Hometown supports Illinois soldiers

Hometown supporters of the 1544th Transportation Company of the Illinois Army National Guard have raised about $10,000 to buy radios and Global Positioning System receivers since the unit deployed to Iraq last spring.

Robert Sinclair, an accountant and a former member of the 1544th who served during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s, said friends, family members and Paris, Ill., area businesses decided to buy 90 citizens band (CB) radios for the local unit's soldiers because they did not have enough military radios to support their convoy duties in Iraq.

Sinclair said the 1544th has 63 vehicles for running convoys in Iraq, but had only about 13 Army-furnished Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (Singcars) radios when it deployed.

This meant that, at most, only two vehicles in any given convoy were equipped with Army radios, with the drivers in the other eight vehicles forced to communicate with arm and hand signals, Sinclair said.

The CB radios now allow all the vehicles in a convoy to communicate with one another when they trigger a mine or the roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Sinclair said.

The 170 soldiers in the 1544th have encountered more than their share of IEDs, with five people killed and more than 20 wounded. Sinclair said he is convinced the CB radios have saved lives by giving the soldiers a means to quickly call for help.

The soldiers of the 1544th exercise strict communication discipline with the nonmilitary radios, Sinclair said. They are aware that enemies can intercept unencrypted communications from the commercial radios, and they use the CBs only if they have been attacked or have struck an IED. "At that point, the enemy already knows where you are," he added.

Besides the CB radios, Sinclair said supporters of the 1544th also bought 10 Rino 120 GPS receivers from Garmin. The Rino 120s also have built-in two-way radios, but Sinclair said members of the 1544th primarily use the devices as GPS receivers.

Col. Al Woodhouse, director of current operations in the Army's Office of the Chief Information Officer, said Army officials plan to ship more than 40,000 radios to troops in Iraq between now and April 2005 to make up for a shortage that has forced active, National Guard and Reserve units to buy their own equipment.

The Army's shipments will include 21,000 lightweight portable radios bought from Icom America in a sole-source deal valued at $32 million and 20,000 Singcars radios supplied by ITT Industries at a cost of $120 million.

Jim Cooper, a Paris resident who serves as chairman of the 1544th Family Readiness Group, said he was pleased to hear that Army officials have taken steps to rectify the radio shortage in Iraq, and perhaps they are "following our lead." Cooper's son, Spc. Matthew Cooper, serves in Iraq with the 1544th.

Supporters have also bought Army medical kits for the unit. Before the soldiers deployed, 42 of them received training as medics, but when it came time for deployment, the Army funded supplies for only 10 medics.

To make up for the shortfall, Cooper said, the community raised the money to buy kits for the additional 32 medics. Asked to explain why individuals and businesses in Paris have dug so deep into their pockets for the 1544th, Cooper said, "These are our kids. We need to take care of them."

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