Soldiers of the 230th Sustainment Brigade will get to spend the holidays with their families, but in January they'll be on their way to Iraq.

The more than 1,500 soldiers in the brigade have a unique mission -- to close or transfer to Iraqi forces U.S. bases spread across the entire southern half of the country.

"It has never been done before," said Lt. Col. Jeff Basham, the brigade's deputy commander.

"In all times past either we've done a total withdrawal -- like Vietnam -- or we stayed in country as the interim government, in force, for several years to build the country," Basham said.

The Tennessee Army National Guard unit could be the last American forces in many of the bases that they'll close.

On Saturday afternoon the soldiers swarmed around the Chattanooga National Guard Armory on Holtzclaw Avenue, packing equipment that's headed to their next destination -- Fort Bliss, Texas.

The next time the unit members are together at the armory, they'll be loading up on buses to the fort, where they'll spend at least two weeks being evaluated in a final training phase before their deployment.

It is the Chattanooga-based unit's first deployment. The brigade was established in 2005 to replace the 196th Field Artillery Brigade, which formally disbanded in 2008.

Though the unit is new and this is its first combat-zone mission, Basham said about 60 percent of the soldiers have deployed before, most of them to Iraq.

Sgt. David Young and Staff Sgt. Guy Hanington both have served tours in Iraq. Young went with the 181st Field Artillery Battalion out of Chattanooga in 2008. Hanington deployed twice, once with the 168th Military Police Battalion and again last year with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"I know what to expect this time," Young said. He was nervous during his first deployment, he said. He quickly learned to keep himself occupied and to take at least an hour each day to do something not work-related.

Hanington said this is his third, and possibly last, deployment to Iraq, and he's been thinking a lot about how consistent his missions have been.

During his first deployment his battalion was in charge of closing detainee operations at Camp Bucca. On the second tour the unit began the drawdown of U.S. forces in their area of Iraq. This mission continues that trend toward complete withdrawal.

He said that during Thanksgiving, relatives asked him about Iraq, what it was like beyond what they saw on television.

"I told them it is a conflict of cultures," he said. "But the biggest thing to remember is we're doing a lot more good than what's being shown."

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