Tennessee's first Guard unit returns

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Tennessee's first Army National Guard unit will be returning home by early next week, according to the state Department of Military.
   The state' Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, announced Tuesday that members of the 1-181 Field Artillery Battalion (MLRS) headquartered in Chattanooga will be returning home from Ft. Campbell, Ky., on or about May 12.
   The return is likely to mark the beginning of the return of National Guard and Reserve units across the country as Operation Iraqi Freedom winds down.
   "I think we will see them deactivate pretty rapidly after this, when they see which units that they need to keep and which ones can go home," said Randy Harris, director of Public Affairs Tennessee National Guard. Harris said the state's first Air National Guard unit returned roughly 10 days ago.
   The 1-181 is a combat artillery battalion comprised of approximately 325 guard members. The battalion utilized the Multiple Launched Rocket System during the Gulf War that the Iraqis referred to as "Steel Rain" and has been stationed at Fort Campbell since being activated last year. All equipment and vehicles will return to Chattanooga with the 1-181.
   "The 1-181 was scheduled to deploy to Iraq as part of the American forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Maj. Gen. Hargett. "But the outstanding efforts of our coalition forces concluded the combat portion of the war before our soldiers deployed."
   Both active duty and reserve force units throughout the country are being demobilized and returned home without ever leaving their stateside mobilization stations.
   More than 3,500 Tennessee Army and Air National Guard personnel were mobilized during Operation Iraqi Freedom, with approximately 1,500 serving outside the United States.
   National Guard members with the 776th Maintenance Company headquartered in Elizabethton have been on active duty since Dec. 19, 2002. The 776th departed Elizabethton for active duty at Fort Campbell on January 30.
   Harris said guard members returning from active duty would undergo a similar process of personnel logistics when they return to civilian status.
   "They will look at allotments and entitlements, make sure their evaluations are up to date, and look at re-employment issues," said Harris. "It is an administrative function more than anything else."
   The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced last week that U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps had seen an increase of reservists on active duty in support of the partial mobilization. As of April 30, the total Reserve and National Guard on active duty stood at over 224,000 personnel including both units and individual augmentees, according to DoD.