Room to Play
18 Images

Training, Preparation, Goodbyes & Departure

Room to Play
Sgt. Maj. John Isberter entertains daughter Erin, 2, in a hangar at the former Norton air base in San Bernardino. The last time a California National Guard unit was sent into combat was in the Korean War. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Guardsman Eric Burden and daughter Kayla in San Bernardino. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Family Time
Spec. Nicholas Navarro, a member of a California National Guard unit preparing to go to Iraq, spends time with his wife, Rhiannon, and daughter, Makenna, at the old Norton air base in San Bernardino. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
The buzz.
Spc. Juan Morales visits the barber in preparation for training. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Readiness test
Members of the National Guard’s 81st Armor Brigade prepare to raid a mock village at Ft. Irwin, where units are trained for deployments in Iraq. These men, who will be part of the largest rotation of National Guard forces into a foreign combat zone since the Korean War, shipped out in mid-March. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Second career
Spc. Gregory Shirk, a retired Visalia, Calif., grocery executive, joined the Guard seeking adventure and public service. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Preparing for the worst
National Guard members practice evacuating a casualty during exercise at Ft. Irwin, in the high desert northeast of Barstow. About 2,000 troops from the Guard who are residents of California are scheduled to be in Iraq until at least spring 2005. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Like the real thing
National Guard Spc. Travis St. George participates in a battlefield simulation at the Army’s National Training Center at Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Human element
Iraqi Americans keep warm as they wait to portray local residents in an training exercise involving a weapons search of a mock village. Troops failed twice to control them. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Last hug
Spc. Garth Anderson says goodbye to wife, Melissa, and daughter Paige, 2. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Love letters
From left, Melanie Dickinson, Elsa Versteeg and Colleen Phillips write letters to their husbands. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
So long
A National Guardsman waves to friends and family during a final gathering at Ft. Irwin before troops head to a one-year assignment in Iraq. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Spc. Greg Shirk smokes a cigarette and collects his thoughts before reporting to Ft. Irwin. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger autographs boonie hats
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger autographs boonie hats for Guardsmen during a visit to Fort Irwin. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Playing with son
Greg Shirk spends time with his son Sam, 4, during a final three-day leave in Visalia before Shirk, a 44-year-old Guardsman, heads to Iraq. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “I should have had my head examined. This stuff is for 18-year-olds.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Spc. Greg Shirk of Visalia says goodbye to his stepfather, Leonard Whitney, as he leaves for a year in Iraq. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Jim Kolkas, a VFW volunteer at right, bids farewell to a member of the California National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 185th Armored Regiment, before a year-long deployment to Iraq. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Flight to Kuwait
Members of the National Guard ‘s First Batallion, 185th Regiment, board a charter jet at the former George Air Force Base in Victorville for a flight to Kuwait. (Luis Sinco / LAT)