June 12, 2007
WAYNESBORO, Ga.---About 180 Georgia Army National Guard Members said goodbye to family and friends this evening. They're based in Waynesboro, but headed to Iraq. We spent time with them as they headed off.
It's something many of them have had to do before, but they do so without complaint. Soldiers from the Georgia National Guard 1st Battalion 214th Field Artillery Battery said goodbye to their family and friends this afternoon in Waynesboro. It was an emotional occasion for those staying behind, but the overwhelming love and support is what these soldiers say is what will keep them strong on foreign soil.
"Everywhere we go, there's people saying thank you and shaking our hands, and we're kind of like, 'This is our job'," said SFC Ryan Peterson. "You know, we're just going to work, so it's pretty humbling. We really appreciate it."
"I love serving my country, and to be a part of this and to help, it really makes me feel good, and to see all these people here support us, it really makes me feel good," said SPC Irene Lewis.
The unit is headed for a year's tour in Iraq. Many of them have been down the deployment road before.
SFC Al Loafer has deployed six times and served in uniform for 24 years.
"Every major campaign the U.S. has been in except for Grenada and Somalia," he told News 12.
With his combat experience, he's a blessing for a lot of young soldiers.
"A lot of the guys always ask me, 'You're deploying with us, right?' I say, 'Yes I am,' and they're like, 'Oh, okay, great!'"
"That's important for the families to know that they are going to be well led, well trained, and well equipped," said Brig. Gen. Larry Ross, commander of the 78th.
BG Ross says his soldiers are well trained for the mission at hand and he has complete confidence they are combat ready.
"You can rest assured that they're going to be as well trained as they can be," he said. "I can promise you they're well led, because we've hand picked the officers and a lot of the NCOs that are going, and they're going to have the best equipment money can buy."
With food and refreshments donated by Southern Bank, the soldiers spent the moments before departing with loved ones...but many say even though they're leaving behind blood relatives, they're still with family.
"I feel very fortunate to be going with this group, I really do," said SPC Kelly Metzer. "These Georgia boys are good Georgia boys. They're very helpful."
"I'm a little shaken," said Annie Blocker, whose son deployed tonight. "But this is what he chose to do, and I'm here to support him."
"We just thank them," said volunteer Amy Lively. "They're in our prayers every day. Every day."
"If I was any prouder, the buttons would be popping off my shirt," BG Ross said. "All I would ask is everybody keep these soldiers in thoughts and prayers and we welcome all of them back on 12 months from now."
Tonight the soldiers left Georgia, headed to Fort Bliss, Texas for additional training. They will head into the Middle East after that and begin their mission, which involves multiple military police-oriented tasks.
There are more troops from our area getting ready for deployment. The 63rd Signal Battalion is hosting a deployment fair tomorrow.
It's being held at the courtyard on Brainard Avenue and 36th Street.
The fair gets started at 1 o'clock in the afternoon and runs until 5 Wednesday evening.
The 63rd Signal Battalion will be leaving for Iraq during the middle of July.