July 25, 2007

Virginia communities honor Iraq-bound 3-116th Infantry

Soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and those who support them assemble at the Piedmont Virginia Community College Theater in Charlottesville, Va., for their deployment ceremony. The ceremony was one of five deployment ceremonies on June 26 that sent off Guardsmen from five different locations for 13 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

By Sgt. Jesse L. Houk
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Five deployment ceremonies were held throughout Virginia on June 26 to honor the six Virginia Army National Guard units that were recently ordered to active federal duty for a 13-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Soldiers from Companies A, B, C, D, and Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and Company F of the 429th Brigade Support Battalion were scattered throughout the five locations of Charlottesville, Woodstock, Leesville, Fredericksburg, and Winchester and recognized at their respective ceremony.

“The reason we had five ceremonies is for the families,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Alan M. Ferris, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment command sergeant major. “We had a different ceremony for each company. That way the families get a chance to be with the Soldiers before they’re deployed. If we had one ceremony we would have to centralize it and you would leave a lot of families out.”

Although there were five different ceremonies a recurring theme seemed to be at each location- support. The Soldiers were not only encouraged by their families, but also strongly supported by those in their community.

“I think in all the locations there had been a lot of family support and a lot of community support,” said Ferris. “For instance we have seen support from the colleges, police officers, firemen. We have had great family and community support.”

Strong encouragement was also seen through the numerous veterans who served in years past and continue to rally around current Soldiers.

“I’m here to wish the gentlemen well; the Soldiers and their entire families well,” said Floyd R. Wood, a retired Army command sergeant major and current American Legion member. “I know it’s a hardship for them, but it’s something they’re doing for their country. I know they should, I did, and everyone should do something for their country. This is a sacrifice. Make no mistake about that, but it’s something everybody should do.”

Along with the idea of support, the definition of heroism also came up at each ceremony.

In a country that values “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” it is good to see people that care about the true heroes of this great country and these are the people we should be imitating, said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia.

 

A Soldier of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment stands with supporters during their deployment ceremony at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. The ceremony was one of five deployment ceremonies on June 26 that sent off Guardsmen from five different locations for 13 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

 

Many mayors and prominent figures within the communities and throughout the state also came to show their support for the guardsmen. Many had words of encouragement and admiration for the Soldiers.

“This is something not many countries ask their sons to do,” said Kristen R. Umstattd, mayor of Leesburg. “But you are American Soldiers and we know you will be able to do this and bring us pride and honor back home. The sacrifices that you and your families are making today and for the next year are not lost on those of us who are fortunate enough to stay home.”

Although there may be a lot of questions for both the Soldier and loved ones there are opportunities to get help in a stressful time. Modern-day communication can also make it much easier to relieve the anxiety of not knowing.

“One thing I think the Virginia Guard does better is family support,” said Ferris. “Family support groups are much better than they used to be. Plus the communication from overseas to home is a lot better. Soldiers have email and they have DSN phone service, so they’ve got a lot closer contact now than they did before. And that means a lot to communicate with your family. Your family is going to feel better, plus you’re going to feel better. So I think across the board we are doing much better.”

As each company filed on the buses they left behind teary-eyed loved ones who will be excited to welcome them home roughly 13 months from now.

“If it wasn’t for guys like them we wouldn’t be the Unites States of America like we are right now,” said Donald W. Spring, father of Spc. Donald W. Spring, Jr. of C Co. “My hat is off to every one of them.”

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