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Benning promises family support as infantry, engineer Soldiers deploy

By Bridgett Siter

WASHINGTON (Army News Service Jan. 14, 2005) -- About 4,000 members of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, received a guarantee along with their formal send-off Jan. 7 at Fort Benning's Doughboy Stadium.

"We will not fail you," Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley said at the Jan. 7 departure ceremony for the Kelley Hill troops who'll leave for Iraq in waves over the next few weeks.

Freakley assured the crowd of about 8,000, made up of Soldiers and their family members, that Fort Benning and the surrounding communities will "take care of your families." That, he said, is a guarantee.

"So focus on your mission. Trust your training, trust your equipment, trust your leadership and your country," he said. "We will not fail you."

And to their families, Freakley offered the same assurance.

"Trust your spouses, trust each other, trust your family readiness group, Fort Benning, Columbus, Phenix City and our nation," he said. "For we will not fail you either."

The majority of the 3rd Brigade's 4,000 troops will leave for Iraq in the coming weeks, some for the second or third time. But the mass exodus in support of ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq actually began late last year, when members of the 988th Military Police Company left for Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, and 150 Soldiers from the 36th Engineer Group's 598th Maintenance Company headed to Kuwait and Iraq.

Elements of the 13th Corps Support Battalion, including the 223rd Heavy Equipment Transport Platoon, and Detachment 31 of the 1207th U.S. Army Field Hospital are among those who've already left Fort Benning for Southwest Asia.

Freakley was one of several speakers at the event, which featured music by the Infantry Center Band, local performers and up-and-coming country star David Staton.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Rep. Sanford Bishop, Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff and Phenix City Mayor Jeff Hardin also spoke.

The Soldiers and their families are all "part of our Georgia family," the governor said, regardless of where they call home.

Fort Benning hasn't seen such a large scale ceremony since the 3rd Brigade's "Dog Face Soldiers" returned from Iraq in summer, 2003, but such ceremonies have a long tradition on the post. Units were hailed there during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. One such ceremony was depicted in the movie "We Were Soldiers," when the 1st Cavalry Division headed to Vietnam.

Unlike the Soldiers who went before, the Soldiers honored Jan. 7 were "volunteers every one," Bishop said. The thousands present were asked to stand and be recognized.

Poydasheff said he's making plans for a return trip to Fort Benning, perhaps early next year.

While the commander and state officials offered their support to those gathered at the stadium, a more quiet departure was going on elsewhere on Fort Benning.

The 36th Engineer Group's Headquarters Company slipped out the back gate and said a lingering, tearful goodbye to their families.

The company's departure date changed several times before the deployment.

Master Sgt. Kerrethal Avery attended the ceremony long enough to know "this was a first." In her 18-year career, she's never had a send-off like this.

"That's why I love Columbus," she said. "Because everybody really loves and supports the military."

Avery, who returned from Korea in August, left her 17-year-old daughter at home with her cousin, who'll care for her for a year. It's easier to say goodbye at home, she said.

"She's used to it, because I've been with so many deployable units," Avery said, "But it's just easier not having her here when I get on that bus.

"I have great family support, and she'll be fine," she said. "And I'm coming home - one hundred percent, I'm coming home."

Col. James Brooks, the 36th's commander, left with his troops. Nearly 75 percent of the unit's Soldiers went to Iraq in 2003.

Brooks said he's confident in Freakley's assurance that Fort Benning and the local community will take care of the 36th Engineer Group families.

"I do, I trust them all," he said. "There's no doubt not one of them wouldn't help if they were needed. No doubt at all."

That makes the engineers, with one less worry on their minds, "safer and more effective," Brooks said.

"And that increases the odds of me bringing them all home safe." OCPA Public Affairs Home OCPA Public Affairs Home


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