Returning Vermont soldiers mark milestone

12/05/05 12:00AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) Officials with the Vermont National Guard will travel to Mississippi this week to greet a contingent of soldiers returning from the Middle East.

As VPR's Steve Zind reports, their return marks a milestone in the steady deployment of guard members since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

(Zind) When the more than six hundred members of the Vermont Army Guard touch down at Camp Shelby in Mississippi this week, it will mark the first time since the war began that Vermont has more men and women who have returned from duty than are currently serving overseas.

Their return leaves about 500 guard members still deployed in the war zone. That's compared to a high of about fourteen hundred earlier this year.

Most of those in the returning group have been serving in Kuwait. A smaller group of 65 Vermont soldiers is also coming back with them. They've been serving in Iraq.

The soldiers will spend about a week turning in their gear, receiving briefings and undergoing medical and mental health screening at Camp Shelby. They're expected to fly back to Vermont by the end of next week.

Lieutenant Veronica Saffo of the Vermont Guard says the soldiers are being prepared for the readjustments non-military life will require, right down to getting behind the wheel of a civilian vehicle for the first time in over a year.

(Saffo) "Driving a Humvee is certainly different than driving a family van. Getting used to having little kids running around after having been in environment where you were living with only adults."

(Zind) Saffo says some guard members who have come back from Iraq have experienced more serious difficulties - problems associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because most of this returning group has been stationed away from the combat area, she isn't anticipating serious problems.

Jenna Langlois of Bennington is looking forward to getting her husband, Steven, back. She's been single-handedly raising their two young children in his absence.

(Langlois) "You never get a break. It's hard especially when you go to functions and you have to go alone. If you just have to run out to the store to get milk, it's hard at night."

(Zind) Langlois says she's been comforted by the fact that her husband has been stationed out of harm's way in Kuwait instead of in Iraq.

(Langlois) "Yes it is one less little worry."

(Zind) The Vermont guard expects more soldiers to return at the beginning of next year.

The guard's Veronica Saffo says there's nothing at this point to indicate that any more Vermonters will be deployed in the Middle East.

(Saffo) "Right now all of the discussions are on bringing those Vermonters home and we're not talking about sending anyone away."

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Steve Zind.
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