First N.H. Guard company to be deployed

CONCORD – About 140 guardsmen and guardswomen will be deployed to Iraq next month, the first company from New Hampshire to be sent there since Operation Iraqi Freedom began last year.

The 744th Transportation Company, headquartered in Hillsborough, will leave for the Middle East on or about Dec. 7 for a tour of duty of up to 18 months, according to officials from the New Hampshire National Guard.

The 744th’s primary mission will be to transport dry and refrigerated goods, water, general cargo and petroleum products to ground units, guard officials say.

“Our company is made up of talented and motivated soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers,” company commander Capt. Mary Bergner said in a prepared statement released Wednesday morning.

“We have strong leaders and_soldiers determined to take on the difficult responsibilities that lie ahead.”

Troop morale is high despite the prospect of being away from families during the holiday season, said Bergner, who took command of the company last month.

Though a number of Granite State soldiers in the U.S. Army National Guard and Air National Guard are serving in Iraq, only one person attached to a New Hampshire unit has been deployed since the war began, said Capt. Gregory Heilshorn, the guard’s state public affairs officer.

Most of the other guardsmen from New Hampshire in Iraq are attached to companies based in Massachusetts.

The exception is Master Sgt. John Negrotti, of Plaistow, who is serving as an airfield manager at the Baghdad Airport. Negrotti has been in Iraq since July, deployed because of his specialty, “bringing primitive airports up to speed so coalition aircraft and humanitarian aid can land,” Heilshorn said.

The 744th’s deployment isn’t a surprise, though no one knew exactly when it would be coming.

“I didn’t have any inside information. I knew eventually we probably would be called,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Shea, 39, of Pembroke, who has been with the 744th for 14 years.

“Those boys over there need to come home. They’ve done their time,” Shea said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Hillsborough, where he is stationed full time.

Some members of the company have seen action before. Of the roughly 140 men and women with the company, about 23 or 24 served during the Persian Gulf War, including himself, Shea said.

“The last time we were deployed, it was much harder on the families back home” than on the soldiers, he said.

“We’ll have one another. We’ll comfort one another.”

There is a support system for the family, a group headed by a wife from each of the company’s three battalions. The group provides family functions, organizing bus trips to take children to the circus, for example.

It also provides a support network, allowing soldiers’ spouses to get together for coffee.

“The keys to a soldier’s success are knowing that his or her family supports them and knowing there are people around that support their family,” Bergner said in the prepared statement. “During a deployment, the bond between soldiers’ families is as important as the bond between soldiers and their unit.”

For the soldiers, there’s much to do to prepare, but with help.

“We’ll get all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed when it comes to paperwork,” Shea said.

Various ages are represented in the company, with Shea being one of the graybeards of the bunch.

“We have a lot of, I call them kids. I guess I’m one of our elder statesmen,” he said.

What the soldiers share, regardless of age, is a willingness to serve, Shea said.

“We’re all proud to be doing our duty,” he said. “We all back our commander in chief. Whatever it takes to get the job done, we’ll do it.”