BANGOR, Maine — As the nation watches troops being withdrawn from the Middle East, few perhaps are aware that another wave of soldiers is being deployed.
On Tuesday, a group of about 150 soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in Fort Hood, Texas, had a two-hour layover at Bangor International Airport on their way to southern Iraq.
“It’s funny because the big thing on the news as we were getting ready to leave was all the big hoopla about all the combat forces coming out, so all the soldiers and their families are asking, ‘Why are we going?’” Lt. Col. Bryan Mullins said.
“Well, we said it was the difference between the guys whose job it is to fight versus guys whose primary job it is to help people, or secure people, who are doing something else,” he said.
“So we are combat arms soldiers — I’m a tanker, we’ve got other tankers and artillery. But our job in Iraq is primarily going to be to training Iraqi security forces, cops, the [Iraqi] army, the border forces — they’ve got huge border forces,” he said.
“We haven’t been able to pay a whole lot of attention to those over the first six years because we were too busy doing other stuff,” he said. “So now, on the back end of the mission, we’re going to spend a whole lot more time and energy on that.”
The unit also will provide security for U.S. State Department personnel while in the Middle East, he said.
“They’re going to go out and work with the local government, so we’re going to go out and secure them while they work so nothing happens during the meetings, during the trainings that they do,” he said.
“So it’s going to be lots of advising and supporting, with the distinction being that this is not a combat thing. We’re not focused on that. We don’t go out looking for bad guys or IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” he said.
According to Mullins, who has 19 years of service under his belt, the unit’s initial deployment is for 12 months.
“But who knows? I’ve been on deployments that started off with a duration and changed to another duration,” he said.
According to Mullins, an estimated 5,000 members of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment have been deployed and will be securing the southern half of Iraq.
“Historically, the south of Iraq has always been the safest,” he said. Adding that he had to choose his words cautiously, he said that the region essentially is “pure Shiite so there’s less infighting with Sunni groups. So it’s been fairly quiet.”
Among the group of departing soldiers was Pvt. Zane Clossey, whose father, Harold Clossey, is executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, headquartered in Machias.
The father and son planned to spend a little time together before the private had to get back on an airplane for the rest of his trip.
Pvt. Clossey, 20, said the last time he saw his family in Maine and New Brunswick was about two weeks ago, when he was in the area on a 21-day leave.