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The Asheville Citizen-Times February 13, 2005

391st Heads To Afghanistan

Local Unit Gets Send-Off From Family, Friends

By Leslie Boyd

ASHEVILLE -- Cameras flashed as families, friends and sweethearts of the 391st Engineer Battalion's Alpha Company stood for one last photo Saturday afternoon before their loved ones ship out for 12 to 18 months in Afghanistan.

The 100-plus soldiers, all men, were mobilized officially in a ceremony at the Walter Hatch Lee Army Reserve Center on Louisiana Road. They ship out today to Fort Bragg for more training before departing for Afghanistan.

Spc. Elwood Shepard planned to propose to his girlfriend, Anna Edmonds, Saturday night.

"I don't think it'll be a total surprise," he said before turning to greet his grandfather, Walter Robinson, a veteran of World War II.

Robinson, carrying a box of cookies destined for the post-ceremony refreshments table, hugged his grandson.

Tina Cooper's eyes filled with tears as she prepared to say goodbye to her 22-year-old son, Nathan Shane Jones.

"This is the second time we've had to do this," she said. "I guess this one's not as scary. He says, 'Mom, don't worry,' and I tell him that's my job. ... He was gone six months last time, and that seemed long. But once they've been gone once, you know what to expect. You know that hurry-up-and-wait; you know you're in for a lot of sleepless nights."

Tammy Walsh, wife of Sgt. William Scott Nelson, has done this before, too. Nelson was deployed to Iraq and arrived home just six days before their second child was born 19 months ago.

"I think it's a little easier this time," said Walsh, co-leader of the Family Readiness Group. "But that doesn't mean it's easy."

Throughout the hourlong ceremony, children played and fussed, seemingly aware that something important was happening, but were still eager to get outside into the afternoon sun.

Kaitlyn Griffith, niece of Pfc. Eric Guerrero, wailed in protest as her mother and grandmother tried to get her to sit still. This is the first deployment for Guerrero, 21, who was married in June. His wife, Salome, is a member of the National Guard and will work in Raleigh while her husband is away.

"It's a little scary, I guess," he said before the ceremony. "But I'm proud to be going."

As the ceremony began, the men went into formation outside, then marched single-file into the armory. For nearly an hour, community and military leaders thanked them and their families for their service.

"It's very important to understand that you are a part of history," said Maj. Gen. Alan D. Bell, commander of the 81st Regional Readiness Command, of which the 391st is a part. "You will look back on this time 20, 30 years from now and you will see a free Middle East and know you had a part in it."

Capt. David. M. Boeke, commander of Alpha Company, reminded the troops that for each one of them, about 10 people were there to see them off.

"You have my admiration and my thanks," he said to the families. "These are the people who allow us to sow the seeds of democracy in faraway places."

Contact Boyd at 232-2922 or lboyd@CITIZEN-TIMES.com.

ON THE NET: For a brief history of the 391st Engineer Battalion, visit www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/391eng.htm

WNC TROOPS OVERSEAS

The 210th Military Police Company, based in Franklin, Sylva and Murphy, returned from Baghdad in June after a 15-month deployment.

The 211th Military Police Company of Clyde has twice been deployed since the 2001 terrorist attacks, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit returned from its second tour in February.

The 161st Area Support Medical Battalion based in Asheville served in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar for 15 months, returning in April.

The 105th Military Police Company based in Asheville was deployed to Iraq in October, expected to spend at least a year to 18 months overseas.


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