Soldiers' Iraq tour extended

ATHENS, Ga. - About 170 soldiers from northeast Georgia's 214th Georgia Army National Guard unit will stay in Iraq through the summer.

The soldiers, members of the Elberton-based 1st Battalion, 214th Field Artillery, were scheduled to return to the states in April, but are now expected to remain in Iraq through July or August, said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, spokesman for Georgia National Guard.

The extension is part of President Bush's new Iraq plan that includes a troop surge, including about 4,000 National Guard soldiers.

"We feel pretty secure in the fact that we won't see another extension in the near future," Lt. Col. Baldowski said. But, he added, "I don't want to lock myself in saying it will never happen."

In Iraq, the soldiers from the 214th operate out of a base near Tallil, providing armed escorts in armored Humvees for truck convoys heading into the country from staging areas in Kuwait. The soldiers are currently aligned with a Minnesota National Guard Unit that replaced the Georgia-based 48th Infantry Brigade.

In January 2006, the 170 soldiers left for Fort Dix, N.J., for two months of training. Their deployment to Iraq marked the first time since World War II battalion members have been sent to a war overseas.

The unit, which has more than 400 members, descends from Georgia Confederate Army Units formed during the Civil War. Today, it is a field artillery battalion, trained in fighting with such equipment as tanks and rockets.

The unit's mission as a security force is a transition from its primary responsibility of seeking out and destroying the enemy.

Although the 170 soldiers deployed to Iraq under the flag of the battalion's Toccoa battery, they live in various parts of the state and report to batteries in Hartwell, Waynesboro and Thomson.