Aberdeen Guard unit bound for Iraq

Medical detachment goes to N.J. for 1-month training

December 09, 2004|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

For 11 years, William Grafton has been the father of at least one Maryland National Guardsman. At no point did he learn how to say goodbye.

Clutching a yellow disposable camera, Grafton became misty-eyed yesterday as his two sons, Staff Sgt. William Grafton Jr., 27, and Spc. David Grafton, 21, saluted military commanders in a packed auditorium at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

His sons are members of the 1159th Medical Company Detachment, which is bound for Iraq.

The 42-member unit will spend a month at Fort Dix, N.J., before heading to Iraq for 18 months.

"I wake up every day hoping they're waking up every day," said Grafton, 48, of Edgewood, a mechanic who never served in the military. "It's hard to keep your mind on your job when you have two sons leaving you. I've lost a lot of sleep."

For family members and friends attending yesterday's ceremony, saying goodbye became more difficult in light of recent events.

Four military servicemen from Maryland died last month in a one-week span.

Insurgent attacks have killed dozens of U.S. troops in past weeks, and a plan to beef up the number of American troops in Iraq will likely mean extended deployments for many servicemen.

The 1159th Medical Company Detachment will transport wounded soldiers to rescue stations.

The unit has been trained to operate Black Hawk helicopters, six of which will be shipped with them to Iraq.

"Their main job is to save lives," said Maj. Charles Kohler, a Maryland National Guard spokesman.

The Guardsmen likely will be able to visit families for the holidays before heading to Iraq, Kohler said.

Unlike many of the unit's members, Staff Sgt. James Hudler will be making his second deployment overseas. He also served during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"I tell people I voted for George Bush four times, and twice he's sent me to the gulf," Hudler said tongue-in-cheek, referring to President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

When Hudler served in the Gulf War, he left behind his son, Ben, then 2. Now he's also leaving behind Jamie, 2.

While Hudler, who repairs helicopters, seemed upbeat, his wife wiped away tears.

"It's tougher this time" than during the Gulf War, said Sue Hudler, 43. "We're more established as a family, and I'm older."

Said James Hudler: "I wouldn't want to walk up to somebody else and ask them to go for me."

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