Guardsmen prepare for Iraq assignment

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From left, National Guardsmen Mark Matthews, Bryon Martinez, Dave Hodgson and Vincent Torres. Photo by Ginny Craven.


 

LUCERNE – Four young National Guardsmen who are scheduled to ship out next week in preparation for a mission to Iraq were honored at an afternoon get-together Wednesday.


Spc. Bryon Martinez, 23, of Corning; Spc. Vincent Torres, 20, of Red Bluff; Spc. Mark Matthews, 22, of Santa Monica; and Sgt. David Hodgson of Red Bluff are members of the 160th Infantry Unit which will leave for Mississippi May 29.


From there, they'll be sent to Iraq, although Martinez said they're not sure when they'll ship out for their 12-month deployment.


Veterans and community members gathered at Firehouse Pizza, which Martinez opened in February. The business had barely gotten off the ground before Martinez found out he was slated for deployment to Iraq.


Martinez invited his three friends over for some pizza and beer, and when local veterans found out, they joined the group for a going away party.


The four soldiers just completed two months of training in Mississippi. Hodgson said they studied convoy security, explosive device identification and removal, and risk assessments.


“Right now our main mission is protecting convoys,” said Martinez.


When necessary, he said, they'll also do “route clearance,” which means getting rid of explosive devices planted along roadsides. Hodgson said they'll drive humvees to protect the convoys.


Vietnam veteran Dean Gotham, who came to wish the young men well, said in his day their assignment was called “rough rider” duty.


Torres, who joined the National Guard two years ago for adventure, money for school and because he “wanted a challenge,” said he volunteered to go to Iraq. “I'd rather go when I'm prepared than go when I'm not.”


Hodgson – who at age 20 has nearly four years of time in the Guard, the most of the group – also got into the Guard to help build a career.


Matthews has a wife and 5-month-old son and has been in the Guard two years. Joining the military, he said, “was something I always wanted to do since I was a kid.”


Martinez and his wife, Sabrina, welcomed a new son, Zakary, on May 19. They also have a 5-year-old son, Kameron.


Gotham said he gave the young men some advice to keep them safe.


First, keep an ear cocked on the distance, Gotham said. Stay low, don't stand around in groups.


And keep your mouth open; that helps avoid serious concussion in case a bomb goes off nearby, he advised.


Gotham said he learned that lesson the hard way, while laying in a trench in Vietnam. A bomb hit the lip of the trench, he said, and because his jaw was clenched shut, it made the effects of the concussion just that much worse. As a result, he lost the hearing in his left ear.


Since March, when Martinez left for training, his longtime friends, Thomas, Cisco and Andreas Bobadilla, have been running the pizza parlor.


Business has been good, said Martinez. The Bobadillas have agreed to continue managing the business while he's away.


Martinez said he and his fellow soldiers expect to be home by August 2008.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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