Family, friends and fellow National Guard soldiers said goodbye Saturday to 50 members of Spokane-based 1041st Washington Army National Guard Transportation Company.
The soldiers are deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and are expected to be overseas until March 2010.
“When they asked who wanted to go to Iraq, I volunteered,” said Anthony Davis, 20. “I think it’s going to be basic military work, except a lot more dangerous than here of course.”
Davis joined the National Guard about a year ago.
“I joined to become a better human being,” he said. “And to become a more disciplined person – I really needed that.”
As friends, family and well-wishers filled the hall at Spokane Readiness Center off East Mission Avenue, toddlers were hoisted onto shoulders to get a better look, tissues were passed along, and a stream of camera shutters fired off.
Virginia Adolfson, herself in the National Guard, was there to send off her husband, Charles Adolfson.
“Being a soldier myself, I thought I’d be better prepared for him leaving,” she said, looking away. “I didn’t know it was going to hurt this much.”
The couple have a 4-month-old daughter and are expecting another baby in September.
“We hope he’ll be able to come home on leave for that, but we don’t know,” Adolfson said.
Her mom, Jacque Taylor, was busy taking pictures.
“Soon she’ll have two men in Iraq,” said Taylor, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Art Taylor, is there already with the National Guard. “He’s been in Iraq since October and he’s got another six, seven months to go.”
The soldiers from 1041st will first join nearly 100 National Guard soldiers from the 1161st Transportation Company based in Ephrata, at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
“They’ll get pre-mobilization training there, both basic soldier training and some job-specific skills,” said 1st Lt. Keith Kosik, spokesman for the Washington National Guard. “They’ll get training in weapon systems, navigation and first aid.”
The 1041st will deploy to Kuwait and then to Iraq later this spring.
“They will mainly do a lot of long-haul truck driving, transporting supplies,” Kosik said.
When the 1161st Company served in Iraq from February 2003 to August 2004, it logged more than 1 million miles on the road, Kosik said, adding that “it’s very intense.” Kosik said nothing indicates the 1041st will go to Afghanistan.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and City Council President Joe Shogan, a Vietnam veteran, were there, too.
“We are proud of you, and we are concerned for your safety,” Verner said. “You are our friends, co-workers, employees and our neighbors. Our community will be there for your families while you are overseas.”
Col. George Abbott told the 1041st that the next couple of months would pass quickly, first in Indiana and then in Kuwait, learning the ropes and getting intense training.
“And then, when you arrive in Iraq, time is going to drag by,” Abbott said. Abbott said to remember to focus on the good and to take care of one another.
“You’ll remember each other for the rest of your lives,” he said. “You will forever be combat veterans and remember those times, good, bad or otherwise.”
When the ceremony ended, the wind tore at the flags outside. The sky had cleared, and a low sun shone brightly as people headed for their cars.
“I will say that the community support we get here is pretty staggering,” Kosik said. “It’s a proud day for the Guard.”