Recent fatalities weigh on families as more soldiers are deployed

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(Host) At Thursday’s ceremony to send a new group of Vermont National Guard soldiers overseas, the sad news that came earlier in the week was not far away. Yet it was with good wishes and hope for a safe return that these Vermonters were sent on their way.

VPR’s John Dillon was at the Green Mountain Armory.

(Sound from ceremony) “Left face, at ease…”

(Dillon) Eight members of the Vermont Army National Guard stand at attention in a sunlit armory outside Burlington. Some of the soldiers are in their 20s, others have gray hair. Babies squirm in their strollers and family members wipe away tears before the send-off ceremony begins.

(Sound from ceremony) “Detail, attention! Good morning. Thank you for being here to join us in bidding farewell and a safe and hasty return to members of the detachment…”

(Dillon) The citizen soldiers are being sent to Iraq, just days after two of their comrades were killed in a mortar attack south of Baghdad. The deaths weigh heavily on those who are leaving, and those they leave behind.

Janet Sumner’s husband has been in the Guard 33 years, and this is his first assignment overseas.

(Sumner) “This isn’t something we really expected, always felt he’d be kept in the States. But he was called to duty and he’s very proud to be fulfilling that.”

(Dillon) Sumner and almost everyone else in the armory is thinking about Sergeant Kevin Sheehan and Specialist Alan Bean. The two were killed when their unit was ambushed in a mortar attack south of Baghdad. These were the first combat deaths for Vermont Guard in over 50 years, although eight other soldiers with ties to the state have died during the Iraq war.

Angela Jacobs is about to say goodbye to her husband, Sergeant First Class Douglas Jacobs. Her eyes are red and she says the recent deaths weigh heavily in her mind. Her husband works in a property management division for the guard, but she says that may not keep him safe:

(Angela Jacobs) “Because to me, you’re not safe anywhere over there, and you don’t know who you’re enemy is.”

(Dillon) The guard members will spend several months training before leaving for Iraq. They hope to be home in 18 months.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Colchester.

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