Capt. William Hurd, Delta Company commander, greeted those gathered before turning the program over to unit Chaplain Rob Jackson, who gave the invocation.
On behalf of the unit, Family Readiness Group Chairwoman Rebecca Milam expressed thanks to those who helped the unit prepare for deployment, including many businesses and government officials and the community.
“Post 45 is with you, along with 3 million other legion members,” American Legion Post 45 Vice Commander Jim Heigl told the soldiers.
Heigl said the 945th Vietnam division is also dedicated to serving the unit.
“We are standing firm on our pledge that never would one generation of veterans leave another generation behind,” he said. “Come home safely and follow us.”
Margaret Smith, representing U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, said Rogers was in Washington, D.C., and sent regrets that he couldn’t be present.
Smith read a letter from Rogers, which said the ceremony was a “bitter-sweet moment filled with pride and sadness.”
Rogers wrote that he was proud of the soldiers’ willingness to defend and protect liberty wherever it took them.
Sylacauga Mayor Sam Wright said he and his wife pray for the troops every morning. “Now for the first time we have names and faces,” he said.
“I encourage you to take Psalm 91 as a guide for you. We wait for your safe return and are proud to be a part of your going off,” Wright said.
Hurd said the unit’s history goes back to the Civil War, when it was known as the “Cane-break” Rifle Guard.
Other deployments include service in The Mexican Border War (1916-1917), World Wars I and II, as replacements in the Korean conflict and volunteers in Vietnam.
The unit’s “flag was folded” (placed out of service) during the 1980s and 1990s, but the “flag was raised” (returned to service) when the Guard was restructured. In 2006, the unit was commissioned as light infantry.
Hurd said it has been “a long time coming since first hearing we were being called up as a source.
“We have been preparing and now it’s here.”
He also emphasized that it is the first deployment for many of the almost 600 soldiers. “Please keep them in your prayers,” Hurd said.
Prior to the ceremony, Jackson expressed concern for the soldiers’ families. “I covet prayers for their families,” he said.
“The biggest challenge is that other military often have family housing and support, where Guardsmen’s families are often the only one in their neighborhood with a loved one deployed,” Jackson said.
He encouraged others to look around and see families in their neighborhoods whose soldiers have been deployed.
Jackson said he was thankful for the turnout at the ceremony and for the support of the local community and churches.
“Seeing the concern of the community eases the soldiers’ minds,” he said.
Jackson also expressed concern that some may forget about the soldiers.
“This has been the longest conflict and many may think it isn’t as intense,” he said.
Jackson said the war doesn’t capture the big news as it did when the campaign began, “but people still need to remember that we are still involved.”
Some of the families and soldiers shared their thoughts as they made final preparations.
Kelly Richardson’s husband, Troy, has been to Iraq, but this is his first time in Afghanistan.
“You always have worries about the mission,” Richardson said. “Anything could happen and I just hope it ends sooner than expected.”
Roger and Jean Persons’ grandson Blake McGhee is being deployed for the first time.
“Even though he’s 21, I still hate to see him go off. He’s always lived in Sylacauga and not been off anywhere,” Jean Persons said.
McGhee’s wife, Chrissy, said she and her husband have been together six years, but have only been married since December. This will be their longest separation, other than basic training.
“I’m proud of him and it’s my job to support him at home,” Chrissy McGhee said.
Blake McGhee said he thanks the community for its support. He said his chief concern is that he won’t be around to help his wife, but is assured others will be there to help when needed.
Staff Sgt. Delandus Jones said this is his first deployment and he feels good about serving his country.
Part of his preparation has been getting everything in order. He said he felt good knowing that his finances are in order and his wife, Amy, will be fine.
Hurd said the unit will be leaving at 9:30 this morning and encouraged everyone to come out and see them off.
“I have looked forward to this ceremony and I look forward to returning next year with all my soldiers,” Hurd said.
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org.