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Deployment largest in Wyoming Guard history
Wyoming Army National Guard Master Sgt. Debra Griffin, of Cheyenne, Wyo., stands in front of Laramie County Community College in Laramie, Wyo., Friday, Dec. 21, 2008. Griffin is one of 941 Wyoming Army National Guard members scheduled to deploy to Kuwait in April. It's the largest single-unit deployment in the Wyoming National Guard's history.

CHEYENNE - Master Sgt. Debra Griffin keeps two calendars: one for routine obligations and the other a "deployment calendar" listing the activities and requirements of preparing for a yearlong assignment in Kuwait.

"Your brain kind of goes in two different directions, because you're trying to manage this part, but you're already shifting to serious soldier mode," Griffin said. "It's an interesting balance before we go."

Griffin is one of 941 Wyoming Army National Guard members scheduled to leave in April, the largest single-unit deployment in the Wyoming Guard's history. After training at Fort Hood, Texas, the 115th Fires Brigade will be stationed in Kuwait with a range of missions.

For Griffin, the necessities of preparing to leave her family, home and dog range from the relatively mundane - like getting an extra pair of glasses - to the vitally important - like making sure her will and finances are in order. She's also working with her employer, Laramie County Community College, to cover for her absence as manager of the school's homeland security curriculum.

"You have to think about everything from your job to your friends, to your family to your extended family to your personal life, to your home, to your car," said Griffin, who handles the human resources section of the brigade. "All these details - things you have to take care of before you go."

Guardsmen across Wyoming will be going through similar preparations for the deployment, many of them for the second or third time.

Along with the Cheyenne-based 115th, other units ordered to deploy were the Casper-based 960th Brigade Support Battalion, the Laramie-based 148th Signal Company, the Lovell-based 920th Forward Support Company, and the Sheridan-based 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery, Guard spokeswoman Deidre Forster said.

It's the largest Wyoming Army National Guard deployment since 1950, when 387 soldiers were sent to the Korean War. Back in 2001, the Wyoming Air National Guard had its largest activation when more than 500 airmen deployed for the war in Afghanistan.

Col. Rich Knowlton, commander of the 115th Fires Brigade, said the unit will be overseeing six battalions from states including Wyoming, Minnesota, South Dakota, Alabama and Colorado. In preparation, Knowlton has been traveling around Wyoming meeting with families and community groups to help them prepare for the soldiers' departure.

"When you mobilize a Guard unit, you're really mobilizing that community," Knowlton said.

The Wyoming National Guard provides support programs for families coping with the absence of a soldier and for employers navigating the laws that protect guardsmen's jobs when they return.

"There's a lot of things the communities can do as well to support the families and soldiers and make sure this experience is a good experience for everybody all around," Knowlton said. "And (to make sure) once the soldiers come back to their families and their employers after a year being gone, that they can continue that relationship and move forward with their lives and be productive parts of the community."

Of the 2,400 soldiers who will be under the 115th Fires Brigade, some will be assigned to run operating bases in Kuwait, others will provide convoy security for trucks moving in and out of Iraq, and others will be doing security missions in Iraq, Knowlton said.

"This is a mission that's diverse. We have something for the guy that sits in the office and processes support requests, and we have something for the guy that's on the gun truck and is riding the roads protecting soldiers," Knowlton said.

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Knowlton said he doesn't expect the deployment to be influenced by Barack Obama's inauguration as president. Obama ran on a platform of pulling American troops out of Iraq.

Knowlton said the support bases in Kuwait will be kept open whether American soldiers or entering or leaving Iraq.

"So the need, whether we're going in or going out or just staying, is the same. I don't anticipate a change in mission," he said.

Griffin said she wasn't surprised when she was notified of the mobilization earlier this year. This will be her first lengthy deployment in her 27 years in the Armed Services, including 18 years in the Guard.

"Especially with the operational tempo over the last few years, I think each of us was always under the expectation at that point there will be a time when you will be called to go," Griffin said.

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