On August 14th, 2004, “Bravo” Company of the Texas National Guard, the unit stationed here in Stephenville, Texas, was deployed. It had been 64 years since so many National Guard troops from Texas were mobilized for an overseas deployment, and that was for a world war. Company B is one of four brigades of the National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division. It is headquartered in Fort Worth but has units spread across North and West Texas, including Arlington, Irving, Weatherford, Denton, Brownwood and, of course, Stephenville. Bravo Company would be spending several months at Fort Hood. Then, off to Iraq.
HUGE turnout by the community as the buses and vehicles filled with crying soldiers crawled down the main drag. Easily over one thousand – perhaps two? – of flag waving Americans turned out. Cheering. Crying. Two local radio DJ’s set up on the corner where the convoy turned. They were so verklempt, they could hardly speak.
I couldn’t help but think of how often throughout America’s history towns have gathered as their men marched off to war. I’m SO proud of our liitle burg. Flag waving, banners, red, white & blue clothes everywhere, school kids holding banners and signs, businesses had released everyone who wanted to go. Fire trucks and police escorted the convoy of big camouflaged trucks, one big greyhound bus, several pick-ups loaded with equipment as soldiers saluted. Now THIS was a parade! Shouts of “God bless you” and “give ’em Hell”, chants of “Bravo! Bravo!” could be heard. It was awesome. Sniff.
I’ll never forget the contorted facial features of one soldier driving a pick-up, tears streaming down his face, as his wife, baby clenched in her arms, ran up to his vehicle for one last hug and kiss. Nor will I ever lose the image of the Hispanic father who found his boy and raced for one last kiss on the cheek and squeeze of his neck as the macho soldier cried and bit his lower lip. Double sniff.
Bravo, Bravo Company!
The previous Monday night’s deployment ceremony marked Company B’s first moments of active duty. These men were no longer citizen/soldiers; they were just soldiers. As a Sergeant called “Company B….attention!”, the men, numbering about 70, snapped to their feet, in some cases, their children with their arms wrapped around their legs. Tears began to flow as the Sergeant read their marching orders, straight from the Governor’s office. I felt a lump in my throat myself as he read the part about them being away no less than 500-something days. All I could think was that any 2-year old would be four and any high school junior would have graduated by the time they get home.
The turn-out was impressive – about 300 or so – and there was enough food, drinks, ice and dessert to feed us all. V.W. Stevens let Company B have his City Hall banquet facility at no charge. The fish dinner was donated by the Bass Club. Pies and cakes were baked by some lovely women who’ve had this deployment experience in days gone by. Some have even lost some soldiers themselves in previous wars.
The Deployment Ceremony lasted less than two hours and included speeches from armed service veterans such as Bea Marin and former Stephenville Mayor John Moser. There were lots of tears, lots of pictures, lots of soldiers and their wives sitting close with their arms around each other. I asked one soldier “so, what’s it like?”, referring to his upcoming deployment. He answered that he had been deployed once before during Desert Storm but added, “I didn’t have my kids then.” He shook my hand, smiled and said, “See ya in two years, I hope.”
Veteran John Rogers, the coordinator for the event, reported that over $22,000 had been raised so far to take care of those left behind. John and I have become friends throughout the preapartaion for Bravo’s deployment and, as he continued to publicly give me credit, soldiers were shaking my hand and thanking me throughout the evening. All I did was what I do: I sent out eMail broadcasts pertaining to Bravo’s deployment and activities as they were given to me. In her speech, Bea Marin reminded the wives that, “it never fails…as soon as your soldier leaves, the washer breaks or you have car trouble…” That’s where Bravo Company’s Family Readiness Group comes in. Rogers informed me that any plumbers, carpenters, tire companies, mechanics….anyone willing to assist the families left behind in ANY way, should contact him at 254.965.4243 and he’d help make them “official.”
Regarding the Well-wishing parade on Wednesday morning, Rogers said that the unit commander was considering having the bus drive by Stephenville’s High School, Junior High and Middle School so that kids can wave good-bye. The town of Hico actually met the bus with a special reception of emergency vehicles and law enforcement people. Morgan Mill, Three Way and Lingleville schools joined the well-wishers in Stephenville.
The one thing that was glaringly obvious at that night’s ceremony was that, no matter whether one supported the war or not, was a Republican or a Democrat, suddenly none of that mattered. These men were willing to lay their lives down for others, and that was truly the finest thing America had to offer. A Great Teacher I know once said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.” To me, that night, I had the privilege of shaking hands with some of the bravest Americans I’ve ever met. As it turned out, thank God, as of today -Veteran’s Day 2005 – Bravo hasn’t lost a man.
I heard Paul Harvey on the radio today, stating that Arlington National Cemetary was making room for 30,000 more military graves. My brother-in-law, a US Army Brigade Commander, is about to return to Iraq for another 2-year tour. It made me feel a bit sad, thinking on these things. But when I got to work, I had good news. I was informed that Bravo’s ETA was January 7th, 2006. One of the wives told me this and promised to keep me informed. I promised her I’d be right in the thick of the plans for the welcome home celebration. John Rogers had popped in to see me just yesterday. I promised him the same.
It’s exciting and I marvel at how the whole thing continually gets me choked up. I must be getting old.
Do something special for these people iwhen they come marching home to your community. Welcome these brave men and women back home with eveything you got. Many feel as though they’ve been to Hell and back.