the unit's commander has been replaced, a number of soldiers dropped from the mission for medical reasons, and frustrated members have complained of low morale.

"They are ready to go now," said Col. J Chesney, the Army officer overseeing the company's training. "They will deploy within the next couple of days."

The primary reason for the delay, officers say, was the number of soldiers who were medically unfit for deployment. The problem is not uncommon among Guard and reserve units, many of which have older soldiers.

"Some of our soldiers are older, and when they got into that heat in the South, they had problems," said Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., commander of the D.C. National Guard.

The experience of the 275th is illustrative of the stress placed on the National Guard and reserves as the war in Iraq continues well into its fifth year, critics of the war said.

"We've stretched the Guard too thin," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) "The Guard and reserve were never meant to be such an integral part of our combat force."

"These guys tend to be in their 30s and 40s and not necessarily ready for boot camp," he said.

The demand has been particularly high for military police and transportation units. On Tuesday, 30 D.C. National Guard soldiers from the 547th Transportation Company are expected home from Iraq after being gone for more than a year. For many of them, the tour was their second in Iraq.

It is unclear whether the delay in deployment will lengthen the amount of time the deploying D.C. guardsmen will be away from home, or whether they will return one year after their departure as planned, officers said. "It could be the more time in Mississippi, the less time in a more dangerous environment," Wherley said.

When 130 citizen soldiers from the 275th MP Company gathered with family members on a warm May evening for a departure ceremony in the D.C. Armory, there were speeches, hugs and tears. The soldiers left early the next morning for Camp Shelby, expecting to deploy to Iraq in early August. The date was pushed back to late August, then to early September.

The delays hurt morale in the unit: "Soldiers there for a long time get frustrated, because they repeat the training over and over," Wherley said.

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