Originally created 09/13/03

War alters path of National Guard graduates



COLUMBIA - National Guard members graduating on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are heading into a different world than the weekend-a-month drill that attracted their parents.

"Before 9-11, those going into the Guard and Reserve would've returned to their units, drilled on weekends and participated in their unit exercises," said Col. Shawn Mateer, the 4th Training Brigade's commander. "Now, they go straight into combat."

The Army, stretched thin by ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, depends more on Guard and Reserve units nowadays.

Columbia's Fort Jackson turns out more than half of the Army's soldiers - about 42,000 a year - with most of them headed for advanced training in support-type jobs in Army, Reserve or Guard units. While 58 percent of them head to regular Army units, 20 percent head to National Guard outfits and 22 percent to the Reserve.

Those ranks now include two high school buddies from Utah - Pvt. Brent Beck, 18, and Pfc. Sheldon Holgreen, 19, who graduated Thursday. Both joined knowing their Guard unit could be called to active duty. After eight weeks of advanced training at Fort Lee, Va., they'll probably join the Alpha Company of the 1457th Combat Engineer Battalion in Baghdad.

"It's rough for moms," said Pvt. Beck's mother, Jackie. "But it's something he wants to do, and we support him. Hopefully, he doesn't have to go."

Eighteen-year-old Pvt. Otis Collins Jr., of Los Angeles, will be training as a logistics specialist, then report to his Reserve unit, the 693rd Quartermaster Company.

Pvt. Collins doesn't know whether he'll be joining some of the 200 members of the 693rd who deployed to the Persian Gulf in January.

"You're nervous about the possibility, but you do what you've got to do," he said.

There's good reason for worry in modern wars, where the enemy goes without uniforms and troops in support jobs may be thrust into firefights.

Baathist loyalists' ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company during the first weekend of the Iraq war made that clear.

"The drill sergeants told us over and over about Jessica Lynch," a rescued and heralded member of the 507th, said Pvt. Jordan Gonda, 18, of Pennsylvania. "We were taught that all the skills we learn in basic training are useful and will be needed."