ALBANY, Ga. (AP) Years before the citizen-soldiers of Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade began patrolling the deadly roads of Iraq, they nabbed me as a possible spy. They marched me around at gunpoint, but in the end I was able to convince them I was only a nosey reporter – a staff sergeant, on National Guard duty like they were. The experience is one of the memories I have of covering the 48th from 1984 when the brigade’s current commander, Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver, was just a captain until I retired from the Georgia Army National Guard in 2002. People join the National Guard for various reasons: patriotism, a desire to serve their country, technical training, educational benefits, a spirit of adventure and, sometimes, all of the above. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week But a major reason they stay in the 48th Brigade is camaraderie. The close bonds have intensified brigade members’ grief over the loss of 18 of their comrades in Iraq since June, including 11 during back-to-back roadside bombings over a bloody 11 days in July and August. The death of a soldier is hard enough on active-duty units, whose members can come from everywhere. But in the case of a Guard unit, it can mean the loss of a childhood playmate, a high-school chum, a best friend, or even a relative. I remember the brigade soldiers as hearty, resourceful good ‘ol boys who were most comfortable in Georgia’s forests and swamps where many hunted deer or wild hogs all their lives. Many hailed from small towns all over the state Dalton in the northwest, famous for carpets; Fort Valley in the center, known for peaches; and Reidsville and Vidalia in the southeast, renowned for sweet onions. In the ’80s, some would report for annual training with their pickup beds loaded with watermelons or onions to share with the other brigade members. Those who arrived early hosted fish fries before the multitudes rolled into Fort Stewart, near Savannah. The arrival of the 4,000-member brigade, Georgia’s largest Guard unit, was the top training event of the year. It united people from all backgrounds, from big-city attorneys to farmers to loggers to factory workers, in a common purpose: being prepared for combat if the nation called. While their camps may have begun with the affability of a family reunion, the Guardsmen quickly got down to the serious business of training for war. After a day or so of preparation, they’d gun the engines of their M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees and disappear down the tank trails that crisscross the 280,000-acre Army post. My unit, the 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of Atlanta, often attended annual training with the brigade, although we were not part of the 48th. We reported on the brigade’s training for hometown newspapers and radio stations. A few months after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the brigade was mobilized for the Gulf War and sent to Fort Irwin, Calif., for 56 grueling days of training. My unit was also mobilized and tagged along to publish a weekly newspaper for the 48th. By the time the brigade was declared combat ready, the short ground war had ended. The soldiers returned to Georgia disappointed, but were welcomed back with parades and ceremonies in their hometowns. In 1996, the brigade returned to Fort Irwin and that’s when I was captured. As a part of an exercise, the brigade soldiers were warned to watch out for provocateurs and spies, even some posing as reporters, sent by the fictitious nation of Krasnovia. Six members of my outfit were assigned to cover the training. Soldiers of the 48th viewed us as potential spies, or at least as people who could get them chewed out for being gullible. They refused interviews and balked at posing for photos. We persisted, but to no avail. Finally, their first sergeant happened by and I unleashed a string of insults. “Hey, he can’t talk to our first sergeant that way,” one of them said. The next thing I knew, six of them were marching me at gunpoint to a mission control center to find out who I really was friend or foe. As we entered the building, I held up my hands in a surrender pose, clutching my notepad. We all broke into laughter, even my captors, who had been deadly serious until then. Now even my old unit is headed for Iraq. I hope they make it back safely. Associated Press correspondent Elliott Minor was a Georgia Army National Guard reporter who covered the 48th Infantry Brigade from 1984 to 2002. The 48th Brigade has lost 18 of its members in Iraq since June. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!