ANCHORAGE - A company of soldiers from the Alaska National Guard has departed for training in Texas before deployment to the war in Iraq early next year.
Wearing desert camouflage, the riflemen of Alpha Co., third Battalion, 297th Infantry had about two hours Saturday morning to say goodbye to their families before loading onto a chartered Boeing 757.
About half the soldiers are from Southeast Alaska and the rest from Southcentral and Kodiak.
The 131 soldiers will train at Fort Bliss, Texas, for several months along with members of the Hawaii National guard. Early next year, they will depart Kuwait and then to Iraq for deployment.
Gen. Craig Christensen, head of the Alaska Army National Guard, gave the company an Alaska flag. He told them to bring the flag home safely and bring themselves home alive.
Pfc. Mathew Nore is from Wrangell and is majoring in education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He will have to pick up his studies when he gets back.
"At first I was kind of bummed out, because I had a lot of plans for education and I was doing a lot of sports in college too, so I was excited about that this semester, But I signed up for the Guard first, before I went to college, so I've got to do this," he told the Alaska Public Radio Network.
Nore's wife, Rachel, said she would be praying for the soldiers.
"You just keep praying for them and hopefully they stay safe. It's just something they have to do."
Christensen said soldiers will have another chance to see their families before heading overseas during a holiday break in December. Some soldiers plan to return to Alaska. Some will meet their families in the Lower 48.
The company already had switched to desert camouflage, with the Hawaii National Guard insignia on their shoulders, instead of the familiar Alaska flag. When they get to Iraq, the unit will join one of the divisions already there and will change patches again.