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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guardsmen anxious to get into Big Easy

Sunday, September 11, 2005

BELLE CHASSE NAVAL AIR STATION, La. -- As their commanding officers go about the important business of planning, the enlisted men of the 1140th Engineer Battalion are anxious to get to work after two days of driving and a third day of briefings, equipment preparation and vehicle maintenance.

"I guess it's standard procedure," said Spc. Brian Newhirter, who lives north of Fruitland. "This is work that has to be done. But I'm ready to get to it. We came to help. Now, I'm ready to help."

Until then -- and the troops are hoping to get into the city limits of New Orleans today -- there's been quite a bit of down time. In the morning, the men keep as busy as they know how. Some shave, using only a vehicle side mirror for guidance. Others top off their vehicles and perfomed other maintenance on the myriad of camouflaged vehicles that lined the abandoned airstrip that has been home to the 1140th and about 400 others since Friday night.

"It's just all prep work until we get our orders and know exactly what we're going to do," Newhirter said.

Not all of the down time is for prep work, though. One soldier plays a radio. Others find time to rack out on the rigid Army cots. In between duty, there's a waiting game.

At the chow hall, the breakfast is a longtime military specialty: scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy and coffee.

On the drive back, Spc. Joseph Dilley of Cape Girardeau said it takes time to get into a military camp and prepare to head out.

"We want to be ready to go so when we get the mission, we can go," Dilley said. "In the meantime, there's always something to do. Our hands are tied until then. I want to get out there and get to work. But still ..."

The bad part about the down time is that it allows the soldiers to begin missing home, sooner than they should. If they're busy, there's less time to think, said Dilley, who comes from a military family that dates back to Valley Forge.

Dilley said since he joined the Guard in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, he hasn't been home for a full year. He's been married two years, but he and his wife still consider themselves honeymooners.

There was basic training, then Iraq. He worries about whether his toddler daughter will remember him.

"Is she even going to know who I am?" he asks.

He shrugs.

"That's part of it, I guess," he says.

He looks out the window of the truck he's driving back to the landing strip that will be home for at least one more night.

"I just wish we could get to work," he said.

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