By Emily Baker and Mollie Miller

Killeen Daily Herald

The 4th Infantry Divisions newest brigades combat training is expected to be put on hold because of the threat of Hurricane Rita, the divisions spokesman confirmed Thursday.

We are maximizing training time without jeopardizing our troops, Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said.

The divisions 4th Brigade Combat Team, formed in December as the division changed to meet the Armys new modular design, is in the midst of a mission rehearsal exercise in Fort Hoods training area.

Brigades typically undergo this type of training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. The brigade is training at Fort Hood instead to save time before leaving for Iraq in the coming weeks.

Soldiers are expected to return from the field by this afternoon, according to a news release from the divisions public affairs office Thursday.

More than 500 soldiers and civilian contractors from the Fort Polk center will be housed in the Starker and Raider gyms, which have been turned into temporary shelters, the release stated.

Vehicles will be protected in motor pools, and the divisions aircraft that cannot be put into hangars will be moved to Biggs Army Airfield at Fort Bliss, the release stated.

Withington said training will resume as soon as possible. The divisions commander, Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, will determine how the suspension will affect the overall training schedule.

Training for 1st Cavalry Division soldiers also was interrupted by Hurricane Rita preparations.

Ranges scheduled for the weekend were canceled for safety reasons, said Master Sgt. Dave Larsen, a 1st Cavalry spokesman.

Members of the Air Forces 11th Air Support Operations Squadron, 3rd Air Support Operations Group, are participating in the training and also will be called in from the field, said Col. Dave Belote, the groups commander. The squadron coordinates the Air Forces air power with the 4th Infantrys ground operations.

The groups 3rd Weather Squadron is monitoring the sky and providing updates every six hours to the III Corps staff, which is nothing out of the ordinary, Belote said.

That is our role, Belote said. Our forecasters are hooked into the greater Air Force weather system and the National Hurricane Center. We have made a few extra personnel available 24-7 to advise III Corps.

Other Air Force units were working to batten down the hatches and protect the taxpayers investments as III Corps directs and be prepared to deploy in support of III Corps if needed, Belote said.

Across the post, units and organizations also were finalizing hurricane preparations Thursday afternoon.

Darnall Army Community Hospital staff announced that only emergency services will be offered after the close of business today. No routine care including normal walk-in Saturday appointments will be available.

The (emergency room) is going to have more capability than normal, said Maj. Tim Bergeron, the hospitals spokesman. We are fully prepared to take care of our patients.

Bergeron urged patients to stock up on their medications today because the out-patient pharmacies will be closed Saturday.

We will re-evaluate the situation Saturday afternoon to determine if we can open up services again on Sunday, he said.

The Operational Test Command does not have any testing planned in Central Texas that will be disrupted by severe weather, said Sofia Sanchez, the commands spokeswoman.

One test team returned from a site early because of the approaching hurricane, Sanchez said. No other information was available.

The command was concentrating on updating emergency rosters, Sanchez said.

We are giving our folks here ... some time to get their families taken care of and to take care of personal things, Sanchez said.

Several hundred miles away, soldiers from the 13th Corps Support Command who remain committed to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts were settling into a warehouse in Hammond, La., on Thursday. Moved from their camp at the New Orleans Airport for safety reasons, the soldiers were in a mission holding pattern waiting out the storm, said Maj. Jay Adams, the commands spokesman.

Our mission right now is to stay out of harms way so we are ready to respond when we need to, Adams said.

Noting living conditions in Hammond were less than luxurious, Adams said the commands primary concern for the soldiers is safety. He said the warehouse was safer than a tent in a hurricane.

We feel good that we have taken the precautions necessary to keep our soldiers safe, Adams said.

Once the threat of Hurricane Rita has passed, Adams said the commands future mission in Louisiana will be determined.

A decision will be made on whether we continue relief operations here in Louisiana, are moved to support relief operations in Texas or released because local, state and other federal agencies are capable of executing without our help, Adams said.

Active Army troops have not yet been put on alert to respond to Hurricane Rita relief, but preparation plans are still under way, a III Corps spokeswoman said Thursday.

Contact Emily Baker at and Mollie Miller at mollie@

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