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Guardsmen ready for deployment

| Saturday, June 18, 2005

It's been five months since Pennsylvania National Guardsmen Bob Hixson Sr. and his sons, Bob Jr. and Victor, left behind their homes and families to begin training for deployment to Iraq, and now the time has come.

The three men are members of the National Guard's 28th Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, 1st Battalion 110th Infantry (mechanized), Headquarters Company, based at the armory in Mt. Pleasant Township.

About 150 guardsmen from that unit, along with dozens more from 110th Infantry companies in Greensburg, Indiana and Waynesburg, are among the 2,200 Pennsylvania Army National Guard members -- the state's largest deployment since the Korean War -- being sent to Iraq.

The Pennsylvania guardsmen make up the bulk of the 3,500-member 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which includes personnel from 23 other states.

The Hixsons and many of their fellow local guardsmen have been home on leave in recent days, taking a break from the intensive training they received at Camp Shelby, in Mississippi, and at Fort Irwin, in the Mojave Desert in California, since January.

While home in Youngwood, the senior Hixson, a 44-year-old staff sergeant with 21 years' service in the Guard, said the family has just been enjoying time together and taking care of everyday chores.

"I'm getting him to look at my car while he's here," said Kim Hixson of her husband.

Bob Jr., a logistics specialist with the unit, who is married and has a daughter, has already left his home in Blairsville to head back to Mississippi. Bob Sr. and Victor, both medics, are planning to depart Sunday.

A formal sendoff for the large contingent is being planned for June 23 at Camp Shelby.

Asked whether he was apprehensive about his deployment, Hixson Sr. said, "Actually no. I don't have any apprehension, and that's probably best. I really feel prepared to go over there and do my job."

Kim Hixson, meanwhile, can't help but worry about the safety of her husband and sons.

"I'm scared to death, and I'll miss them all terribly," she said.

"We're trying to leave her feeling confident that everything is going to be good," her husband said.

The guardsmen will be traveling in "up-armored" Humvees while in Iraq, according to 110th Infantry Headquarters Company spokesman Capt. Richard Collage. Their tour of duty is expected to last one year.

Guard Commander Col. John Gronski said the brigade will be in the large Anbar province in central Iraq. He expects the mission to involve cordon-and-search operations and occasional raids, patrols to keep transportation routes safe, joint operations with Iraqi security forces, and work on local projects such as sewage and power systems and schools.

"It's not going to be necessarily soldiers themselves doing the down-in-the-weeds work, but rather helping Iraqis and getting Iraqis employed," Gronski said.

It is unlikely the father and his sons will be stationed at the same post in Iraq, Hixson Sr. said.

But they hope to keep in contact as much as possible. Each member of the family, including Kim Hixson, will have a computer so there will be a lot of e-mailing back and forth.

And the Hixson men hope to have an opportunity to get together at times. "It would be great to see my kids when I'm over there," Hixson Sr. said.

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