August 4, 2002, 16:22 EDT

Virginia soldiers leave for active federal service

by Lt. Col. Chester C. Carter, III
Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Officer

Ayana Smith-Collier was on hand in Sandston, Va., this morning to see her father, Pvt. Tremel Collier, off to Ft. Dix, N. J. (Photo courtesy of Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

SANDSTON, Va. - It's an early Sunday morning, about 7:00 a.m., but the sun is already heating things up and the humidity makes it even worse. People are scurrying and bustling around in spite of the early hour and the heat. Soldiers are packing last minute items in large shipping containers. Members of the Family Support Group are making sure that there is plenty of coffee and food for the soldiers and for those who have come to see them off.

The soldiers of Battery E, 111th Field Artillery in Sandston, Va. are leaving for Fort Dix, N. J. this morning. These Virginia Army National Guard soldiers, along with soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 246th Field Artillery, were ordered to active federal service for one year. That year began the first day of August, but today is the day these patriots of the Commonwealth actually leave.

Seeing families and soldiers prepare themselves for the unit's departure in the next few hours makes a statement about what's taking place today. Capt. Matthew Ritchie, commander of E Battery, 111th Field Artillery summed up the feeling of the moment when he said, "The reality of this is setting it." The soldiers of E Battery, 111th Field Artillery, Virginia Army National Guard, are leaving home in support of Operational Noble Eagle. After completing training at Fort Dix they will provide security for a military installation located in the Eastern United States.

A FedEx tractor-trailer pulls in next to the armory and immediately soldiers begin to move the large shipping containers out to meet it. There is a lot of hustle by the soldiers to get the truck loaded quickly and efficiently. While this is taking place, another group of soldiers is preparing to leave for Fort Dix on a convoy. Promptly at 8:00 a.m., the convoy begins to leave the armory. Family and friends waive to the soldiers as they leave the armory parking lot. A late arrival rushes to one of the departing trucks to give her soldier that last hug and kiss before he leaves. A few minutes after the convoy leaves a bus arrives. Soldiers immediately begin loading duffel bags in the baggage compartment in preparation for their departure for Fort Dix. And so the morning goes on. Each task is accomplished on time and in order. The soldiers of Battery E, 111th Field Artillery go about their business in a professional and efficient manner.

Through all of the commotion there is time for loved ones to spend a couple of minutes together. There is time for a child to come and see her father off on this important mission. And there is certainly time for reflection on what is taking place. Spec. Gary Bradley chats with his wife Ashley in the shade of a tree as preparation for the unit's departure goes on around them. When asked how he felt about his unit's installation security mission he said, "Whatever mission we are needed to fill, we will do it. We will carry out our orders and come home safe." Ashley said the mobilization would be a "Good experience for both of us. Of course I'll miss him." Little Ayana Smith-Collier was at the armory as well to see her father off. She took time to enjoy a snack as her father, Pvt. Tremel Collier assisted with loading equipment. Ayana's bright smile and cheerful voice made the small American flag she was carrying seem as big as the outdoors.

1st Sgt. Ray Morrison was constantly moving around the armory, checking to make sure things were getting done and done on time. He is every bit the professional soldier. He is focused on what needs to be accomplished and he makes sure that those tasks are completed. He said he has "25 years in the Army and 15 more to go" until he retires. He talked about all the support the soldiers received from the Family Support Group, the employers and the community. He said, "The Family Support Group came together like glue." He mentioned how hard the support group members had worked to help the unit get ready for this day. He pointed out that some of spouses of the soldiers were either currently in the military or former members of the military and understood very deeply what the soldiers were going through. He also said employers and members of the community had been very supportive of the unit. He said that the unit could not have accomplished what it had without their support. He said, "I'm proud to be a Virginian today."

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