Nearly 650 soldiers from the Iowa Army National Guard got word on Thursday that their current tour of duty will be extended, following the president’s announcement that he intends to beef up U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Lieutenant Colonel Greg Hapgood Word came from the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau that about 640 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers would be extended in the Iraq theatre for up to 125 days. Hapgood says the soldiers from the First Battalion 133rd Infantry have been over in Iraq since around April or May of last year.

Hapgood says their tour was scheduled to end in March or April of this 2007, but the "force requirements" in Iraq outlined in the president’s speech Wednesday night will require those units that are part of the First Brigade Combat Team to have their tour extended by up to four months. As the name suggests, Hapgood says the units from Iowa are part of a combat force. They conduct close combat with enemy forces, provide security for key terrain, facilities and installations, and also guard convoys.

"They are soldiers that are in the thick of things," Hapgood says, "and their services are greatly needed over there." This group has also suffered losses in the time since it’s been sent to the war zone.

This battalion’s seen two members killed in action. In September, Sergeant Scott Nicely and Sergeant Kampha Sourivong were killed in an attack by insurgents. There are 640 members in the First Battalion, 133rd Infantry, from Waterloo, Dubuque, Oelwein, Iowa Falls, Charles City, Fort Dodge, Storm Lake, Spencer, Algona and Estherville.