02/15/04 — Crowd says farewell to National Guard

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Crowd says farewell to National Guard

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on February 15, 2004 2:03 AM

FAYETTEVILLE -- A large crowd filled the Crown Coliseum on Thursday to bid farewell to nearly 5,000 soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard's 30th Heavy Separate Brigade, which includes members from Wayne County.

The 230th Support Battalion is part of the brigade and two of its units, the Charlie Medical Company and the Headquarters Company, are based in Goldsboro. More than 250 soldiers combined from these two units are being deployed.

It is the largest call-up of N.C. National Guard soldiers since World War II, and the brigade is the first full National Guard combat brigade activated and deployed for service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"This is truly a historic month," said Maj. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., adjutant general of the N.C. National Guard.

He addressed the soldiers, who were all sitting on one side of the coliseum and dressed in their desert camouflage uniforms, with their friends and family members on the other side.

Ingram said they are ready for the mission and will make history in Iraq. He also said that those at home are committed to making sure that all is well with their families and their jobs when they return from deployment.

The brigade, which was officially ordered on Oct. 1 by the U.S. Army to active duty, is based in Clinton and has armories in communities from Wilmington to Charlotte. It also includes soldiers from West Virginia, New York, Illinois, Alabama, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas and California.

The soldiers arrived in Goldsboro on Sept. 20 to begin preparing for deployment. A farewell ceremony was held later that month at the armory on U.S. 117 South. They left for Fort Bragg in early October and went through a federal mobilization process around November. They then traveled to Fort Polk in Louisiana to go through a rehearsal exercise. They returned to Fort Bragg to make final preparations to deploy within the next few weeks.

They also endured three weeks of training in June in over 110-degree heat at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, Calif. They joined over 6,000 National Guardsmen in one of the largest training exercises in the Guard's history, called Tarheel Thunder.

"You are ready and we are ready to support you all the way," said Gov. Mike Easley. He was joined by congressional delegates; Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; Maj. Gen. Dennis E. Hardy, 24th Infantry Division commander, and other leaders.

"You are our citizen Army, we are indebted to you," added Easley. "I wish you God speed and a safe return to your homes and families."

Myers said the mission is extremely important and is one that will change the course of history.

He said he expects the soldiers to be courageous, great warriors who take to Iraq the character and compassion they were brought up with. He thanked the families and employers for their sacrifices and said there will be more predictability in future deployments with regards to when soldiers will leave and return.

The ceremony concluded with Easley and others presenting a N.C. state flag that will be placed in the brigade's headquarters throughout its deployment. The singing of "God Bless America" followed as everyone stood, cheered and waved their flags high.

Following the event, the soldiers gathered by unit in the nearby exposition center and then were released to join their families and have the weekend off before returning to Fort Bragg.

Pfc. Jacob Bowen has been with the 230th headquarters company since September and said he is expecting to be deployed for a year. He is a student at East Carolina University.

"We've always been ready to go," he said.

The headquarters company is the epicenter of the battalion, making sure the equipment, machinery and everything else is running and ready to go, added Bowen.

He said Christmas was the last time he was able to spend much time with his family, which waited for him outside after the ceremony. They traveled from Burlington to participate.

His mom, Susan, said she enjoyed the event and felt a great sense of pride for her son.

"We are proud that he is going to do what is necessary for the country," she added.

Staff Sgt. Paul Garrett, 37, has been with the headquarters company since 1995 and planned on traveling back home to Clayton for the weekend.

He said the ceremony showed the support that families have for the soldiers.

"I feel like I'm being a part of a bigger cause," added Garrett.