Nation & World

National Guard unit is off to war again

The 4,000 or so members of the N.C. National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team may be united as soldiers, but they are divided by whether they are old enough to remember LP records and the end of the Vietnam War.

The 30th that is now preparing for a spring deployment to Iraq will be a younger brigade than the one sent to Diyala province in February 2004. Many of the brigade's older, more experienced soldiers retired after that deployment and have been replaced by younger recruits who have less invested in a civilian job and fewer family obligations, said 30th spokesman Maj. Al Hunt.

The average age in the brigade in 2004 was 36. It's down to 31. A portion of the 30th is now living in tents lined up on the mock forward operating base while in training at Fort Bragg.

In its last deployment, many of the brigade's members were old enough to have children the age of Pfc. Kelly LeCompte, who will deploy with her husband, Pfc. Nathan LeCompte, and her younger brother, Spec. James Britt.

The trio, each under the age of 30, represent the 30th's new, less-grizzled face.

"Everybody's either super-experienced, or brand-spanking new," said Britt, who will be on his first deployment since joining the Guard in 2005.

Kelly LeCompte was three classes from graduating from East Carolina University with a biology degree when she decided to trade the classroom for Kevlar. Her husband was a police officer in Greenville. Her brother was studying classical civilizations and religious philosophy at ECU. He's now scuba-certified and hopes to become an underwater archaeologist.

For now, though, all three are students of war. Nathan LeCompte and Britt are in infantry; Kelly LeCompte will be a combat journalist, documenting the 30th's work in Iraq.

Heavy losses in 2004

The brigade is made up of about 3,300 citizen-soldiers from North Carolina and another 700 or so from units in West Virginia. The brigade's first trip to Iraq made it the first National Guard brigade combat team to deploy to a war since the Korean War. During its year in Iraq, the brigade was involved in a fierce battle in Baqubah in June, which began when one of its units was ambushed.

In a day and a half of fighting, the 30th lost two soldiers. Three others were killed by IEDs during the deployment.

As it did before, the 30th will take its Bradley fighting vehicles to Iraq, along with armored Humvees. This time, the brigade will also take its tanks -- part of the heavy equipment that gives the brigade its name.

Beginning last month and running into January, the Guard is holding 26 departure ceremonies for the units that make up the 30th. They include units from nearly two dozen North Carolina cities and towns, from Wilmington to Charlotte. The brigade headquarters is in Clinton.

At 22, Britt may be among the youngest serving with the 30th. Even so, he is mature enough to view his deployment as more than an adventure.

"You have a heightened sense of awareness," he said. "The things we do here at Bragg -- you realize it's not for fun anymore. It's for the real thing."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer