May 21, 2007

Emotional Mother's Day for South Boston Soldiers, families

By Sgt. Jesse Houk
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Soldiers from A Co., 429th Brigade Support Battalion from South Boston, Va., bow their heads in prayer. The Soldiers are participating in a mobilization ceremony that begins their deployment in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

SOUTH BOSTON, Va. – The gymnasium was packed full of people from all ages and all walks of life. Some people were joyful and some were somewhat somber. Although there were many differences in those who gathered, there was one common theme that was consistent throughout the crowd; a flower.

A quick glance of the crowd might not have exposed this common theme, but a slower look revealed women dressed in their finest with a flower pinned proudly upon their chest.

It was May 13, the second Sunday of May, and the flower was an indication that it was Mother’s Day. It also happened to be the day that the 64 Guardsmen of A Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion from South Boston, Va., held their mobilization ceremony.

“He’s dedicated,” said Debra W. Thompson, in reference to her son, Staff Sgt. Robert T. Thompson. “He’s been in the Guard. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him for standing up for his country.”

That sentiment was not just limited to the mothers attending. The respect and appreciation was demonstrated by the abundance of people; so many in fact, that they outnumbered the chairs to sit upon. The appreciation was also shown by the many distinguished guest who attended.

James W. Adams, “Pete” Henry L. Myers and Alen L. Moorefield (L-R) stand while being recognized during the May 13 mobilization ceremony in South Boston, Va. The three are former Virginia Guardsmen who participated in the D-Day invasion. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Among the distinguished guests were three World War II veterans who participated in the D-Day invasion. While it has been over 60 years since that fateful day, the veterans still felt that they could relate to what the Soldiers of A Co. are going through.

“They are just like us,” said “Pete” Henry L. Myers, World War II veteran. “We volunteered just like they did. I admire anyone who will volunteer for service. They did it on their own; not because they were called in. And I think they deserve more honor than they are getting.”

Although many of the specifics of the deployment have not been defined for the trucking company, the mission was understood.

“The way I see our mission is that we’re bringing life to the Middle East,” said Capt. Tim E. Eppele Sr., the A Company commander. “Our job is to supply the Soldiers and allies with what they need.”

Eppele, who has served in the military for 26 years, developed a simple, yet time-tested plan to achieve success while on the 13-month deployment.

“We give the power back to the squad leader, to the first-line leader,” said Eppele. “We empower them, within certain parameters of course. But we give them the ability to work with their squads and their sections to do their jobs. As long as we’re doing that we’re going to be successful.”

Sgt. 1st Class James Midkiff assists the crowd in passing around the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia. A Co., 429th Brigade Support Battalion from South Boston, Va., was given both Virginia and U.S. flags that were touched by those in attendance to support them in their mission in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The first-line leaders do not take this responsibility lightly. They understood that the stakes had never been so high.

“I have never been in a position where I can truly say that I hold people’s lives in my hand,” said Staff Sgt. Ashanti C. Randleman, a squad leader. “If you swing and miss a baseball you can always jump up there and smack it again, but if you make a mistake here it can cost someone their life. I think people have to realize that it’s not a game anymore. We have to say on our toes.”

However hard it may be on the soldier, some within A Company felt it would be harder on the family.

“I think it’s tougher on them (families),” said Sgt. 1st Class Roy S. Harris, a platoon sergeant. “A lot of people don’t realize the sacrifice the families make, especially the spouses. Unless you’re living with them everyday, seeing their emotions and dealing with the changes that’s going on then it takes a toll on you; more so than the Soldiers.

And so the flowers that were visible during the mobilization ceremony were a representation of Mother’s day, one can expect to see flowers present at the South Boston, Va., armory signifying the return of A Company at the end of their deployment. Tears of sadness will be traded in for tears of joy.

“The only thing we can pray for is not just for my son, but for all of them to return home,” said Thompson. “Not just this group that’s going now, but for all of them to get the mission done and come home.”

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