Local guard unit stands by for possible mobilization

By Thomas Wilson


   Officially, the Tennessee National Guard's 776th Maintenance Company based in Elizabethton has not been placed on alert for possible mobilization, according to state National Guard officials.
   While the United Nations pour over Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration, National Guard units across the nation await potential mobilization -- and a call up to active duty.
   "We have no orders on the 776th," stated Randy D. Harris, public information officer with the Tennessee Department of Military on Wednesday. "We may get something at any time, but I do not have anything official right now."
   Guard units, including a field artillery battalion based in Memphis and an engineering company from Paris, have been mobilized, according to Harris.
   Military police units from Lebanon and Dixon were mobilized last week to join an MP unit from Murfreesboro, which was mobilized last month, he added.
   In the transcript of a press briefing held Monday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush was concerned about Iraq's "failure to list information" about their weapons declaration document submitted to the UN earlier this month.
   Fleischer said in the statement that the United States would "move in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about what the implications of this are."
   The 776th Maintenance Company has roughly 200 members who provide mechanical support and service for machinery and vehicles. The Company also has a detachment in Mountain City.
   "When we get an alert, the unit has the capability to perform a mission as identified by the Department of Defense," said Harris. "The alert notification gives them time to perform administrative and operations checks if they do get a mobilization."
   Members of the 776th Maintenance Company were among 15 Tennessee Army and six Air National Guard units called up to support Desert Storm and Shield military operations in 1991. Roughly 3,600 men and women from Tennessee National Guard units served in Iraq.
   Guard battalions range from engineering and transportation units to military police and medical detachments.
   With headquarters in Knoxville, the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment is comprised of National Guard units in Middle and East Tennessee including Kingsport, Rogersville, and Erwin.
   "Mobilization would go through the chain of command," said Maj. James Blevins of the 278th in Kingsport. "Knoxville would be notified and the state regimental headquarters through us."
   Other local National Guard units include the 176th Maintenance Battalion and the 730th Quartermaster Supply Company, both based in Johnson City.
   The Tennessee State Guard, an all volunteer organization, does not have a federal wartime mission, and requires mobilization by the governor's office through the Adjutant General of the Department of the Military. The state guard can be federalized through an executive order issued by the president.
   The mission of the Tennessee State Guard would be to replace deployed National Guard units, becoming custodians of vacated armories, military facilities, and equipment left behind by departing units, Harris said.
   "If that happens, we are in a pretty deep conflict," he said, "but we don't see that happening."