In a few short months, a handful of Tucumcari’s citizen soldiers will be in uniform 24-7 in Iraq.
Preparations begin this weekend, when about a dozen men and women from the New Mexico National Guard in Tucumcari and their loved ones attend a family readiness conference in Albuquerque.
The conference will focus on communications, support groups, finances and how to support one’s spouse when they return, said Staff Sgt. Tim Clark, of the Tucumcari Detachment, 720th Transportation Company, based in Las Vegas.
“Many began their military careers here, or have roots or ties to Tucumcari,” Clark said.
About half of the men and women are from Tucumcari, while the others live elsewhere but began their National Guard careers in the Tucumcari Detachment.
The company also has detachments in Taos and Raton. Members of the 720th will begin their pre-mobilization training March 20 in Santa Fe and they are expected to be in Iraq in early summer.
Their mission will be to protect convoys, military bases and distinguished visitors. They also will be attached to the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team an Army National Guard unit from Oregon, Clark said.
Maj. Thomas Gonzales will command the unit of 144 soldiers from the 720th and additional soldiers from other units around the state in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Clark said.
Gonzales said his priority is for the soldiers to take care of their families because they have the hardest job while the soldiers are on deployment, according to a press release.
“If the families are taken care of then I know the soldiers will do their job efficiently,” said Gonzales in the release.
With 17 years in the military, Clark said the Tucumcari detachment has served in a variety of ways including as a security force at Cannon Air Force Base after 9/11 and as part of the supply chain to assist victims in eastern Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. For Clark this will be his second tour in Iraq. Clark first served during the final months of the Gulf War. For some, who began their rotation at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, it will be their second tour in Iraq, Clark said.
The deployment means that local employers will have to find replacements. Clark, for example, teaches children in the special education and gifted programs at Tucumcari Middle School, where he is also a coach. He also coaches Little League during the summer.
“The school is getting a long-term substitute and I’m trying to find someone for Little League,” said Clark, who is the father of two boys.
Clark said it’s important to keep in touch with his his wife, Andrea, who is also a teacher, and his sons Jonathan, 8, and Dyson, 6.
“The kids don’t notice until you start packing the bags. The hardest will be when we duck in the door, with a pass for about four days (and then leave for Iraq)‚” he said.
Clark said he’s picked up some tips from his little brother, Maj. Terry Clark, who is serving with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in preparation for his stay in Iraq.
Many of the soldiers, including Clark, are investing in laptops with webcams so that they can keep in touch with their families, Clark said.
As security for convoys, Clark said the soldiers will be serving on the supply truck routes, which is considered one of the most dangerous missions in Iraq.
“I’m anxious to get it over with,” Clark said. “I’m not really scared, it’s just part of the job. We’re going to be doing roughly two months of training (stateside). We want to get that year started and get it over with.”