PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s largest Army National Guard unit will be training aggressively this year in preparation for its return to Iraq in 2010.
The 133rd Engineer Battalion is scheduled to spend three weeks in Germany this summer, where it will build simulated Iraqi villages as part of its training.
There will be a lot of younger faces who weren’t with the unit five years ago during its initial deployment to Iraq, which was the largest mobilization of Maine Guard members since World War II.
Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond, battalion commander, said his biggest concern is the loss of technical experience resulting from the retirement of soldiers with decades of construction experience. Offsetting that loss, however, is a gain in youthful enthusiasm and combat skills.
“There are just a huge number of those 17- to 23-year-old men and women in the ranks,” Drummond said. “God it makes you feel good, because you know when they signed up, they knew what was coming.”
The Iraq to which the 133rd will return is more stable than the one that was devolving into a volatile insurgency during the battalion’s first deployment. There are fewer attacks on U.S. and coalition troops, and Iraqi forces are taking responsibility for larger areas of the country.
The Maine soldiers will work to solidify the progress that has been made, helping the Army’s plans to shift combat forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, said Capt. Shanon Cotta, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard.
“The combat engineers play a crucial role in counterinsurgency operations,” said Cotta, who deployed as a platoon commander with Alpha company in 2004 and will return with headquarters in 2010. “When you conduct engineering operations, we improve the lives of Iraqi people, legitimize a fragile government and essentially weaken the insurgency.”
The 133rd, which represents about 25 percent of Maine’s National Guard, has stayed busy since its return from Iraq. Members were deployed to help with Hurricane Katrina relief operations and the unit later put in two rotations in the southwestern U.S. as part of Operation Jumpstart in support of border security.
Unit commanders were notified last summer that the 133rd might be sent back to Iraq next year.