LAS VEGAS - With thoughts of their families on their minds last weekend, about 200 of Nevada's citizen-soldiers continue to carry out dangerous missions in Iraq and count the days until next Christmas, when they hope they'll be back home.
"We have a threat around here, as usual for Christmas," Capt. Gabriella Cook, commander of the Army Reserve's Las Vegas-based 313th Military Police Detachment, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday, shortly after the 45 soldiers arrived in the Iraqi capital.
At the time, news was spreading about the mess tent bombing in Mosul, which killed at least 22 and injured scores more. Still, she said in a follow-up e-mail from Baghdad: "Morale is good."
Cook said most of the unit is working at the Baghdad police academy to train Iraqi security personnel. More than a dozen, she said, are conducting law-and-order missions at Camp Liberty, a U.S. base in the western part of the city.
The unit's members, known as "Blacksheep," arrived at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, about two weeks ago from Fort Lewis, Wash.
Before they left Kuwait for Baghdad, a few soldiers relayed their thoughts on being overseas for the holidays through an e-mail.
Master Sgt. Garren Fulmer, a 39-year-old Henderson firefighter who lives in Overton with his wife and 6-year-old daughter said: "You lose all feeling of time. It is like' Groundhog Day.'"
Cpl. Randy Leopard of Las Vegas said his spirits are up, but he misses his family the most. He wants to "complete the mission and get home."
In Fort Mohave, Ariz., Theresa Brooks, wife of Staff Sgt. Shawn Brooks, a 36-year-old Bullhead City, Ariz., police officer, said she has talked to her husband twice since the unit arrived in Kuwait.
"I guess it's hard seeing all the Christmas decorations and knowing he's not going to be here," she said by phone Thursday. "Our little 2-year-old, Kyle, keeps asking if daddy is coming home for Christmas. It's hard."
Theresa Brooks is expecting their second child in May. In an ultrasound examination this week, "the baby gave a two-thumbs up," she said.
She said she tries not to listen to news about the war.
"When you hear about the bombing of the mess tent, you wonder where he's at and if you're going to get the phone call," she said. "We love him and miss him and hope they're home soon."
The 313th's arrival in the Middle East followed on the heels of a Nevada Army National Guard unit from Henderson, the 1864th Transportation Company.
The company of some 160 soldiers is hauling ammunition and dry goods in armored trucks from Kuwait to locations in Iraq.
Barbara Phillips, wife of Sgt. 1st Class James Phillips in the 1864th, said his deployment has "been very emotional for me and my kids."
"My kids are not in the Christmas spirit, but I told them we've got to have Christmas even though daddy's not here," Barbara Phillips, 33.
Her husband, who worked as a security guard at The Venetian, called Thursday from Camp Navestar, Kuwait.
About 100 soldiers from another Nevada Army National Guard unit, the 321st Signal Company, have been in Kuwait nearly a year.