Briefed on their mission, N.E. soldiers answer call

By Milton J. Valencia and Abbie Ruzicka
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / December 2, 2009

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She knew the day would come soon enough. Ana Monteiro did not join the Massachusetts Army National Guard for the love of glory or of war, but for days like this, when she would know that her contribution to her country was both needed and appreciated.

If President Obama’s announcement last night did anything, it let recruits like Monteiro know that the time has come.

“He’s our commander in chief,’’ said Monteiro, a 27-year-old mother from Fall River, as she watched the president’s speech on television last night with her 9-year-old son. “We know our mission: to go over there, train their country, so they can stand on their own. We knew we would have to go to Afghanistan.’’

The president announced that he is dispatching 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan over the next six months. They will include area soldiers like Monteiro, a lieutenant with the 186th Brigade Support Battalion out of Quincy, who leaves for final training on Jan. 3, and then for Afghanistan.

She and others will join the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which includes the 101st Field Artillery regiment from Massachusetts and some 1,450 soldiers from the Vermont National Guard. Last night, New Hampshire National Guardsmen were honored in a deployment ceremony, before they head to Afghanistan as part of the brigade.

In all, more than 1,800 National Guardsmen from New England, including at least 200 from Massachusetts, will leave in the next two months as part of the 86th brigade. And that does not include the many area servicemen and women already serving in Afghanistan, or being deployed there as part of active duty units. By the end of 2010, some 2,000 National Guardsmen from Massachusetts will be serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From training police and security officers to conducting border patrol and battalion support, the soldiers are expected to play a critical role in what the president called “the common security of the world.’’

“It’s not the most peaceful thing to do, but it’s my job,’’ said Monteiro, a Portuguese immigrant who earned her US citizenship and joined the National Guard to fulfill a sense of duty. “It’s hard for my family, especially my son, but it’s something I’ve got to do.’’

Other states are preparing their own soldiers. In the largest deployment from Vermont since World War II, Major General Michael Dubie of the National Guard has reiterated his state’s response to President Lincoln’s call for troops in the Civil War, saying, “Vermont will do her full duty.’’

And in New Hampshire last night, 140 National Guardsmen, their friends, and family members gathered at the Milford Middle School for a farewell deployment ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance. With a giant American flag hanging from a Fire Department ladder truck outside the school, and signs of support inside the building, the soldiers were thanked for their service with rounds of applause by a standing-room-only crowd. They leave for training next week before heading to Afghanistan.

“Yes, I’m nervous, but I know it’s what I need to do,’’ said Mark McLynch, a 25-year-old from Manchester and a member of New Hampshire’s Mountain Division. He was there with his family and girlfriend, Kristina Tardiff, who added, “We just want him to come home safe.’’

Nick High, a 19-year-old from Manchester, was surrounded by a crowd of relatives, including a grandfather and great-great-uncle. He knew when he joined two years ago that his unit would be deployed to Afghanistan, and he was prepared. His older brother served two years in Iraq, a commitment noted by his mother, Kim.

“I’m just focused on getting the job done, and coming home safely,’’ Nick High said.

He, like others, took the president’s speech not as a policy statement but marching orders.

“I’m just doing what I get told to do,’’ he said.

Ana Monteiro’s deployment is the second in her family. Her younger sister, Benvinda, joined the Army as a full-time soldier, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, and took a second tour. She was part of a medical unit and then served with the military police.

Benvinda, 26, counseled her sister about the sacrifices: She told of the difficulties of a female serving in the military in a conservative country like Afghanistan. But she also told of fulfilling a duty, the one they each embraced when they put on their uniform.

“She told me what to expect,’’ Ana Monteiro said. “We have to complete the mission. And if we need more resources to complete the mission, that’s what we need to do.’’