As Idaho National Guard soldiers begin winding down their deployment in Iraq, efforts to ensure their successful return to civilian life are ramping up.
About 1,500 Idaho soldiers with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team have been in Iraq since November, providing convoy and installation security at bases throughout the country. That was preceded by two months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss.
Major Gen. Gary Sayler, head of the Idaho Army and Air National Guard, said the 116th will start coming home in waves, beginning the first week in September.
"They're down to their last three months," he said. "Knock on wood, we still have no casualties. We've gotten great comments (from military leaders in Iraq) about our Idaho soldiers. I'm very proud of those guys."
Once they arrive back in the states, the troops will spend about a week at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, going through a demobilization process. Then they'll come home -- and the big question is, what's next?
"My biggest concern is making sure they all have jobs," Sayler said.
Some have jobs waiting for them, he said, but quite a few will either be looking for work or applying for school. Many filled out a recent questionnaire, indicating whether they would need assistance finding a job. National Guard officials are now meeting with employers across the state, asking if they'd be willing to hire any of the returning troops.
Companies that would like more information about this can contact Col. Timothy Marsano at 208-422-5268.
Besides job assistance, the Guard will conduct several town hall meetings with family members prior to September, helping them better understand what soldiers might go through once they return and how to work through any issues.
A series of "reintegration" meetings will also be conducted in the weeks and months after the troops come home, again with the intent of identifying any issues they might have.
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(c) 2011, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
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