Suffolk National Guard unit deploys

Published 10:55 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spc. Michael Collins gets some much-needed rest early Wednesday morning after showing up to the Suffolk National Guard Armory for an Iraq deployment. In the background, Spc. James McCaffery catches up on his reading.

More than 130 National Guardsmen from the Suffolk unit departed Wednesday morning for a 400-day deployment to Iraq.

The unit joins about 720 other mobilized soldiers from throughout the state at Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, for training. The soldiers then will receive additional training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana before heading overseas.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do something different,” said Staff Sgt. Ian Gilliam, a Suffolk resident who works full-time as the trainer for the Army National Guard unit based in Suffolk. “It’s a change of pace.”

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The Suffolk unit, together with units from Norfolk and Virginia Beach, makes up the 430-soldier 2nd Squadron 183rd Cavalry Regiment. They will be joined by about 260 soldiers from the Fredericksburg-based Company A, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion and Company D, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, and about 130 soldiers from the Christiansburg-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment.

The Suffolk unit will be responsible for convoy security and base defense in Iraq, said its commander, Capt. Josh DeKeyser.

The unit’s deployment carries it past the Dec. 31 scheduled removal of forces in Iraq.

“At that point, we’re not really sure what’s going to happen,” DeKeyser said.

Among others, the unit’s 131 men and women include a Suffolk police officer and two sets of brothers.

“The sooner we leave, the sooner we get back,” said Spc. Derek Jackson, a patrol officer with Suffolk Police Department, explaining why he was excited to leave.

This is Jackson’s third and longest deployment. He served as an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army before joining the police department and the National Guard. His prior deployments lasted less than a year.

The Dougherty brothers, a fun-loving pair with a tendency to tease each other, both said they signed up for the National Guard in 2009 so their education would be paid for.

“I joined up because I wanted to serve my country, and this is the best way to get my school paid for,” said Spc. Robert Dougherty.

“I was going to say school first,” said Spc. Shannon Dougherty, laughing.

Both brothers said it would be easier to deploy with someone they’ve known their whole lives.

The Amarell brothers agreed. Sgt. Michael Amarell and Spc. Ehren Amarell said they would look after each other.

“We have a military mother, so she understands,” said Michael Amarell, the older of the two. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The Suffolk unit last deployed overseas from September 2007 to May 2008, where they conducted security operations in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

According to DeKeyser, the soldiers will be able to communicate with their families by email and phone for most of their deployment.