FORT POLK, La. — Thousands of troops are getting ready to head to Iraq to relieve the soldiers there now. One of the replacement units is the 30th Brigade, made up of National Guard troops from across North Carolina.
The former part-time soldiers are busy training for their new mission at Fort Polk Army Base in Louisiana.
The urban warfare training at Fort Polk is intense. About 4,500 North Carolina soldiers are learning what it takes to handle a country in conflict. Called up from their civilian lives, these part-time soldiers are getting ready to take the reins in Iraq.
Sgt. Fletcher Sargent hoped to finish his last semester at North Carolina State University, get a full-time job with the Justice Department and spend more time with his wife, Page. They have been married only a year. Now, everything is on hold as he heads to Iraq.
"Naturally, you are going to be somewhat nervous," he said. "She's worried about my safety and security. Of course, I'm worried about hers, as well."
"Oh yeah, I'm definitely nervous -- actually a little scared." said Spc. Andrea Smith of Fayetteville. "At home in Fayetteville, I'm a stay-at-home mother and wife of a 2-year-old daughter."
Smith's grandmother now watches the specialist's daughter while her husband works.
Since most of these soldiers work civilian jobs back home, deploying overseas is something new. For many, it will be the first time they have ever spent a long period of time away from their families.
They have already been away training for several months. The group expects to be in Iraq for about a year.
"Eighteen months is going to put a tremendous strain on all of our families and loved ones. That's the hardest part for all of us," Sargent said.
Though her daughter is too young to understand why her mom is leaving, Smith does her best to explain.
"I tell her, 'Mommy's going to go protect the United States' and she repeats it back to me. She says, 'Mommy is going to protect the United States,'" she said.
While separation is tough, all the soldiers said it helps to know their families are behind them. With that support and plenty of hard core training, the National Guard soldiers said they are ready to go.
The 30th Brigade Combat Team is expected to finish training in about a week. They will get a couple weeks back home with their families before heading to Iraq.