Vermont National Guard members start journey to Iraq

09/09/05 12:00AM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) Another group of Vermont National Guard members have been deployed for service in Iraq.

The 53 men and women are part of a helicopter medi-vac unit that will provide primary medical services to soldiers injured in the field.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports

(marching band music plays)

(Kinzel) The scene at the Vermont National Air Guard aircraft hanger in South Burlington has now become a familiar sight to many people. Hundreds of family members hug departing soldiers as tears stream down their faces. A number of families use the three Blackhawk helicopters located inside the hanger as a backdrop for a final picture. Dozens of young children clutch small American flags and wave them as the military band played.

Governor Jim Douglas has a message for the children of soldiers.

(Douglas ) "Over the months ahead I know the families will experience great anxiety. But I want all the children to know that your mom, your dad is a hero and the pride of this great state."

(Kinzel) The unit includes Doran Metzger, a four-term member of the Vermont House. Because he'll be deployed for up to a year and a half, Metzger plans to resign from the House this fall. His departure comes at a critical time for him personally.

(Metzger) "I got married about a month ago now. My wife's here see me off for deployment and then she's heading back to Kentucky to work there while I'm gone. And then she plans on moving up to Vermont when we return from deployment."

(Kinzel) While many Vermont Guard members in Iraq serve as security teams, this unit has a very different mission, and under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, as a medical rescue unit, it's not allowed to carry weapons of any kind.

(Metzger) "It's an important job. The troops on the battlefield are told that someone's going to be there for them if they get hurt. That's us. So we've got an important job to get there, get them help. We have highly trained medics who can treat them on the ground and in flight until we get them back to higher medical care. So it is a very important job. We make a difference because we save lives."

(Bus engine sounds)

(Kinzel) Following the deployment ceremony, the soldiers made their final goodbyes and boarded three buses waiting outside the hanger.

For the next few months they'll undergo extensive training at Fort Dix. They expect to be in Iraq by the end of the year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.
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