Illinois Soldiers Now in the Middle of Egypt Tension

Article excerpt

Like swirling riptides, there are two undercurrents pulling and pushing the crisis in Egypt.

Israel and the Suez Canal.

A half-world away, 440 Illinois National Guard troopers are right between the two -- literally.

They are stationed on the Sinai Peninsula, with the main chunk of Egypt to the west, Israel to the east and the Suez Canal just to the north a bit.

The Illinois Guard's 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment deployed to Egypt last May to take up positions with an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Now, the home state soldiers find themselves surrounded by anything but peace -- and they aren't scheduled to come home until May.

"I didn't want to see him gone for a year, but knowing it was Egypt and it was a peacekeeping mission was comforting," said Cara Muncy, whose husband is among the Illinois soldiers stationed in Egypt.

Sgt 1st Class Herbert W. Muncy, 38, of Joliet, is a lawman by trade. Platoon sergeant Muncy had been an Aurora policeman and a Kendall County deputy sheriff before going to work four years ago as a correctional officer at Stateville Prison in Joliet.

As do many members of the Illinois National Guard, Muncy volunteered with a unit miles away from his home in suburban Chicago. The 123rd Field Artillery Regiment is based in Milan, Ill., near the Quad Cities on the west side of the state.

He is among more than a dozen soldiers from metro Chicago, many from North Riverside, who are in that unit and deployed to Egypt. None of them could have known that they would end up in a tense region where rioting has taken hold of Cairo and Alexandria with violent demonstrations demanding a regime change.

As always in the Middle East, the conflict is fueled by a hatred of Israel and disagreement about how Egyptian officials -- and its major ally, the United States -- are aiding Israel. Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of foreign aid provided by the United States.

The second undercurrent of concern for American officials, the Suez Canal, is for now operating normally. If the 4 million barrels of crude oil shipped through the canal or an adjacent pipeline every day are interrupted, the stakes will be increased.

Those 440 "peacekeepers" from Illinois could find themselves at the forefront of a much more daunting mission. …