- The total number currently on active duty in support of the partial mobilization for the Army National Guard and Army
Reserve is 36,741;
State guardsmen join security mission
ALTUS -- More than 300 Oklahoma Army National Guardsmen are being mobilized for at least a year
in support of Operation Noble Eagle, the code name for the post-Sept. 11 mission of protecting U.S. territory. Their mission:
Security at military installations.
Soldiers from the 171st Field Artillery battalion in Altus gathered Thursday in a gymnasium for processing. They are expected
at their new locations, either Fort Sill or Fort Carson, Colo., by early September.
"This is kind of an ongoing mission. We are relieving other National Guard units that have had this duty for the last year,"
said Col. Pat Scully, spokesman for the Oklahoma Army National Guard, a statewide military force that can be mobilized by
either the governor or the president.
Guardsmen have been steadily activated from across the nation since Sept. 11 to protect airports, military bases and other
government facilities. It has been only in the last month, however, that Oklahoma Guardsmen have been mobilized, although
Oklahoma reservists from other branches of the service have been mobilized for months.
The Altus guardsmen said they knew their time would come.
"Anybody reasonably looking at things should have expected there was a chance we'd be deployed, so I don't think many of
us were caught by surprise," said Maj. Robert Sowards, who was having his medical and personnel records checked in the gym
Sowards will leave behind his fiancée and a daughter, who live in Altus. His son, an airborne ranger with the U.S. Army,
lives in Georgia.
Other guardsmen have younger families, making separation difficult.
Staff Sgt. Danny Niver spent 16 years in the active duty Army, so he is accustomed to moving around. But most guardsmen
are career civilians with families and employers who are just now realizing the impact of being a so-called "weekend warrior."
"For my family it's not too bad because I've been there, done that," said Niver, who heads to Fort Carson next week. "But
I'm sure some of these other soldiers out here, it's really tough on them."
Cmdr. Sonny Hurtado will join Niver in Fort Carson with good wishes from the Oklahoma City Police Department, where he
is employed. Employers must keep a guardsman or a reservist's job open until they return from duty.
Despite the upheaval and short notice, Hurtado and others said the guardsmen are ready to serve.
"Morale is very high. The soldiers are excited to go on active duty and do their part in this homeland defense position,"
Hurtado said. "The war is fought everywhere, not only overseas."
The 171st battalion is a military rocket launching unit, although its mission while mobilized will be handling security
at military bases.