SPOKESMAN: Here we go.
TOM BEARDEN: Enjoying an unusually mild Colorado night earlier this week, soldiers of Fort Carson's first battalion, eighth infantry, were attaching the last tie-downs to their humvees. The mechanized infantry unit had spent the last several days loading their tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, trucks and other equipment onto railcars for shipment to a port, eventually to be loaded onto ships.
SPOKESMAN: This doesn't hurt at all.
TOM BEARDEN: The soldiers were also busy getting vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax, completing medical and dental exams, and making sure their legal affairs are in order.
WOMAN: Guys, to make this a little easier, please form a line coming this way. We have to check you off as you come through.
TOM BEARDEN: The deployment of these 4,000 troops is the largest to occur at Fort Carson since the Vietnam War. They are part of 95,000 active duty soldiers who have received orders to the Middle East in the last several months.
SPOKESMAN: The mountain post team leads the army in organizations and facilities to help the deploying family.
TOM BEARDEN: But it's not just the soldiers who have been getting ready to deploy. Making sure dependents will be well cared for has become an ever-expanding mission for the army. This battalion has held a series of meetings to acquaint families with the services available to them: Child care, access to attorneys, low interest emergency loans. Lieutenant Col. Phil Battaglia has been the battalion commander for the past two years. He and his wife, Diane, who is a reserve army lieutenant colonel herself, provide the leadership for the unit's family readiness group.
TOM BEARDEN: Why is it important for them to be prepared?
DIANE BATTAGLIA: It gives the soldiers a peace of mind. They can go and they can concentrate on their mission and accomplish their mission much better if the family members back home can take care of themselves and have a support network in place in case problems arise.
SPOKESMAN: I guess I'm concerned about the staffing of the D.S.R.P. Site.
TOM BEARDEN: Judy Woolley helps facilitate that support. She's the director of Fort Carson's Family Readiness Center, a one-stop family assistance center that has been established as a pilot program for the entire army.
TOM BEARDEN: What kind of problems typically come up?
JUDY WOOLLEY: Anything from problems with children: As far as childcare, illnesses, resolving school issues. We also have problems come up with financial concerns: Paying rent, providing food, different type of subsistence-type issues.
TOM BEARDEN: Soldiers in this unit are not without experience being away from home. There are frequent field training exercises that take them away from their families for weeks, even months. But this deployment is different.
TOM BEARDEN: Where is the first battalion going?
LT. COL. PHIL BATTAGLIA: Well, our deployment orders are for the central command area of operation.
TOM BEARDEN: But you don't know specifically where?
LT. COL. PHIL BATTAGLIA: No.
TOM BEARDEN: Does that cause problems for families, not knowing where their soldiers are going to be?
LT. COL. PHIL BATTAGLIA: Certainly there is a little bit of anxiety about where we're going.
TOM BEARDEN: The central command area includes the Middle East and Northern Africa. For specialist Matt Fain, who has been in the army for just two years, this will be the first time he has been deployed outside of the United States. He, his wife, Ariel, and daughter, Lara, know their time together is getting short. Not only don't they know where Matt is going, they don't know how long he'll be gone.
SPECIALIST MATT FAIN: I don't like being away from my family, but it's the nature of the job I do.
TOM BEARDEN: Will you worry about them while you're gone?
SPECIALIST MATT FAIN: Well, somewhat, but my wife's pretty capable. I mean, I'm not worried about the house because she takes care of everything.
ARIEL FAIN: I'm apprehensive, but this is the first time, so I'm not quite sure, you know, what to expect, but we're trying to get as many things taken care of, you know, before he goes.
TOM BEARDEN: Also, unlike training separations, Ariel won't be able to reach Matt to discuss important decisions. For peacekeeping deployments like Bosnia, the Pentagon sets up telephone and Internet access. That won't happen this time. Lieutenant Col. Battaglia told the unit that they would probably be completely out of contact, including mail service, for at least a month. And unit members have been ordered to leave their cell phones at home.
LT. COL. PHIL BATTAGALIA: And the reason for that is somewhat obvious. First of all, operational security. We don't want soldiers to divulge any information of troop location, troop movement on an unsecured means. Second of all is, of course, for information. We don't want a piece of information, which may be incorrect that goes directly to the family, and it gets passed out and spread out through the families without having been, you know, first of all, verified.
TOM BEARDEN: Administrator Woolley says the lack of communication will be tough for many people who have become reliant on easy access.
JUDY WOOLLEY: I think it will create significant concerns for family members. We live in a fairly instant communication society right now-- cell phones and email. And they're practically an everyday way of life. And if they don't have that suddenly and they haven't prepared for it, the spouse is going to be forced to make decisions and do things that she's not going to be able... he or she is not going to be able to consult the soldier. And so that's going to put more responsibility on the spouse to be independent, self-sufficient and self-reliant during the deployment.
TOM BEARDEN: As the first battalion waits for its movement orders, the normal training routine continues. The soldiers are putting in last-minute practice sessions in state-of-the art Bradlee fighting vehicle simulators.
SPOKESMAN: I got you off my left side.
TOM BEARDEN: The first battalion is standing by, ready to board chartered commercial aircraft on 72 hours notice.