By Lt. Col. Chester C. Carter, III
SANDSTON, Va. – Hundreds of families, friends, and well wishers gathered at the Virginia Air National Guard base in Sandston to give words or encouragement and support to the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation, Virginia Army National Guard as the Soldiers returned to Ft. Dix, N. J. to complete their post mobilization training. The departure ceremony was held on Jan. 4, 2006 in the Virginia Air National Guard hanger. Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall and Brig. Gen. Eugene Stockton were among the officials on hand to encourage the Soldiers and their families.
The Soldiers of 2nd Battalion entered active federal service at Sandston on Oct. 18, 2005 and traveled to Fort Dix to prepare for their overseas deployment. They then traveled to Yuma, Ariz. where they participated in training exercises with the U. S. Marine Corps. With the successful completion of the training exercises the Virginia Army Guard Soldiers returned to Sandston in mid Dec. to enjoy a well deserved rest. Their leave came to an end all too quickly when it came time to return to Fort Dix on Jan. 4.
The Soldiers, their families, former aviators from the 224th Aviation, Airmen of the Virginia Air National Guard, and friends gathered in the huge 192nd Fighter Wing to share time and a cup of coffee together and support each other as the Soldiers prepared to board busses for the long ride back to Ft. Dix. As the time to leave drew near Lt. Col. Rob McMillin formed the men and women of the 224th into a battalion formation that spread across the width of the cavernous hangar as the departure ceremony honoring the Virginia Army Guard aviators and their families began.
Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall speaking for Governor Mark Warner told those gathered about the importance of the Soldiers’ mission. He also talked of how very important the families of the Soldiers are in the successful accomplishment of this mission. He told the Soldiers that he asked two things; first “I want to welcome each and every one of you home.” Secondly he told the Soldiers to deliver a message to those that would harm us from the song by Lee Greenwood that the American flag stands for freedom and “they cannot take that away.”
Brig. Gen. Eugene Stockton, assistant adjutant general for the Virginia Army National Guard told those gathered communicate as often as possible. He also told the Soldiers to look to family and God for strength.
The ceremony concluded with the singing of “God Bless America” by Spec. Dawn Blair, a Soldier assigned to the 224th Aviation. The power and conviction that came through as she sang touched all her heard her.
Following the ceremony many remained in the hangar mingling and talking; not wanting to rush the time to board the bus back to Ft. Dix. Hugs, smiles, and tears were shared as the time finally did arrive for the Soldiers to leave. Now it is time anticipate and look forward to their return to Sandston.
The Soldiers of the 224th Aviation will deploy overseas for approximately one year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A deployment date has not been set.