More troubling, a number of the soldiers said, is that the training they have received is so poor and equipment shortages so prevalent that they fear their casualty rate will be needlessly high when they arrive in Iraq early next year. "We are going to pay for this in blood," one soldier said.
They said they believed their treatment and training reflected an institutional bias against National Guard troops by commanders in the active-duty Army, an allegation that Army commanders denied.
The 680 soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment were activated in August and are preparing for deployment at Doña Ana, a former World War II prisoner-of-war camp 20 miles west of its large parent base, Ft. Bliss, Texas.
Members of the battalion, headquartered in Modesto, said in two dozen interviews that they were allowed no visitors or travel passes, had scant contact with their families and that morale was terrible.
"I feel like an inmate with a weapon," said Cpl. Jajuane Smith, 31, a six-year Guard veteran from Fresno who works for an armored transport company when not on active duty.
Several soldiers have fled Doña Ana by vaulting over rolls of barbed wire that surround the small camp, the soldiers interviewed said. Others, they said, are contemplating going AWOL, at least temporarily, to reunite with their families for Thanksgiving.
Army commanders said the concerns were an inevitable result of the decision to shore up the strained military by turning "citizen soldiers" into fully integrated, front-line combat troops. About 40% of the troops in Iraq are either reservists or National Guard troops.
Lt. Col. Michael Hubbard of Ft. Bliss said the military must confine the soldiers largely to Doña Ana to ensure that their training is complete before they are sent to Iraq.
"A lot of these individuals are used to doing this two days a month and then going home," Hubbard said. "Now the job is 24/7. And they experience culture shock."
But many of the soldiers interviewed said the problems they cited went much deeper than culture shock.
And military analysts agree that tensions between active-duty Army soldiers and National Guard troops have been exacerbated as the war in Iraq has required dangerous and long-term deployments of both.
The concerns of the Guard troops at Doña Ana represent the latest in a series of incidents involving allegations that a two-tier system has shortchanged reservist and National Guard units compared with their active-duty counterparts.
In September, a National Guard battalion undergoing accelerated training at Ft. Dix, N.J., was confined to barracks for two weeks after 13 soldiers reportedly went AWOL to see family before shipping out for Iraq.
Last month, an Army National Guard platoon at Camp Shelby, Miss., refused its orders after voicing concerns about training conditions and poor leadership.
In the most highly publicized incident, in October, more than two dozen Army reservists in Iraq refused to drive a fuel convoy to a town north of Baghdad after arguing that the trucks they had been given were not armored for combat duty.
At Doña Ana, soldiers have questioned their commanders about conditions at the camp, occasionally breaking the protocol of formation drills to do so. They said they had been told repeatedly that they could not be trusted because they were not active-duty soldiers — though many of them are former active-duty soldiers.
"I'm a cop. I've got a career, a house, a family, a college degree," said one sergeant, who lives in Southern California and spoke, like most of the soldiers, on condition of anonymity.
"I came back to the National Guard specifically to go to Baghdad, because I believed in it, believed in the mission. But I have regretted every day of it. This is demoralizing, demeaning, degrading. And we're supposed to be ambassadors to another country? We're supposed to go to war like this?"