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Drill instructors deploying to train future Iraqi warriors

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DEVENS — Eighteen Army Reserve soldiers, experienced drill instructors from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 304th Regiment, are spending their Independence Day deploying from Devens to Fort Knox, Ky. in support of the Global War on Terror.

The soldiers, their families, their commander, and VFW members participated in a send-off at the Spring Hill Suites here, June 27.

At Fort Knox, the male and female D.I.’s will conduct basic combat training and passing their knowledge as combat veterans to future U.S. Army soldiers. The troops they train will be deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan from basic training.

This was the second deployment for Delta Company. It first mobilized in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, tasked with training the Iraqi Army. Many gained combat experience fighting insurgency beside the troops they personally trained. The unit returned home in October 2005.

One of their number, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Gosler is making his second deployment to Afghanistan.

“The D.I.’s did a lot of good work (in Iraq). Some saw heavy action in 2004-2005,” said battalion commander, Maj. Russell Bonaccorso Jr.

He said finding a place to train has been a challenge. Devens South Post is the prime area, however restrictions limit use of the type of weaponry used for the unique Iraq and Afghanistan training. The overseas tours used to be 12 months with three months of “trainup.” Now, when troops hit the ground, they are involved for a total of 12 months.

“Because of the way things are now, we’re mobilizing drill sergeants for basic combat training because drill instructors are staying with their regular Army units,” explained 1st Sgt. Carlos Lopez.

Regimental commander, Col. Paul Wegman, flew up from Tampa, Fl. for the send-off.

“I have tremendous respect for these guys,” he said.

Wegman, a specialist in psychological operations, said of Iraq, “It’s the guy in the middle we look at, the guy offered $200 to plant an I. E. D. (improvised explosive device) or his family will be killed.

“The hard core will never go away. You can argue why we went to Iraq but, it was a functioning country bordering on a first class nation — although corrupt — if we leave now, we leave a mess,” Wegman said.

Three of the drill instructors are female — two of them Staff Sgt. Dinorah Bonifaco and Sgt. 1st Class Trina Mitchell, of Massachusetts.

Both assured this reporter they can “bring smoke,” as the Army expression goes. Their assurance was delivered with a dead level stare. There is, they say, no difference between male and female drill instructors. In fact, said a male counterpart, the women can be scarier.

Both would recommend the Army.

“It depends upon what you want to do,” Mitchell said.

“It takes a lot of dedication when you make that decision,” Bonifaco added.

Bonaccorso told the assemblage, “It will be very important, especially for you folks with combat experience to bring your expertise to the fore. Thank you for the mission you are about to take.”

District VFW Commander Gene Pawlik of Derry, N.H., whose post “adopted” the battalion and paid for the send-off, reminded the troops of the VFW help available to them.

“You are taking care of training our nation’s finest. God bless you for what you do,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class, retired, William Graser, a Vietnam veteran and battalion Readiness Group Leader, explained how families will be taken care of in the soldier’s absence.

“As an older soldier I can relate to combat experience. Anything I can do feel free to call,” Graser said.

Representatives of the Army Reserve Family Programs handed out knapsacks to each child. Tanya Rioux, Family Assistance Center supervisor for Massachusetts, introduced team members amongst the soldier’s wives and the support her organization offers.

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