Thursday, March 12
WESTMINSTER -- The men and women serving our country at the Vermont National Guard base in Westminster are playing a waiting game these days. Unsure of when they might be deployed to Afghanistan, they are stepping up their routine and arranging for loved ones at home to be taken care of in their absence.

"(President) Barack Obama has consolidated troops that are already in Iraq, but it's reasonably likely that we will be deployed," said Staff Sergeant Timothy Whitman.

Many have been sent overseas before and know the importance of being prepared for the day they are called to duty.

"It's better to give the best possible training, and maybe put them under a little bit of undo stress and have them come home safe, than it is to have inadequate training and not be able to bring our soldiers home," said Scott Langlands, captain of the company in Westminster.

Those who serve in the guard, attending training one weekend a month and two weeks a year, have been putting in extra hours lately. The company has changed its schedule to fit in more of that critical training, said Whitman.

"We've received the funding to increase the weekend shift, which is usually Saturday and Sunday, to a full 3-day weekend starting on Friday," he said.

"It does impact their work schedule, but we need that many hours to stay proficient," Langlands said.

Right now the company is on alert, which means it is likely that it will be deployed, said Langlands, but beyond that there have been no official orders. The next step toward overseas deployment would be a six-month train-up period during which the troops train in order to be state-side and ready to deploy.

Getting ready for the realities of war means training on some pretty heavy-duty equipment. At the Westminster base the guard trains its Delta company on heavy mounted weapons, showing soldiers how to use 50-caliber machine guns and perform tow missile launches.

Its shooting range has been closed down for about a year to allow for maintenance, so for all the actual shooting the company travels to Jericho, Fort Devens, Mass., or Fort Drum, N.Y. The Westminster shooting range should be back in use by around late October, said Whitman.

Whitman, who lives in Langdon, N.H., is a full-time staff member for the National Guard. He said that when it comes to being deployed, it's different for him because he doesn't have to worry about leaving his job or company behind.

Specialist Matt Hubbard of Dummerston, who works as the assistant to the recruiter, said interest in joining the National Guard has been on the rise over the past few months. The last few people he spoke with pointed to being laid off and unable to find a job as a reason that they are looking for extra employment.

"So we try to help them out," Hubbard said. "We give young men and women a chance to better themselves and their lives. It gives them leadership roles, and some discipline, and right now with the economy the way it is, a steady job."

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.

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This weekend, the family readiness group is meeting at the Westminster barracks, and participating families will be making scrapbooks for their loved ones who are in the National Guard. See Monday's Reformer for more coverage on our local National Guardsmen and their families.