Pride. Honor. Courage. Those were some of the words tossed around Friday afternoon as some 300 people gathered at the Joint Reserve Training Facility in Bartonville to send off 90 or so soldiers with Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, which heads to Fort Bragg, N.C., in a few days for their final training before shipping out to Afghanistan.
Pride. Honor. Courage.
Those were some of the words tossed around Friday afternoon as some 300 people gathered at the Joint Reserve Training Facility in Bartonville to send off 90 or so soldiers with Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, which heads to Fort Bragg, N.C., in a few days for their final training before shipping out to Afghanistan.
Bethany Pannell, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was there for her brother, Spc. Carl Dunn of Lacon. She’s been through this before as her husband, Staff Sgt. Charles Pannell, is in Iraq now. Dunn’s other sister, Amanda Dunn of Peoria, was there as well. Both women were proud and hopeful about their brother’s choice to enlist. It was his first time going overseas so they were naturally worried.
The 178th’s mission, rebuilding Afghanistan’s infrastructure and helping protect teachers, doctors and mentors, helped as well.
“It’s better than them going on patrol,” Amanda Dunn said.
Rock music blared as family members milled about before the start of the ceremony. Their soldiers, either husbands, sons, brothers or boyfriends, chatted nearby on a football field as they got ready to march in.
The Bartonville-based soldiers will not go as their own unit, but rather fill in where needed in the regiment’s three other infantry companies. All are part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team, which was notified last year it would be headed to Afghanistan.
The deployment is among the largest since World War II, with some 2,700 soldiers taking part. For months, the 33rd BCT has been involved in lengthy training exercises in Illinois and Arkansas to get ready. Once in Afghanistan, the soldiers will be part of Task Force Phoenix, an ongoing effort in its sixth reincarnation, to train Afghan security forces.
Speakers from a major general to colonel to the company’s captain praised the soldiers, noting their deployment was different than previous wars. This time, they were volunteers. They had the choice to enlist and made it, not because they had to but because they wanted to.
Lt. Col. Daniel Fuhr, the battalion’s commander, called the mission akin to helping “neighbors.”
“They live a long way from us. They speak a different language but they are still our neighbors,” Fuhr said.
Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti, the assistant adjunct general for the Illinois Army National Guard, said Alpha Company was going to give the Afghanis the same freedoms that Americans enjoy “24/7.”
Col. Michael Haerr of the 33rd BCT told the soldiers to remain strong and that such strength would deter enemy forces who were threatened by the rebuilding mission.
Spc. Jed Dodson, 25, of East Peoria joined the Army two yeas ago, and will head out on his first deployment. He views the mission as a chance to do good for the Afghani people.
As the ceremony ended, a Lincoln couple watched their son. The father, a Vietnam veteran, wiped his eye.
“I am proud and sad at the same time,” the man said.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.