12/15/08 — Getting ready for duty: Local service members have a chance to gather before deployments begin

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Getting ready for duty: Local service members have a chance to gather before deployments begin

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 15, 2008 1:46 PM

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N.C. National Guard Spc. Elise Jensen, right, and Pfc. Crystal Fischer, talk about their pending deployment to Iraq. The soldiers are among 200 from the Goldsboro-based 230th Brigade Support Battalion who will start nine-and-a-half-month tours in April.

A young man sitting on a truck bed was among those gathered Sunday at the Dillard/Goldsboro Alumni center.

He smiled as he grabbed his girlfriend's hand -- but his expression turned more serious when he pulled her in for one more embrace, one more kiss.

He knew that a few minutes later, he and the other uniform-clad men and women scattered across the grounds would be on their way back to work.

A tear-filled deployment ceremony and send-off celebration marked the first opportunity for members of the N.C. National Guard's 230th Brigade Support Battalion to say goodbye.

Between now and April, when they leave for Iraq, days off will come few and far between.

Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Bernard Williford knows this.

Maybe that is why his emotions got the best of him during his address to the soldiers and loved ones on hand.

His own family was among the 300-plus faces in the crowd.

"You have the biggest sacrifice," he said, taking a long pause to gather himself. "It's easy for us."

The unit has, in fact, been to Iraq before.

In 2004, it was attached to the Army's 1st Infantry Division and members of the 230th were called on to provide support on many different levels -- from medical assistance and fuel and ammunition supply to water purification and distribution.

Specialist Elise Jensen was there.

She joined the National Guard after Sept. 11, 2001.

"9/11 did it for me," she said. "I had never thought about joining the military until then."

So as she prepares for her second tour, she keeps the emotions from that day fresh.

"I just have a heart for it," she said.

Still, she knows that leaving her "significant other" behind for a nine-month tour will be difficult.

"That's probably the hardest thing," she said. "But he knows this is also part of my heart."

Private 1st Class Crystal Fischer wasn't old enough to serve the last time the 230th was sent to war.

But she never doubted that one day, she would wear her country's uniform.

"When I joined, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. But we have so many freedoms, I think sometimes, we take them for granted," the 21-year-old said. "I think everyone should serve."

At least 500 members of the 230th will now go into intense training -- participating, first, in basic combat skills training at Fort Bragg.

Then, after a 10-day leave for the holidays, they are off to Mississippi for two more months of gear-up.

Their final test will take place deep in the Mojave Desert only a few days before their nine-and-a-half month tour begins.

N.C. National Guard Adjunct General Maj. Gen. William Ingram Jr. knows the next year will be a trying one for those under his command.

"It's a little happier coming home than it is going away," he told them. "We know that."

But each, he added, should feel confident that they have been prepared for the fight ahead.

"The U.S. Army is the envy of the world," Ingram said. "You know your job. You know it well. You are well-trained, well-led."

And their families should be confident, too.

After all, the communities that house them are known for wrapping their arms around those left behind for war, he said.

"It couldn't be better than it is in Goldsboro," Ingram said.

Mayor Al King vowed that his city would live up to its reputation -- that he would be among those offering support to both the soldiers and their loved ones.

The retired Air Force officer was once one of them.

"A lot of people see these brave soldiers and they get a sense of what they do. Well I don't have to guess," he said. I was there. I have seen combat. ... My year in Vietnam molded me. It completed my life.

"So we're with you, we'll pray for you, but most of all, we thank you."